The short version of my story is this. People in the Rust community are really nice. Crate owners often label good first issues as such & in my experience have provided excellence mentorship. I’ve become good friends with so many people in this community & I think that also plays a part in why I’m more comfortable getting involved, but I don’t think that’s necessary to participate!
Without further ado, here is the longer story of my journey with getting involved in Rust open source.
I attended RustConf in 2017 without having ever written a line of Rust & attended Rust Bridge! Ashley Williams & Carol Nichols walked through making a web app in Rust. It’s a small project with 1 commit that says,
cute webapp made during rustbridge
which is objectively true. You can look at it here. We covered how to use crates, some syntax, & control flow. I remember liking the immutability by default & pattern matching. I allegedly asked good questions! I made a few friends & met a lot of really cool people! I was in awe at the talks, even though I didn’t understand most of it at the time, & remembered spinning up a new Rust project to play around with Rocket during the conference.
After I went back home, I went back to self studying Haskell & watched Rust unfold on Twitter. I did 1 more small, quick project called friend-voter in November 2017 that parsed an htm file of facebook friends & compared it to a csv file of potential voters that hadn’t casted their vote yet. The compiler error messages reminded me of Elm & the nice types reminded me of Haskell. I really enjoyed writing Rust! After that I went back to focusing on Haskell because that was what local people around me were doing at the time.
Then the Boulder/Denver Rust Meetup rebooted on February 28th, 2018. I attended! I felt really nervous about showing up to a new tech meet up because I didn’t think I would belong. That’s how I felt in most tech spaces up to that point. The Rust Meetup felt almost exactly like RustConf did. Pete Lyons & Danny Fritz created a really welcoming space & I knew I belonged there. I enjoyed Pete’s talk on learning Rust at the Recurse Center & Joel Dice’s talk on Tokio. I got a lot of the presentations!
Immediately, we were greeted by the rust-highfive bot. The bot said,
Thanks for the pull request, and welcome! The Rust team is excited to review your changes, and you should hear from @steveklabnik (or someone else) soon.
The fact that this bot existed to welcome people’s changes was nice. I felt better that the changes might be well received. We got some code review from GuillaumeGomez, made another change, & QuietMisdreavus approved the changes. She even left a comment saying,
This is great! Thanks for following up on @GuillaumeGomez’s comment. This is something i’ve wanted myself, so i’m glad you were able to get it rolling.
It was merged! I was excited about participating on something like that. Since I was new to Rust I wasn’t sure that I could really contribute something of value in Rust. I got a job writing Rust though & a lot of the friends I made in that community through Twitter were helping me learn the language.
I very stubbornly showed up to RustConf last year.
I had a normal day leading up to my flight. I worked, I biked 15 miles, I did chores, I prepared 2 weeks of Haskell Book Club, & I got on a plane to go to this conference.
Once I was there I called a friend back home after I got to my hotel in Portland. I told them,
why am I at this programming conference when I don’t know how to code?
why are you calling me at midnight telling me things that are untrue?
I told them I wasn’t feeling well. I thought I was having a panic attack. They suggested I go to the ER. So I did & I had pneumonia.
I’m glad they told me to go because my health stats were Bad. The doctors initially said that I should remain in the hospital for the entire weekend. But while I was in the ER, I yelled at the doctors enough about Rust that they
learned about the concept of ownership & knew that I was merely a mutable borrow whose ownership must be returned to the caller, RustConf eventually decided to release me. After I was released, I went directly to the conference at noon & made the afternoon talks! Shoutout to Michael Gattozzi & Alex Payne for literally carrying me around the conference!
You might be wondering,
why would you put so much effort into going to a conference right after you almost died, instead of staying in, resting, & taking care of yourself?
I enjoy in person community! It’s how I meet people best! I was excited to get to listen to the talks & learn new stuff, but I was excited to meet new people & get to learn what they are working on too! Often people will have calls for participation or will be looking for collaborators. Sometimes you’ll talk to someone working on something cool & you can ask to get involved!
Sunjay Varma’s talk on Turtle ended with a call to action to try out the crate, contribute to the project, & file issues. Ashley was also looking for new contributors to rust wasm & Michael previously encouraged me to get involved with the project. On the hack day after the conference, I made a few small documentation changes. Ashley said that she really valued the contribution to me in person & that meant a lot to me.
I talked to a few people at the RustConf & we ended up pairing with them on projects later on!
isis lovecruft posted a good first issue for
x25519-dalek with mentorship on Twitter on the first day of my batch at RC.
I jumped at the opportunity not only because I think that security is fascinating, but I got to meet isis & Henry de Valence at RustConf & they are both incredibly kind people. I thought they would be nice to work with & I had a really good experience contributing to their project!
Security in particular is a difficult area to start contributing to unless you have a lot of domain specific knowledge. But thanks to Rust, with its strong types & memory safety, I was able to more easily implement the desired drop logic & write the new API without worrying that I would introduce security vulnerabilities or make some other critical mistake. Henry also provided really good code review that enabled me to write the API in a way that lined up with the adjoining RFC for the x25519 function used for implementing the Diffie-Hellman key exchange. In a separate post I plan to write about what all I learned on that project, but the difficulty of a contribution like this in other languages & communities & the generous amount of time isis & Henry spent teaching me made this issue stick out to me.
It was a valuable contribution! Both of them showed that in a number of ways, but most notably, they listed me as an author of
x25519-dalek to credit me for my work.
Since then I’ve done a few other PRs to a couple of other projects. I got to learn about bits & pieces of projects by working on PRs for these projects & that’s been a lot of fun! I’m planning on talking about these contributions, but if you want to see what I’ve done a few I really enjoyed doing were:
- testing the wasm game of life
- implementing a default montgomery point
- inlining extern crates
- retaining protobuf comments
The Rust community over & over again has clearly said that beginners have valuable things to contribute. At the beginning of my batch at the Recurse Center, I would’ve considered myself a Rust beginner, but I’m contributing to projects on my own now & helping others with their Rust projects. The Rust community has helped me level up my ability as a developer by providing some mentorship to get started & reassurance that these contributions are wanted & valuable!
I wrote about this because several people asked me how they could get involved with Rust open source & in open source with the programming language they choose to use. Some raised concerns about people being kind & possibly not knowing the language well enough to contribute. I can only speak about what worked in my experience & I feel like I’m very lucky to be where I’m at. I found a lot of kind people I enjoy working with in Rust & I’ve found lots of people that have helped me learn on issues. I hope that if anyone decides to contribute to Rust projects because of this post that is your experience as well!
Nice programmers can be found in every programming community though! People are also generally receptive to folks that take genuine interest in the work they are doing. Most people I’ve encountered so far are excited about new contributors! Reach out to these people! Send an email, try to introduce yourself at a meetup, comment on a github issue on 1 of their projects. See if you can get involved & work with them & maybe you’ll also find a project you like contributing to in your programming community.
& remember to be courteous & kind to the people running these projects. Everyone’s time & energy is valuable & it’s kind of people to donate their knowledge, empathy, & time to create open source software. I’m incredibly grateful to the people that have spent time helping me learn.