When I think back to the things that have helped me in my career, one of the biggest has to be the community.

The chats during local usergroup meetings, the conference hallway track, the Slack groups. All are great ways to get to know other people in the community, learn something new, and even teach somebody else something they didn’t know.

But another way to grow as a developer is by contributing to open source. It may be unpaid work, but being part of the community can provide many benefits.

It lets you tackle something new

Often, trying out some new tech isn’t commercially viable for a day job. It can be hard to justify the cost and the time when a company needs to make money.

In 2017, I plan to get more experience in automated testing. As a member of the joind.in community, I am able to contribute to the automated tests on a real project, and a real website, with real peers. I’ll be working with other people’s code, and I will probably also learn from the other contributors.

You’re giving back

We all make use of open source software as part of our day job, so to be able to give back in some small part helps you grow. You’re not only contributing to the world we all work in, but you’re also contributing to the community. A community that you’ve made that little bit better.

You’re making friends

Among the pull requests, bug tickets, and reviewing of code, you soon start to get to know about your fellow contributors. If there’s a project Slack channel, you might find yourself talking about non-project things.

If you contribute to WordPress or Drupal, you might attend a Wordcamp or Drupalcon — or a local WordPress or Drupal usergroup. You might find yourself eating lunch with someone you’ve been talking to over Slack.

If you ask me, this is the most fruitful of benefits to contributing to open source. I don’t always find time to contribute code to open source projects: often it can be months between my pull requests. But I’m always around, in the community, in the background.

And that’s because I made some friends. Friends who have taught me, and friends who I’ve taught. Friends who I’ve shared both a feature ticket and a laugh with.

My year of open source

A few months ago, I set up a local group where once a month, people can come along and spend some time talking, drinking tea, and contributing to open source. I call it Patch:Manchester.

Next year, in 2017, I want to continue learning and growing, and I will be using open source to do that. I’ll also be using Patch:Manchester to do that.

Why don’t you do the same?