Monday, November 30, 2015

How I got involved in Open Source

Uh oh, its almost the end of 2015 so I'd better put at least one blog post here for posterity!

About ten years ago, I was at a startup I co-owned and searching for a way to easily create a nice-looking UI for a Windows-based utility. Since this was a Windows app, most people at the time would have chosen C or C++ as the language or used C# and a framework like .NET. Or perhaps they would have gone old-school with something like MFC. Instead, we hosted the Windows HTML rendering engine in our own executable and built 80 percent of the app (including 99 percent of the user interface) in JavaScript and HTML. Basically, this would be a Cordova app today, but we coded it uphill both ways back then.

A short time into development, it was becoming clear that there had to be a better way to organize all the DOM manipulation that had to be done. I looked around and tried a few libraries available at the time, but they seemed a bit ugly and weren't helping that much. Then, almost ten years ago, I found this thing called jQuery. I can't even recall how I stumbled upon it, probably Slashdot. (Yeah, that long ago.)

jQuery was just what I was looking for. I didn't even need any of its cross-browser goodness, our app would only ever run on the IE6-like HTML engine inside Windows. The expressiveness of jQuery was its attraction to me, because it greatly simplified the way our app was written. Later on we started using it on our web site as well, where the cross-browser benefits were definitely appreciated.

But this story is mainly about how I made my first contribution to open source. It's hard to remember the days before we had excellent project collaboration via GitHub. All I had was a copy of jQuery and John Resig's email address. So when I found some problems I sent him an email with suggestions. John replied, thanking me for the contributions and offering to put me on a newly-formed mailing list of people who were interested in jQuery. You can still find some of those early posts scattered around the Internet.

If you want a course on how to build a successful open source project, take a look at what John Resig did during those early years of jQuery. It's not always about the codebase. You need an enthusiastic group of volunteers to help with all the organizational things that will allow others to use the project. Sure that includes code, but it also takes good documentation, devops, and user support. John was great at getting others to help, and listening to what they said. If you look at those old posts from nearly a decade ago, you'll see a lot of people who are still very active in open source.

1 comment:

Jenson M John said...

Great Indeed..It was in 2006! I got to know about jQuery in 2008 only..:)