Beginning My FOSS Journey
I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering last July of 2014. Unlike my peers who started their career right away after graduation, I took a sabbatical to think over things I wanted to pursue as well as better manage my health.
During that span of time, I learned new skills on my own and also became aware about the FOSS movement. I got excited of the fact that there is a lot to learn (not limited to technical) with examining projects open to the public and interacting with the community. I also discovered the Outreachy program which helped me got started contributing to the organization of my choice.
My Application Experience
I made a shortlist of organizations where my current skills are applicable and then checked out the available projects. I started contributing patches to the Linux Kernel during the Outreachy round 11 and finally succeeded on round 13. Yes, I worked through 3 applications. I did not let failure deter me and used my previous observations and learnings (from mistakes) to make it through.
The project that caught my attention was all about writing a driver for a chosen sensor using the Industrial I/O interface.
The application process was highly competitive. I started a bit late, went through the first patch tutorial as well as overcame initial barriers which consist of reaching out to mentors and submitting my first patch to a mailing list . The experience on the former is akin to introducing yourself to a stranger you just met – I was scared and nervous considering the fact that these people are veterans in the industry. Posting to the mailing list on the other hand, was also scary and intimidating at first since I’m getting my patch seen by many eyes. It was all good after that. The mentors were nice and approachable.
At this stage, I know nothing about the kernel. The codebase is huge and it’s easy to get lost. I can read the syntax, have a few assumptions of what it does but I have little to no idea why it’s doing that. You have to start somewhere and thankfully new contributors can settle first under the Staging drivers/staging/ subsystem.
I acquainted myself with the Kernel workflow. Did the pre-requisite staging cleanups which are checkpatch.pl-identified issues (Hint: coding-style fixes) and familiarizing with the available projects. You may be wondering why waste time fixing coding-style issues when you can go ahead and move on and do a more meaningful change. Well, you can do whatever you want but the main takeaway on this is you get to read and recognize code while doing the intended change/s.
Before the start of this round, I read through the Linux Device Drivers 3rd Ed. book, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the recognition of some code snippets I encountered the previous round. On this round, I was more informed on whatever change/s I’m trying to make. It’s also the round where I branched-off to more complex changes than the previous coding-style issues.
My strategy for this round is to get myself familiar on as many projects as I can. I managed to solve the entirety of IIO tasks, I learned how to use coccinelle to match code patterns and perform transformations as well as submit a patch 1 about workqueues.
Obviously the strategy didn’t work, diving into different projects is time-consuming in retrospect and in the process majority of the small-tasks got claimed before I got the chance to tackle them. Despite the outcome, I’d argue that what I did is time well-spent because learning something new is thrilling.
What was different on this round is that, I focused on a single project – my first choice which is still the IIO project. I tackled the small-tasks and communicated more with the mentors. Later on, I got myself more involved2 by working on patches suggested3 to me via the code-reviews. This is a huge payoff, I learned more about the IIO in the process and it resulted to me getting picked to become the intern for this round of internships.
I think what has worked for me in succeeding are the following:
- Start early.
- Learn as much as you can about the project.
- Exercise patience and self-reliance. Some things will not go your way, try your best to overcome it on your own and if still stuck, do not hesitate to ask for help.
- Claim small-tasks ASAP.
- Help or provide assistance for others.
- Do not be afraid to go the extra mile when it comes to contributions.
- Communicate, communicate and communicate. Have to reiterate that.
- Document what you do as you do it. This is really helpful when you need to look back for reference.
- Have fun.
Thanks for reading and take care!
This is my first patch outside drivers/staging/ and posting to LKML! The change looks simple, but the behind-the-scenes analysis and decision-making took a bit of effort and is complicated than it looks. ↩