People always ask how I got involved with Free Software and of course lately, Ubuntu. I started messing with Linux around 1993 or 1994 and back then it wasn’t all that easy to find a single starting point on getting involved. I was a coder back then, but I didn’t feel like I was a hardcore coder compared to the guys who were doing the kernel hacking, putting GNOME together, or tweaking AfterSTEP. So for the longest time I stayed on the sidelines and was just a user, and at times an abuser. Hi, my name is Rich and I am a Linux user! (everyone applaud and cheer at this point). Today is much different when it comes to getting involved.
Getting involved in a free software community or a Linux distribution community is as easy as choosing your outfit for the day (unless of course your mom or significant-other dresses you). For the past 10+ years I was using SuSE (before Novell), Debian, and Slackware. It wasn’t easy to find one spot that I fit into. My coding style at that time was way different than what the communities were doing. Then Mepis came around, of course I heard of Ubuntu, but I have been a long time KDE user and contributor, and wanted a distribution that was built for and with KDE in mind. Then came Kubuntu. The Ubuntu community was popular for the super friendly people who always seemed to be there to help you no matter your situation as well as being very easy to get involved with. I knew I had found the place I wanted to help build and support the legacy it has built and continues to build.
So that is the past. Now, what exactly did I do to get involved with Ubuntu and Kubuntu? People (Brandon, aka imbrandon) will tell you, I was just a typical user when I stumbled upon #kubuntu-devel on IRC. I haven’t touched code since the 90’s, but I knew my way around KDE and Linux/Debian pretty good. So at first when there were pre-release ISOs (i.e., Feisty Herd 5 CD image), I would download, burn them, and then install it, and ask what exactly needed to be tested, see if I could find bugs and report them. From there, only a few weeks later I ran into Matthew East and Jonathan Jesse of the Ubuntu Documentation Project. I wanted to help document, that is something I can help out with. So they pointed me to starting out with editing and cleaning up the Wiki pages to see how I was there. I did that for a few weeks, then decided I would download the documentation repository and play with it. My XML and DocBook skills at that time were next to nothing, very rusty. After submitting a few patches to close existing documentation bugs, Matt went ahead and set me up with SVN access and Documentation Team membership. I haven’t looked back since, this was the first group that really gave me a HUGE chance at getting involved with a very important aspect of Ubuntu. Now I am a Kubuntu documentation junkie, can’t get enough of it.
Well during this time I also hooked up with people like Jordan Mantha, Daniel T. Chen, Brandon Holtsclaw, Sarah Hobbs, Jonathan Riddell, and many many more (bddebian boo!). They helped me learn packaging (which I am still learning). Now I have had quite a few packages uploaded into the repositories that many of you use on a daily basis. That is super cool. After this I wanted more. So I am in the process of “re-learning” or knocking the dust off of my C++ skills (weak as all hell at this point) so I can get back into coding and have been working on a couple of secret projects and not-so-secret projects.
So, with the Ubuntu community I am involved in one way or the other with: Kubuntu documentation, Kubuntu release notes, Ubuntu packaging (MOTU wannabe), Marketing, LoCo Teams (Chicago and Illinois are the beginnings of my world domination plan), Edubuntu Documentation (got in here by accident, but if you really want to get in quick, Edubuntu is the way to go, they need developers and documenters), The Fridge, and more… I am now involved with KDE and helping out with KDE 4 and KOffice 2 documentation, and getting involved deeper with KHelpCenter and hopefully some day a fully integrated topic based help system that is desktop environment independent.
So, if you want to get involved, let me be the first to say, IT IS EASY! Follow your instincts, to bite off more than you can chew, and go for it! If you aren’t a coder, don’t worry the community still needs you. Get involved with Marketing, Documentation (Wiki work as well), LoCo teams, IRC support, bug triaging, and so much more. From here you will learn the ropes rather quickly by watching others in the community and your growth will be determined by you. Who knows, this time next year you may be a top-knotch developer who many people look up to. That is another perk of being involved in such a great community, whether it is Ubuntu, KDE, GNOME, or whatever, people will look up to you, not as a God, but more or less as a leader or liason wanting to absorb everything the community has taught you. It is great getting someone interested and then watching them grow and become a great community leader.
Jono Bacon, the Ubuntu Community Manager, gives the greatest talks I have ever seen when it comes to community. Here is a YouTube video of his latest and greatest, Herding Cats, talk at linuxconf.au this year.
GET INVOLVED NOW! It’s easy, rewarding, and a great place to meet new friends.