Community post by Riaan Kleinhans, Technical Project Manager at ii.nz
Three years ago, I ventured into the open source world and quickly discovered that community members yearn for more people to join their ranks. Likewise, many outsiders are eager to dive into this vibrant ecosystem. To help bridge this gap and foster a more robust community, I documented my observations in a comprehensive “Getting Started Guide.” I hope this guide will facilitate onboarding newcomers, and accelerating the growth of open source communities.
One of the best ways to break the ice at Kubecon is to ask someone how they got involved in open source.
Here’s my story: I am a father of three homeschooled teenage boys, and the only commercial software on their laptops is Minecraft and a training flight simulator. Over the past three years, we’ve built some incredible open source projects with Raspberry Pis and Arduinos, including night vision goggles, a drone, a wildlife camera trap, remote control airplanes, a 4-axis CNC foam cutter for model airplane parts, a powerful electromagnet, and many more, all designed and 3D printed using open source software.
It all started when I left my job as a Senior Project Manager in the automotive manufacturing industry, where I had worked for 15 years. In early 2020, my family and I were immigrating to New Zealand to start a new life. We sold everything we couldn’t ship and shipped everything we held dear to New Zealand. However, when I finished my job in South Africa, New Zealand closed its borders due to COVID-19, leaving us unsure of our future.
On April 7, 2020, I began working remotely for ii.coop in New Zealand, in a time zone that was 10 hours ahead of mine. Our lives were turned upside down, with night becoming day, and everything we owned fit into a few suitcases. I started working on the Kubernetes conformance project, which had less than 25% test coverage. (I’m proud to say that we reached 100% in the 1.27 release cycle.)
Coming from a world of automotive trade secrets and strict non-disclosure policies, I was initially confused by the openness of the open source community. My biggest hurdle was understanding the context and technical discussions, followed by the technical challenges of contributing to open source.
Since then, I’ve attended many community meetings where the topic of discussion was “getting more contributors.” The common refrain is “just make that first PR,” in response to Slack messages or comments in Github issues like “I want to contribute to open source, where can I start?” But these skilled tech people, thinly spread and constantly battling burnout, don’t have the time to bring someone from zero to contributor, let alone to maintainer-level knowledge.
Over time, I gained confidence and knowledge in the open source space. Things I heard in meetings began to make sense. I also started introducing my children to the world of open source tools. One by one, they abandoned commercial operating systems and applications. They found ways to solve real-world problems in their own lives while also sharing their knowledge with other homeschooled children. Even though all their physical possessions were 12,000 km away in a warehouse, they were inspired to build a new life with open source projects.
If you attend Kubecon Amsterdam, keep an eye out for my friend Jay Tihema, a CNCF Mentoring Working Group co-chair. When he joined ii in 2022, I felt comfortable holding my own in the open source space. But he, too, was confronted with the “just make that first PR” narrative. We spent many hours on video calls making those first PRs together and explaining why we were doing things in a specific way. He has a passion for empowering young people and often had to listen to stories of “the next open source project” my kids were building. The question between us was always: “What problem are we solving?”
Jay is currently leading efforts with the native New Zealand Māori community to create pathways into technology and the tech industry for Māori. While I won’t be able to attend Kubecon Amsterdam, I am proud that Jay will be there, thanks to the Dan Kohn Diversity Scholarship, standing on my shoulders with the few open source skills I was able to bring.
Realizing how obscure the path to open source can seem for so many people outside the community, I have documented my advice for getting started, which can be found on the contribute.cncf.io website. Like all things open source, this document is waiting for your review and the possibility of adding your own knowledge.
Sitting at my table writing this, I reflect on how it has traveled to New Zealand and back. While my family has stayed in the same country, we have been on a long open source journey. Everyone has a story; ask them about it.