Cesar’s Vanilla Blog

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How to get into Open Source

This isn’t easy to explain. I tried today, and I sorta lost myself and cut it shorter than I should have. But why is it important? Because people actually believe that you cannot get started unless you are already involved.

My involvement in open source begins Summer of ’06. While I was already working with the Linux OS and in the Linux club, I never got involved in anything else. My good friend Tom got word that Mozilla (he was partially working on it, I don’t know the exact involvement of how he came into it), was looking to port distcc to Windows and use the Microsoft Visual C++ compiler. I thought it was an interesting idea (actually, deep down, I honestly didn’t think we were going to take it as far as we did. I think that without that Open Source course, it may have never happened), and went with it. In the beginning, it was hard to be enthusiastic about something you cannot say you made, and you don’t understand. I didn’t make distcc, I was reading its cryptic code (cryptic at the time. Now I would love to write code like they did). Once we chose it as our course project, the deal was cemented. I had to work on it, commitment was mandatory.

And that commitment gave me many highs and lows. The high we got when we finished porting all the functions and passed all the testcases, and the low we got when it didn’t work for the first time. The excitment of distcc building Mozilla over Cygwin, the whimper after it failed midway. The orgasmic feeling after a four line patch did it, and it built, and we could finally go home. Happy. That was after months of work on the project.

But through that, people did take notice. Mike Shaver(++) did, and was so happy/grateful/pressured, he even offered me an internship at Mozilla. That experience made all the pain of looking through megs of distcc log files worth it (I’m sorry to say that Tom was done school by the time my internship started. I also owe him a big thank you). What made the Mozilla experience unique, is that they wanted you to see what Mozilla was really about. After all, who takes you on a plane and fills out your visa work, and sends out thousands of miles away to do work? Mozilla did, and it ended up being one of my most wonderfully enriching personal experiences.

Once I got there, word spread around. I was actually glad that some of the build team mentioned distcc. Though, as far as I know, its not being used for tinderboxes (this may be due to the introduction of dual-core and quad-core processors, and the overhead of sending this over desktop machines, inefficient. I honestly don’t know if MSYS is the savior for this), its nice getting recognition for something you have done.

And it is that internship that pushed me towards the deeper end of the Mozilla platform. I still have a long ways to go before towards understanding how things still work, but I’m getting there.

Working on Open Source still requires a fair deal of effort, and you really need the motivation to keep you going once you get started. It is incredibly easy, and sometimes tempting to give up. But true character comes out when you spend days on a problem, that shows determination. Anyone, can just give up. And so many people do. I even do it sometimes.

I invite others to post on their blog on how they got involved. Show some other people you didn’t spontaneously spawned and just knew what to do.


October 5, 2007 Posted by | Mozilla, Seneca | , | 4 Comments