Whenever a new developer shows up in some online thread asking for advice on how to learn to code, the replies always include “find an open source project to help with”. The 5th birthday of the Macintosh that I bought to learn to code is any day now, and I’ve just now worked up the chops and the courage to follow that advice. Here’s what I’d say to a younger me.

When people say that, it’s usually really intimidating to think about. What project? How do I get involved? What if I suck and get laughed off the internet? Well..

Pick a big one. Pick Drupal. Drupal is a huge, beautiful mess of an open source project and Drupal developers are highly in demand right now. This means that there is lots to work on, and when you’ve got something to show you can get paid decently well to do it. The advice is always to “scratch your own itch”, and indeed that’s what pretty much every developer in open source is doing. I just had my first patch applied to a project. It took me about 3 weeks from start to finish, but the majority of that wasn’t actually writing code. It was learning about what the other code did that I was trying to patch so that I could write a feature that actually followed Drupal conventions. This was a very simple little feature, but what I learned between 3 weeks ago and now ties into a LOT of core Drupal principles that have totally enabled me to write this other module that I need for work and have it work as intended on the first try.

So, in summary - help out on an open source project. It’ll make you a better developer faster than anything else.