Issue #13 November 2005

Beyond armchair quarterback: Getting involved in Fedora

Many of us are aware of the Fedora™ Project as the source of leading edge technologies through Fedora Core and Fedora Extras. What not all of us may know, however, is that Fedora also offers many opportunities to change the direction that these technologies take. If you've ever wanted to go beyond being an observer of the open source community, this article will help you find how to make your mark as an active community participant. You don't have to be technically savvy to make a difference. Fedora has a place for technical and non-technical contributors alike, and the only important thing is being motivated to make a difference.

The basic rule of having fun while making meaningful open source contributions is simple: spend your time doing stuff that you will enjoy and that others will use.Having fun while changing the world

There are tons of improvements waiting to be made in the Fedora Project, but why would you want to spend your time on them, when you could be doing really exciting things like alphabetizing your T-shirt collection or making home movies of things that grow in your refrigerator?

For some people, it's about making cool new ideas become a reality and influencing the future. The open source community is on the forefront of technologies such as virtualization, stateless OS installations, and more. By participating in Fedora, you have the chance to take your great ideas and make them a reality in software that is used by millions of people.

For others, it's about making a name for themselves by proving their skills. There's nothing like going to a job interview and having the interviewer recognize you from your involvement in open source software that they use. One big advantage of using open source involvement for career advancement is that there is virtually no barrier to "getting your foot in the door", allowing you to gain experience on your own terms and at your own pace.

Still others see it as a learning opportunity. It's one thing to learn about software architecture in the classroom. It's another thing to make it happen in real life, while dealing with all the constraints that textbooks fail to mention.

Finally, there's the fun that comes from being part of an open source community. The chance to hang out online and work with smart and talented people from around the world is unique among volunteer opportunities, and it's also a great way to make contacts within the computer software industry. Your goal may be to change the world, but while you're doing that, wouldn't you rather spend the time together with other people and have a little fun along the way?

Where can I help?

At this point, you're probably interested in participating in Fedora. What you might still be wondering is how to find your place in Fedora, and whether you have any specific skills that would be useful within the Fedora Project. Yes, there's a place for you! Here are some of the areas that you can be involved in:

Fedora Core, Fedora Extras, and Fedora Directory Server are currently the three main Fedora sub-projects that produce user-consumable software, while Fedora Legacy is another community project that takes care of long-term updates for the older Fedora Core releases. If you're interested in doing software development, integration, packaging, and release engineering, these projects are the place to go. Skills that are especially valuable to these projects are RPM packaging, C programming, and debugging. More advanced developers can take on tasks such as reviewing packages, mentoring junior developers, and taking part in project leadership.

Fedora Documentation is critical to the success of Fedora. This is where all technical writing and some marketing writing efforts are focused. Whether or not you're technically savvy, if you have skills to lend in writing, editing, and proofreading, Fedora Documentation would be glad to have you involved. The FDP also is looking for people to help translate documentation and websites into foreign languages, so that Fedora is within the reach of the entire world.

Fedora Marketing is all about spreading the word on Fedora. We want user mentors, Community Marketing Contacts, artists, and willing volunteers in general. Some of the activities that the Marketing project is involved in are booths at tradeshows, public relations, and volunteer recruitment. Enthusiasm and people skills are the most important requirements for making a difference in Fedora Marketing.

Fedora BugZappers is a fledgling project that wants volunteers to step up and take it to the next level. The purpose of the project is to reduce the amount of work Fedora Core and Fedora Extras developers have to do on routine tasks such as prioritizing bugs and closing duplicates. This project is great for people who don't consider themselves developers, but still have the technical knowledge needed to understand the basics of a bug report from a user.

Fedora Testing is not a formal project, but it still could use help from volunteers. The quality of a Fedora Core release is directly dependent on the people who download and install the snapshots leading up to that release, and then report the bugs they find. If you have a fast Internet connection, the ability to do test installs on a "scratch" machine, and the tenacity to find bugs, your help is wanted with testing.

One area where participation is always wanted is as an active Fedora user. In addition to the mailing lists, there are IRC channels, web forums, and knowledge bases where Fedora users gather to help ecah other out. A great way to help Fedora is by contributing to constructive discussions in these forums, and by directing people to the best forum for their needs.

Management, Administration, and Infrastructure are loosely grouped background tasks that nevertheless have a major impact on the progress of Fedora. The main idea is to get the obstacles out of the way so that all the developers, writers, and other contributors can focus on doing what they love most. Project management, coding, and sysadmin skills are just a few of the abilities that are valuable in this area.

Finally, if you don't feel like being involved in the areas I've mentioned, you can create your own role. There are always opportunities for enterprising volunteers to find new and creative ways to be part of Fedora. Whatever your interests and abilities, the members of the Fedora Project would love to have you involved.

I hope to see you online. If there's anything I can do to help you get started, please feel free to e-mail me at sopwith@gmail.com. You can also visit the Fedora "Help Wanted" page for a list of tasks available.

About the author

Elliot Lee has been a software engineer at Red Hat since 1996. His open source contributions include release engineering for Fedora Core, co-founding the GNOME project, and maintaining assorted open source libraries and utilities. He currently is leading out in work on Fedora infrastructure and management.