12 characters and 12 months later

It was exactly one year ago today that my first patch made it into WordPress.

Changeset 12192

I can’t believe it’s been only 12 months, and I’m willing to bet you can’t either. I definitely took to the community — and the community to me — in a very unorthodox and lightning-fast way. It’s been one hell of a ride, and I don’t intend to slow down. But for now, let me offer a window into my first year.

WordPress was the first open source project, of any size, to which I contributed. Overall, it’s been an incredibly humbling experience. The learning curve can be steep. It’s taught me a lot about the open source development process. I’ve learned a lot about programming. I’ve had the chance to walk into a room — many times, both in real life and virtually — with the honest belief that everyone is smarter than you. I know my limits, but I’ve continued to push them at the same time. I’ve learned what it means to have an opinion without having a personal agenda.

I contributed because I wanted to. I didn’t have a reason otherwise. I had never heard about Google Summer of Code until Dion Hulse mentioned it to me a month after I began contributing, when I was already a dozen or two accepted patches deep.

I’ll take that back — I heard of Google Summer of Code in passing from my predecessor at The Hatchet, the student newspaper I worked for in college. That’s where I started, and I owe that paper basically everything — many of my friends and most of my skills. It took me more than two years using WordPress, and learning it from my good friend Ben Balter, for me to finally step up and contribute. Worth every second.

Yes, my first patch really was just 12 characters. It was pretty much useless. I found a ticket I could assist in, and so I assisted. I even screwed up Trac along the way.

When it was committed three days later, first thing I did was forward it to Ben. (The apprentice had become the master. Heh.) I’ve since had the chance to partake in other people’s first patches. A favorite one might be the story of Aaron Jorbin’s first patch. To boot, he’s since moved to the D.C. area. And John O’Nolan got involved after I worked with him to fix a bug. Now he runs the UI group. Just two of many good friends I’ve gained.

Laughing with John O'Nolan at WordCamp NL. Photo by Punkmedia.nl

Less than three months later, after a serious blitz of more than 100 patches at just the right time, I was asked to become a committer. It wasn’t just the svn ci command that was intimidating. Of anyone who may have watched my contributions and didn’t think I was ready, I was first in line. But Ryan had faith, so I told him I’d do my best.

How do I learn? I learn first by reading, and second by doing. If you want to contribute, I strongly encourage it. More important is when you submit that first bug report or patch, not necessarily when it makes it into WordPress — it’s a community effort, and that first step is important. (I wish I had published this post three days ago to emphasize that.)

But also take the time to read. I spent two weeks reading every Trac comment and patch before contributing, and six weeks reading every commit, and 10 weeks reading every hackers thread. I still read every commit, comment, and thread.

So what’s next? Well, the core contributor handbook, for one, which I hope to get out by the end of the year. It’s only fitting that I can write down whatever I’ve learned in this whirlwind year in a manual for the next person to use as a guideline.

My accomplishments may include more than a thousand commits and 700 individual contributions, but I still haven’t proven myself anything. There are still deep, dark areas of WordPress to which I haven’t ventured. More and more things click, thankfully — far more than they did twelve months ago.

I’m also editing a book, and I’ve participated in Google Summer of Code, spoken at 6 WordCamps, traveled to 9 cities in the name of WordPress, and I’m up to more than a dozen T-shirts. That’s not a bad deal for one year.

Here’s to an awesome year two.

40 thoughts on “12 characters and 12 months later

  1. My WordPress mentor! It’s literally nuts how much you’ve done in just one short year, and how many people you’ve touched / inspired / motivated. I wouldn’t be a core contributor if it wasn’t for you and I think there are plenty of others who could say the same :)

  2. Congratulations on a year well done!

    Aside from a tremendous work ethic, your participation in the larger community (along with Jane’s) has been a welcomed addition to the already excellent accomplishments of the others on the core commit team. I don’t know of a single one of my peers that doesn’t respect you for this.

    Stay sharp and keep doing what you’re doing!

  3. Just want to say thanks for writing about your experiences building WordPress. This article + many Twitter conversations have really made the idea of creating patches more approachable for me. I now read every commit and you’re totally right, it teaches you a lot. Congrats on a productive year and thanks for your great work on WordPress!

    • Thanks so much! Indeed, the commits are a goldmine of great information and knowledge.

      I can only hope that the core contributor handbook will lower the barrier to entry even further.

  4. I think one thing missing from this post is the sheer number of memes you’ve brought to the table. #blamenacin #overheardfromnacin #nacinsmash #sleepynacin #nacinbot #tracflood #whorapedmyinbox? => #itwasnacin

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  6. Congrats Nacin — I didn’t realize it’s only been a year, it definitely feels like more. I’m pretty sure that’s because without sleeping, you manage to spend a lot more time on WP than most ;) Keep up the awesome work, and I’m sure this year will hold a load more fun and excitement.

    I’m pretty sure this was my first patch :)

  7. Congrats! And happy anniversary! WordPress literally wouldn’t be the same without you. :)

    Thanks for your hard work and dedication. You’re a great example to the open source community, a great developer, and a good friend.

    You may want to sleep at some point though, or invest a nice cappuccino machine.

  8. Happy first-patch-day! Awesome work buddy — though even that doesn’t really cut it as a description of “a thousand commits and 700 individual contributions” in a year.

  9. WOW great post (and read) Andrew! :) I remember how simple my first patch was, being only 4 characters compared to your 12, and since then the likes of Ryan, Peter, Scribu and yourself have committed a few of my other patches. I’m not counting or that, but I think I hit 10 a few days ago? ;)

    Thanks for all your contributions to WordPress, you know what I like for 3.1!

  10. I’ve had the utmost pleasure to hear Andrew (and John ‘O Nolan) speak at WordCamp NL and talk to them over lunch. As a devoted WordPress user I’m very humbled with every contribution by every committer, but Nacin really is a breed of its own. Not only is he a very witty (and speedy!) presenter and all around nice bloke, the guy is also a walking WordPress encyclopedia and is – as mentioned by John already – lovingly referred to as #nacinbot. Having witnessed him at WordCamp NL I can finally testify the man is indeed a multitasking WordPress robot.

    Thanks for all your hard work in making WordPress the best CMS in the world and I look forward to the core contributor handbook!

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  12. Happy WordPress Anniversary mate!
    Your commitment to WordPress is inspiring and I have greatly enjoyed getting to know you. Thank you for all of your hard work. Oh and my cat hasn’t slept a full night since you visited me and petted her. I think something of you rubbed off on her and now she’s robo-kitteh! #blamenacin :)

  13. For all history to remember… Mr. Nacin’s exact words upon getting his first patch committed (and my attrocious spellingg):

    p.s. FYI, first anniversary is always paper.

  14. Nacin, you rock! that was some hell of a story. Thanks for all your efforts pushing WordPress to the infinity and beyond! :D
    Cheers!

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