October 2018

Volume 33 Number 10

Editor's Note - Open Soars

By Michael Desmond | October 2018

Michael DesmondWhen Mark Michaelis approached me about writing an article on how to contribute to Microsoft open source software (OSS) projects, I was a bit skeptical. After all, MSDN Magazine is committed to publishing code-level how-to articles for working developers engaged with the Microsoft tool stack. The other articles in this issue have titles like “Deploying to Azure App Service and Azure Functions,” “Logging SQL and Change-Tracking Events in EF Core” and “Face Detection Using the Eigenfaces Algorithm on the GPU.”

A couple things swayed my thinking. First, Michaelis stands out as one of our most successful and valuable authors. His articles have consistently been among the most widely read in the magazine, and if he thinks a Microsoft OSS story is a good idea, I’m going to hear him out. Second, the idea was timely given the clear and deepening commitment Microsoft has made to OSS over the years, and perhaps most notably on June 4, 2018, when Microsoft purchased GitHub.

I thought it telling that Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadellah took a moment in his blog post announcing the acquisition to offer a plea to those perhaps watching the GitHub acquisition with a jaundiced eye (bit.ly/2Npif2Q). He wrote:

“We have been on a journey with open source, and today we are active in the open source ecosystem, we contribute to open source projects, and some of our most vibrant developer tools and frameworks are open source. When it comes to our commitment to open source, judge us by the actions we have taken in the recent past, our actions today, and in the future.”

It’s a fair ask, and one Michaelis seemed aware of when I reached out to him for this column. He said that the sentiment toward Microsoft among open source developers, which once was broadly negative, has “turned around.” The numbers tell the story: At the moment of this writing, Microsoft hosts 1,971 OSS repositories on GitHub, including strategic technologies like .NET Framework, .NET Core and Xamarin.

In his article, Michaelis provides a roadmap for developers looking to contribute to Microsoft OSS projects. He addresses how Microsoft encourages newcomers to get involved, and provides insight into the mechanics of Microsoft-hosted OSS projects. For young coders eager to contribute, Michaelis says the first step is to become a Git expert. From there, he says, developers can worry about finding a good technical fit and advancing their personal and professional goals.

Enlisting an employer can sometimes make sense, says Michaelis: “The easiest thing is to ensure that the OSS project, and specifically the feature or bug you’re working on, is something that the company needs. If you have alignment, getting company support is relatively easy,” Michaelis says.

But he cautions that aligning with your day job may be a poor fit if you hope to build technical cred in an OSS project without regard for company objectives and projects. It may be best to do the side work on your own time, rather than your company’s.

“Perhaps some more realistic goals are, submit changes that you can point to when interviewing, fix an issue or feature that you need for your own work, or focus on an area that you need to improve your understanding anyway,” Michaelis says.

Ultimately, his advice to those looking to make a mark in the OSS space is simple: “Be passionate and willing to burn the midnight oil, as you would expect of anyone trying to rise to the top.”

Michael Desmond  is the Editor-in-Chief of MSDN Magazine.

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