How to get a career in open source

This piece of advice does have one caveat, though: if you're going to participate, make sure that your contributions are significant and sustained. Providing 100 examples of projects you've worked on where each only represents a few minor contributions before you got bored and moved on doesn't send the desired message. You want to prove that you have an eye for detail and a commitment to solving real problems in a long-term way, and being a drive-by contributor doesn't show that.

If I were interviewing someone, I'd much rather see two or three examples of solid sets of contributions, in which they'd delivered significant value and had the respect of their peers in the community. This sends out a much stronger and more positive message.

There's one final positive to note about carrying out significant, sustained work for a project - it will build your reputation. So many people get their dream jobs because they have a positive reputation for great work in a community.

Many people I know started out by hanging around on IRC channels and mailing lists, contributing to open source projects. They were then often offered jobs as a result of their community credentials and achievements.

Show professionalism

In this modern world of social media, where a constant flurry of information surrounds us, the traditional approach of separating our professional and personal lives has been thrown out of the window. Back in the old days, you were in professional mode when you put the suit on, and when the suit came off, it was time for five rounds of Sonic The Hedgehog and a box of wine. There was a clear distinction between work and play.

Today, things are different. Most of us use Facebook, Twitter, Identica, Linked In and other sites, and many of these can easily intermingle the two. Facebook is a great example of how it can get complicated.

I know many people who have started on Facebook with a policy of adding only friends and family. If only it were that simple. What about colleagues that you're friends with? If a colleague adds you as a friend on Facebook, it's going to feel awkward when you deny the request and tell them that you don't accept colleagues.

As such, what typically happens is that a fairly locked-down profile page ultimately gets filled with work colleagues, blurring the dividing line between the two. I've always been of the view that you should be who you are, both at work and at home.

I've always been happy to share my personal life professionally, and vice versa. I still have much to learn in the world, but I'm happy for my professional peers and the community at large to know that I listen to metal, that I love my wife and that I enjoy playing gigs with my band. Those characteristics are not things that I can switch off - they're defining ingredients in what makes me who I am.

The trick isn't segregating the people in your life into different groups, it's being sensible and conscious of how you communicate to the group as a whole and in different places.

This is even more important in the open source world. The open source community is exactly that - a community. It's a set of professional relationships, but also a set of relationships that were forged and furthered in bars, at social events and in other casual environments. Our social nature is what makes our community so much fun to be a part of - don't hide that too much under a professional veneer.

Your CV: a foot in the door