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.