Friday, August 24, 2007

The Non-Programmer's Contributions.

The extent of my programming are some basic shell scripts, which I'm very proud of, but doesn't classify me as a hacker. Times are changing. Linux is becoming more popular and as a result the community is seeing more and more average computer users joining its ranks. As these new Linux and open source users become more familiar with the community, hopefully they will have a desire to give back. But how does a non-programmer contribute to the community which seems to be filled with programmers and system admins? I'm an accountant, am I expected to learn code to not feel like a moocher? Of course not!

Here are some ways to contribute to Linux and open sources without having a computer engineering degree.

1) Promote Linux and open source.
  • Tell your friends, co-workers and family about Linux and OSS. If they are not ready for a full OS conversion, tell them about some of the great OSS projects out there for windows, such as, Firefox, Thunderbird, Gaim, Audacity, etc.
  • Give out liveCDs. Ubuntu will even send you free CDs.
  • Offer to help install Linux on their computer.

2) Donate money to OSS projects. Many of their websites offer ways to donate.

3) Help others. Even if you still consider yourself a newbie, I can guarantee that there is someone else out there who is struggling with a problem or issue you've once faced. You can help answer questions or just offer suggestions in the following ways:

  • Forums. Visit your distributions forum. Many OSS projects also have their own forums. Help answer questions.
  • Attend installfests. Usually your local user groups put these on. Help some install Linux.
  • Jump on an IRC channel. User groups, distributions and various projects all have IRC channels where discussions and questions are asked constantly.

4) Help with documentation. Documentation is never-ending. Find a project you feel passionate about and assist in writing readme's, how-to's, tutorials, wiki entries, help guides, etc. Contact the project leader and tell him you would like to help. If you are bilingual help with translating documentation into another language.

5) Test for bugs. Learn how to properly report bugs. Download and use alpha, beta and release candidates of projects. If you don't have an extra system to test on, use one of the many virtual machines out there to test so you don't foul up your main system. Be specific so those working on the projects can have all the information they need to solve the problem.

6) Finally, continue to learn. The OSS community is fast-paced and is changing all the time. New projects pop up daily. The more you learn the more you can help others.

The Linux and open source community is non-discriminatory. Everyone is welcome. So now there are no more excuses. Get out there and help out. :)

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