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Forge Your Future with Open Source: Build Your Skills. Build Your Network. Build the Future of Technology.


Cover image for Forge Your Future with Open Source

Forge Your Future with Open Source

Build Your Skills. Build Your Network. Build the Future of Technology.


Free and open source is the foundation of software development, and it’s built by people just like you. Discover the fundamental tenets that drive the movement. Take control of your career by selecting the right project to meet your professional goals. Master the language and avoid the pitfalls that typically ensnare new contributors. Join a community of like-minded people and change the world. Programmers, writers, designers, and everyone interested in software will make their mark through free and open source software contributions.

BookAuthority Ranked #1 of Best New Software Development Books to Read in 2018.

The best new Software Development books

Customer Reviews

This book has needed to exist for a long time. Newcomers to free and open source
software now have a thorough guide to participation, and the author’s real-world
experience shows on every page. Among the book’s strengths is that it not only
explains what steps to take (and their variants), but also shows new contributors
how things look from the project’s point of view. I hope and expect to see this book
referred to by contributors to projects across the internet.

- Karl Fogel

Partner, Open Tech Strategies, LLC

If you ever wished you could have a compendium of HOWTO open source from one
of the most knowledgeable folks in this biz, this is the book for you. Vicky is an
absolute gem and has successfully distilled decades of knowledge into an easy-toaccess
format that should be required reading for anyone wanting to get into FOSS.

- Katie McLaughlin

Director, Django Software Foundation, Python Software Foundation

The next time someone tells me they want to learn more about open source, I’ll
have the perfect book recommendation. Vicky has written the concise, practical
guidebook we were missing. Forge Your Future with Open Source is an excellent
quick-start guide for anyone stepping into the world of open source.

- Rikki Endsley

Community Manager,, Red Hat

Wonderfully readable, not only as a practical manual, but as an engaging and
inspirational introduction to the world of free software, one practical and peopleoriented
example at a time. This is the book I wish I had read many years ago.

- Chris Lamb

Debian Project Leader

I’ve been working in open source for almost two decades. I went to Microsoft a
decade ago to open-source .NET and C#. I wish I’d had a copy of VM’s book. This
book offers valuable historical context and practical guidelines on how and when
to work on an Open Source project. Forge Your Future with Open Source will no
doubt empower the next generation of contributors and I’m envious of their bright

- Scott Hanselman

Program Partner Manager, Open Source .NET, Microsoft

Vicky’s book is the “Goldilocks” guide to participating in open source: just the
right information, with neither too much obscure detail nor too little actionable
advice. I look forward to recommending it to others.

- Cat Allman

Board Member, USENIX

Contributing to a free software project is one of the best ways to help the free
software movement, and this book is the comprehensive, self-contained guide you
need to get started. Brasseur skillfully balances depth and breadth, homing in
on key points around the mechanics of contributing as well as the oft-neglected
meta areas of effective communication, licensing, and employment ramifications.

- John Sullivan

Debian Developer

Forge Your Future with Open Source goes where no book has gone before, clearly
teaching how to get started as a contributor to open source, explaining why contributing
is valuable and rewarding, and exploring the technical and social challenges
both new and experienced contributors face, in an honest and practical way.

- Allison Randal

Board Member, Open Source Initiative

In her inimitable style, VM Brasseur brings a useful cheat sheet for contributing
to free and open source software. There is probably something in this book for
everyone to learn.

- Karen Sandler

Co-Organizer, Outreachy

Vicky unflaggingly reminds us that creating software is a liberal art—and the
foundational art of Open Source is courtesy. If every reader were to practice some
of the advice in this book, the software world would be a more welcoming place.

- Robert “r0ml” Lefkowitz

Distinguished Engineer, ACM

Open Source runs most of the technology world, from mobile phones to the internet.
Despite it being open, there are many hidden rules in how teams work together.
Vicky’s glorious book removes the arcane barriers surrounding this field and
takes us along a journey into Open Source from the practice, the culture, the
community, the history, the motivation, and even how we talk to each other. It is
a book built on years of practice that not only needed to be written but deserves
to be read by anyone wanting to contribute to this field.

- Simon Wardley

Researcher, Leading Edge Forum

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About this Title

Pages: 222
Published: 2018-10-10
Release: P1.0 (2018-10-09)
ISBN: 978-1-68050-301-2

Free and open source software is the default choice for the programming languages and technologies which run our world today, and it’s all built and maintained by people just like you. No matter your skill level or area of expertise, with this book you will contribute to free and open source software projects. Using this practical approach you’ll understand not only the mechanics of contributing, but also how doing so helps your career as well as the community.

This book doesn’t assume that you’re a programmer, or even that you have prior experience with free and open source software. Learn what open source is, where it came from, and why it’s important. Start on the right foot by mastering the structure and tools you need before you contribute. Choose the right project for you, amplifying the impact of your contribution. Submit your first contribution, whether it’s code, writing, design, or community organizing. Find out what to do when things don’t go the way you expect. Discover how to start your own project and make it friendly and welcoming to contributors.

Anyone can contribute! Make your mark today and help others while also helping yourself.

What was your inspiration to write the book?

In the twenty years since the term “open source software” came into being, the popularity of free and open source software projects has soared. It’s now approaching a point where it’s at risk of being a victim of its own success, with more projects used by more people and companies but fewer folks who know how to contribute to and maintain them. This book is an insurance policy for free and open source software, its communities, and the thousands or millions of companies that rely on it to operate.

What outcomes would you like to see from readers?

