How to get a career in open source

This is why I always recommend you keep a keen eye on company websites for new positions as they open up.


Many of us face the same question at one point or another in our careers: all jobs seem to require lots of experience, but if you can't get a job because you don't have enough experience, how do you get the experience in the first place?

Fortunately, this is the area in which you have quite possibly the biggest opportunity open to you. The very nature of the open source community is that it's one in which anyone is welcome to participate. If you're new, there's always someone who's keen to help you learn the ropes. If you don't have the necessary experience for the jobs you want, now is the time to get some - and the open source community is a wonderful place to do this.

Let's look at an example - imagine you want to be a programmer. There are thousands of projects out there that are crying out for help. Get involved, and get some code included. When you have more experience with the project, work on a new feature and get it included. All of this experience of writing code that hits the mark is great for your CV.

This reminds me of a story I heard some years back of a smart young kid who was desperately trying to get his break and find a job. He had no commercial programming experience, left school when he was 16 and had a pretty thin CV. Unfortunately, the guy that interviewed him was an arrogant, disrespectful idiot who immediately started dragging this kid over the coals and accusing him of wasting his time.

When the interviewer rather pointedly asked what experience he had and why he should get the job, the kid pointed to the Firefox window running on the interviewer's computer and proceeded to tell him which features he had contributed to.

He got the job for two reasons. Firstly, he'd demonstrated his capabilities by using open source and community development as a place to both improve these skills and to help a project. He had real code included in a product used by millions of people, and he had worked with people and processes in order to achieve this.

That was only half of what impressed the interviewer, though: the other reason is that he'd shown the foresight to get out there and get experience for himself. This kid wasn't just seen as a talented programmer, but also as having the golden ticket that all hiring managers are looking for: a combination of personal and professional motivation.

This is one of the most wonderful opportunities offered by free and open source software. We have a global network of projects that not only provides a stunning place to learn new technologies and collaborate with leaders in those fields, but also provides a means of demonstrating your personal sense of motivation. You have the chance to further your life, while all the time helping to make free and open source software better for other users.

As such, the strongest piece of advice I can provide in this entire article is for you to get out there and contribute to some open source projects. Get stuck into projects, participate in public discussions (these show how good you are at working with other people), handle conflict and disagreements professionally and politely, and build up a growing list of projects that you can cite as using your contributions.

Being able to walk into an interview and tell someone that millions of people are using your code already gets you into the category of applicants to be taken seriously.