Most Web designers and developers I’ve met use Open Source projects in some way. We design using free icons and develop on a LAMP stack. Popular MVC frameworks are widely used and supported. It’s rather difficult for a Web designer or developer to get very far without Open Source software. Most of the Open Source software world is dominated by the behemoths — Linux, Apache, PHP, Ruby, Rails, and the list goes on. However, there are also hundreds of thousands of smaller players in the Open Source arena, and they can use all the help they can get. Think you don’t have anything to contribute to Open Source projects? Think again… below are three different ways web designers and developers can contribute to Open Source projects.
Release code from your application
Web-based applications are popping up everywhere to manage everything from business productivity to personal interests. That means developers are solving a lot of existing problems in a new medium — the Interweb. Why not release the code for one of the problems solved? You will be helping others out, adding a great line item to your resume, and calling attention to your work and your company. It’s highly likely you’ll get feedback from your open-sourced code, which results in better code, and in turn, a better Web-based application.
A great example of this in action is the Emogrifier. Our Web-based project management software, Intervals, needed a feature developed that would allow users to send any page as an HTML email. It needed to merge external CSS definitions with an HTML document, resulting in an HTML email with inline CSS rules that most email clients could display. The code we ended up with was portable and we new other developers would have the same need, so we released it to the Open Source community. Since then it has only improved as developers have identified bugs and contributed improvements.
Share your unused design templates
When we design web sites we churn out a lot of comps. Only a few of those actually get used. We end up with a lot of unused design ideas filed away in random folders on our hard drive. Give these design comps a greater purpose by open sourcing them. You’ll be helping out other designers by sharing your work, and draw more attention to your design portfolio. To contribute to the open source web design community, take a look at the owsd or openwebdesign web sites.
Contribute to an existing open source project
No open source project is a one-size-fits-all solution. This is why most open source web apps have plugins available for download to add or customize functionality. Contributing plugins to open source software that you use is one of the best and easiest ways to get involved in its community. Write a plugin for WordPress or a module for Drupal because it is something you need, then give it back to the community.
When we integrated the Solr search utility into our project management software we settled on using Solarium. But there was one piece missing — a Curl adapter for communicating between the Solr server and our PHP code base. So we built one. Then we contributed it back to the Solarium project for others to use.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to contribute to Open Source projects. It just takes a little bit of time.