Whatever your contribution is, whatever mark you hope to make on the world, however you aim to move your career forward through free and open source software, I hope that this book helps make that a reality. That’s its goal: to help you succeed by helping others. If that happens, even just once, then this book is a success.

How much experience in open source does a reader need before diving in?

They need only as little or as much as they have. Yeah, that’s a bit cryptic, but the book is designed to accommodate people of all experience levels where free and open source software is concerned. If you’re all new and know nothing about free and open source, you’ll find everything you need to get started. If you have a few contributions under your belt or a lot of experience, you’ll find a lot of details you may have assumed you knew but didn’t realize the reasoning behind.

What is the best way to get started contributing to a project?

Despite what you may hear on the internet, there is no One True Best Way to make your first contribution to a free and open source software project. It all depends on the combination of your skillset and the project’s needs. If you’re a translator, a designer, or an information security specialist, your path to contribution may be different than that of a programmer. This book shows people of all software development roles how to get started in a way that’s not only good for the project, but also good for them.

I’m a maintainer or mentor for an open source project. How can your book help me attract, develop, and retain contributors?

With the skyrocketing popularity of free and open source software, the competition for contributors is going through the roof as well. Projects that want to attract and retain those contributors may need help figuring out how to create a contribution process that’s both easy and effective. This book helps by sharing best practices for contributions as well as providing the valuable perspective of the new contributor. By seeing through their eyes, projects can spot and correct the pain points in their contribution processes.

What You Need

No requirements.


Contents & Extracts

  • Preface
    • What’s in This Book?
    • What’s NOT in This Book?
    • Who Should Read This Book?
    • Why Is This Book Not Openly Licensed?
    • Suggestions, Errata, or Questions?
    • Credits
    • Acknowledgments
  • The Foundations and Philosophies of Free and Open Source
    • It’s About the People
    • Why Learn About the Philosophies?
    • Free and Open Source Software Is Everywhere
    • Other Open Movements
    • The Origins of Free Software
    • The Origins of Open Source
    • Difference Between Free Software and Open Source
    • An Aside About Terminology
    • A Brief Introduction to Copyright and Licensing
    • Types of Free and Open Source Software Licenses
    • Now You Have a Strong Foundation
  • What Free and Open Source Can Do for You
    • FOSS Benefits to Your Skillset
    • FOSS Benefits to Your Career
    • FOSS Benefits to Your Personal Network excerpt
    • Benefit from Preparation
  • Prepare to Contribute
    • Ways to Contribute
    • Common Project and Community Roles
    • Files You Should Know About Before You Start
    • Issue Tracking
    • Common Communication Routes
    • Contributor License Agreement/Developer Certificate of Origin
    • You’re Ready to Find a Project
  • Find a Project
    • Set Your Goals
    • Collect Your Requirements
    • Collect Candidate Projects
    • Select a Project
    • Select a Task
    • What Is “Success”?
  • Make a Contribution
    • Prepare for Your Contribution
    • Craft Your Contribution
    • Gotchas
    • Clone and Branch excerpt
    • Atomic Commits
    • Test Your Contribution
    • Submit Your Contribution
    • Review, Revise, Collaborate
    • Tidy Up
    • Special Considerations for Windows-based Contributors
    • There’s More to Contributing Than Just Code
  • Make a Difference Without Making a Pull Request
    • Review Contributions
    • Provide Testing
    • Triage Issues
    • Volunteer for the Less Interesting Things
    • There Are So Many Options
  • Interact with the Community
    • After Your First Contribution
    • Get Help
    • General Tips for Participating in Discussions
    • The Importance of Setting Up and Maintaining Expectations
    • Communication Channels and How to Use Them
    • Mailing List
    • Issue Tracker
    • Real-Time Chat
    • Conference Call
    • Only the Tip of the Iceberg
  • It’s About the People
    • Get Together
    • Tips for Coping at a Conference or Meetup
    • Form Your Own Meetup
    • Moving up in the Community
    • FOSS Is People
  • When It Goes Wrong
    • Intimidated by FOSS’ Reputation
    • Can’t Find a Project
    • Company Policies
    • Contribution Process Is Unclear
    • Language Barriers
    • Your Contribution Is Declined
    • Community Problems
    • Sometimes You’re the Problem
    • How to Exit a Community
    • You Don’t Have to Feel Trapped
  • Start Your Own Project
    • Quick Start Guide to Releasing Your Own Project
    • What Is Your Goal?
    • Optimize for Community
    • Work in the Open
    • Keep It Simple, Silly
    • Share the Burden Early
    • Select Communication Routes
    • What About Issue Tracking?
    • Styleguides
    • Select a License
    • How to Apply a License
    • Publish the Project and You’re Done!
  • Contribute for Your Job
    • Contributing to External FOSS Projects
    • Contributing to Your Company’s FOSS Projects
    • Convincing Your Employer to Support FOSS
    • Forge Your Future
  • Glossary


VM (Vicky) has spent most of her 20 years in the tech industry leading software development departments and teams, and providing technical management and leadership consulting for small and medium businesses. Now she leverages nearly 30 years of free and open source software experience and a strong business background to advise companies about open source, technology, community, business, and the intersections between them.

Vicky is the proud winner of the Perl White Camel Award (2014) and the O’Reilly Open Source Award (2016). She is a moderator and author for and a frequent and popular speaker at open source conferences and events.

Currently Vicky lives in lovely Portland, Oregon with her amazing cats, Percy and Nigel.