December 05, 2014

Communication & Collaboration as Keys to Open Source

##First Open Source Lesson

I have been informally starting on some documentation projects as a part of my Free and Open Source Software Outreach Program ( internship with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT).

More than once I’ve started on some task only to realize that it’s already been started or addressed since the last time I checked on it. I’ve been surprised at how much time it takes just to stay up-to-date via mailing lists and github issues and collaborate with others. I am learning an important lesson here on the importance of keeping up communication and seeing projects as “joint” and “collaborative” efforts. I remember feeling disappointed that someone started a project I proposed only to realize later how much better the final outcome could be with work from more people. So yes, it takes longer and there’s misunderstanding and miscommunication in the process sometimes but in the end it’s worth it.

I think for a while I imagined myself going off into a cave to work on something and submitting the work later for feedback. I am realizing that I need to be more proactive in reaching out and making sure I am on the same page even before starting work as well as orchestrating my work in such a way that I always have something to work on while waiting for feedback or questions to be answered. It can be hard when many HOT contributors span the world’s timezones but I am learning the art of working remotely with people across the globe.

I’ve been suprised at how much of Open Source Contributing doesn’t involve code related pull requests. I enjoyed reading Tobias Pfeiffer’s blog post on the many ways to contribute to open source. I would like to contribute code as well but in the meantime I think starting on improving documentation is a good place for me to get up to speed on installing and using the HOT mapping tools.

I’ve also started to plan a mapping party with a local GIS Mapping Enthusiast; I am excited about learning more in the process of preparing for this event and teaching. I was initially concerned I might not find someone else interested in organizing a mapping party with me in Portland this winter but I found someone interested at a local MaptimePDX meetup and I think our event will be much better with two co-organizers and our different backgrounds.

I’ve heard that one of the best ways to learn is to teach others. I’d like to take this advice to heart and help out others by updating HOT’s documentation as I learn to use HOT’s tools, writing helpful blog posts, and teaching others what I know in person at local meetups. Lukas, lead instructor and organizer of the Ascend Project, once described writing tutorials and teaching what you know as leaving a trail of bread crumbs behind for others to follow. I hope this blog and my help with HOT’s documentation will leave enough bread crumbs so that people who are starting out where I did can follow along.