How Open Source Has Impacted My Career

Another person I work with at GitHub, Brandon Keepers, is working on a talk about the relationship between community participation and careers. He’s asked a few questions of people who feel that open source has impacted their career. Since I feel I fall into that camp, I wanted to answer his questions and felt that others might be interested in my answers … so here they are!

Q: What impact has participation in open source had on your career?

I got my current job as the Community Manager of the Atom and Electron projects at GitHub directly from my work with Atom’s community and contributing to the Atom project.

Q: How did you first get exposed to open source, and what attracted you to learning more about it?

Honestly, I can’t remember exactly what first exposed me to open source. It was probably some piece of BBS-support software that I used to run my Wildcat! BBS in the very early 1990s. At the time, it was simply a means to an end.

As far as learning more about it, in the late-1990s you couldn’t be a professional software developer without having some familiarity with what open source was. Since I was supporting a family of five on my single income, I felt at the time that traditional commercial software was more aligned with my goals.

I didn’t become involved with open source software as a contributor until a few years ago, starting seriously with RuboCop. Once again, it was a practical thing. I liked using RuboCop and wanted it to get better. So I learned about open source and contributing by doing!

Q: Do you code? If so, were you a coder when you got started with open source, and how did you learn to code?

Yes, I code. As I state on my About page, I’ve been learning about computers and how to code since the late 1970s. It was a mixture of reading books and magazines, taking general classes, experimenting, and some college sprinkled in the middle there. To be honest, I’m always learning and improving my coding skills. But yes, I was already a coder when I got started with open source.

Q: How have you participated in open source communities beyond code? Do you moderate forums, blog, tweet, give talks, push pixels, or support open source projects in some other way?

As I stated above, I’m the Community Manager for Atom and Electron. This includes moderating Discuss, the official Atom and Electron message board, writing on the Atom blog, tweeting from my personal account and the Atom and Electron accounts. Along with all of that, I lead the effort to triage all incoming Atom Issues.

I’ve given exactly one talk at this time.

I’m also a member of the Open Source virtual team within GitHub, working on improving open source on GitHub and in general.

Q: How did you make the leap from casual bystander to participant? Did you have any mentors along the way? What were the challenges and barriers to entry?

I dove in with both feet. I didn’t really have anyone that specifically took me under their wing, but people that were really encouraging to my early experiences with open source were: Bozhidar Batsov, Corey Johnson, Kevin Sawicki and Ben Ogle.

The challenges were mostly around assuming my code wasn’t going to be good enough to share and thereby sweating wayyyyy too many details.

Q: How satisfied are you with your career right now?

More satisfied than I’ve ever been! I feel like I’m really making a difference in my career, the software industry and the world because of the things I’m doing at GitHub. I’m not just building yet another widget for people to buy, use and eventually end up in a trash heap somewhere.

Q: What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Q: What gender and ethnicity/race do you identify as?

I identify as a middle-aged white male.

There you go. That’s my story. I hope it is interesting or enlightening to people :grinning:


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