When you walk into a party what do you do?
Interacting with an open source group is sort of like walking in on a party where it seems like everyone else knows each other. People are discussing topics you may be interested in, or sometimes they could be discussing topics you neither know nor care about.
If you’re the type of person that would walk right up and introduce yourself at a party, then the best approach to getting started is to do what you’d do in real life. Contact the project, introduce yourself and ask questions related to your project.
However, if you’re more likely to hang back and watch people for a while, spend some time observing community interactions before you jump in. You can also try to contact an organization admin for guidance, or with help introducing you to a community. If in doubt, have a look at the organization’s ideas page for hints on where to go for help.
How to observe community interactions
- Join both the development and user mailing lists and spend a few days just reading the conversations.
- Read the mailing list archives.
- Join the project’s discussion forums/chat channel (IRC, Discourse, Slack) and lurk for a bit.
- Read all the available information on past GSoC projects.
- Take a stab at going through the project documentation, at least to the point where you feel like you can ask questions that are not already extensively covered in the docs.
At the end of your “listening and research” phase you’ll understand how, where and when the community interacts and know the best way to ask questions.
How to begin participating in conversations
- Introduce yourself! If you are new to the community you need to let people know who you are and why you are interested in contributing to the project.
- Ask questions. You should be able to come up with at least a few legitimate questions before offering your opinion on the right way to do things.
- Be humble. Until you’ve engaged with the community, for at least a few months, assume that those people talking about things probably are privy to community nuances you might not yet see.
- Don’t be intimidated. Don’t let a bad experience stop you from getting involved. Just relax and think about why you were snubbed and if there’s anything that you should be careful about before participating in another conversation.
No matter what, don’t wait until the application period to initiate contact - really! Engage with multiple communities once the participating organizations are chosen to get a feel for how different groups work and find the one or two that fit your interests/personality.