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GitHub's Advice to 'Ask What You Can Do for Open Source'

If you're a developer -- especially if you or your organization uses open source software – you can pledge time to contribute to open source projects on GitHub.

On Saturday, the folks in Canada celebrated Canada Day, while today we here in the States are celebrating our Independence Day. Both countries celebrate with parades, fireworks and by eating too many hot dogs, and oddly enough, in the U.S. we include outdoor performances of the 1812 Overture -- which celebrates the defeat of a Western nation by Russia. Go figure.

Both holidays offer an opportunity to overindulge in national pride and to reflect on what it means to be a good citizen, which always evokes some variation on JFK's advice to "ask what you can do for your country." Of course, in this global world you might reword that to "ask what you can do for humankind." The choice is yours.

If you're a developer -- especially if you or your organization uses open source software -- GitHub has a potential answer to the question JFK would have you ask. You can pledge time to contribute to open source projects. It won't cost you anything but time, and you'll get to use your skills for the greater good.

GitHub is all about open source. While the development platform and code repository does host a number of proprietary projects, it's mostly a home for open source projects. And practically everyone uses it for at least a portion of their developmental needs -- even Microsoft which recently moved nearly all of it's open source projects to the platform.

And since we're on the subject of the Fourth of July, GitHub has also been a good open source citizen.

Already this year it has documented best practices with Open Source Guides that cover everything from how to make code contributions or start open source projects to finding users and building communities. It's released a balanced employee IP agreement, which any company or organization that requires employee IP agreements might find useful. In addition, it conducted an extensive Open Source Survey to provide insight into the state of open source.

It's latest project, Open Source Friday, was announced last week and it fits today's stateside celebrations -- or what those celebrations are meant to inspire.

"Open Source Friday is a structured program for contributing to open source," Mike McQuaid, a senior engineer at GitHub wrote in a blog announcing the project. "Contribution to open source is part of our DNA with GitHub employees maintaining projects like gh-ost, Rails, Atom, Homebrew, HospitalRun and Exercism. Over the last three years, we've encouraged GitHub employees to take time at least every fourth Friday to work on open source and share what we're working on with each other. Open Source Friday has grown from this into a program anyone can take part in."

It's doubtful that McQuaid, who hails from Scotland where they probably have a different take on our Independence Day than we, or GitHub made the connection with today's U.S. holiday -- you can blame me for that. But whether you agree there's a connection or not, Open Source Friday is still a good idea.

"Open Source Friday isn't limited to individuals," he added. "Your team, department, or company can take part, too. Contributing to the software you already use isn't altruistic—it's an investment in the tools your company relies on. And you can always start small: spend two hours every Friday working on an open source project relevant to your business."

Heck, if you play your cards right, you might even get the bosses to let you contribute on company time. And businesses that frequently use open source software might want to offer all employees the opportunity to contribute a couple of hours a week on the company's dime. This could include even those who aren't coders:

"A common misconception about contributing to open source is that you need to contribute code," GitHub points out in its guide on contributing to open source. "In fact, it’s often the other parts of a project that are most neglected or overlooked. You’ll do the project a huge favor by offering to pitch in with these types of contributions!"

Getting started is easy. Just go to the Open Source Friday webpage and click the "sign up" button. If you don't have at least a free GitHub account, you'll be prompted to open one. Once signed up, you'll find resources, including help finding open source projects that could use your help if you need it.

Now, go and enjoy your Fourth.

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