By Duncan McKean. Cross-posted from

I get asked a lot by people who are interested in helping out open source projects, but have absolutely no programming skills. What can they do? Well, here are a few ideas how non-programmers can contribute to open source projects.

It is worth noting that it is best to contribute to software that you actually use yourself. That way you feel the benefits.

1. Use the product

The best way to contribute to open source projects is to use the products themselves. Write that book using Libre Office Writer. Draw a picture in Krita. Create something to 3D print in FreeCAD or Blender. Book your concert tickets on-line through Firefox. Do your personal accounts through Grisbi. Play Flightgear, Battle for Wesnoth, Vega Strike, and UFO: Alien Invasion.

2. Bug test

Because you are now using the product, occasionally it’ll crash when you try and do something. Or it will do something different than expected.

Get in touch with the developers and tell them. Developers thrive on this feedback from their users. It helps them perfect their product and because they’re open source projects the bug fixes are usually pretty quick.

Each projects will have a link to submit a bug. Go there, register and fill in the details. Remember to tell them what version of the software you were using and the specifications of your computer.

3. Write documentation

Help write the documentation for the project so it is clearer and easier to understand.

Most of the time the developers are too busy developing and so the documentation needs some TLC. You could format it better, clarify some of the language, add images or tutorials. If bits of the project are unclear, ask on the mailing lists. When you get the response add it to the documentation. Once the software maintainers understand what you are doing, they will be even more helpful with their answers.

4. Translation

There will be a lot of people the world over using this project and some of them might not speak the language the project is released in. If you can speak an obscure language fluently/natively, get in touch with the developers/documentation team and offer your services. You might end up translating the interface, the documentation, even the website.

Offer relevant skills you have. Look at individual projects and see what they need. Can you provide that? Are you a sound designer and could create some noises for an open source computer game? Interface designer? You could help out with redesigning their UI to make it more user friendly. It is even possible to run successful businesses using and training in open source software.

You can also contribute to the libre (freedom) culture by publishing what you create under a creative commons license so your creations can help promote the software they were created on. This could include:

  • Images
  • Programs
  • Tutorials
  • Installation Guides
  • Books

You use CC BY-SA if you want to ensure any reuse is also libre; CC BY generic license if you don’t mind what it’s used for. Find out more at the Creative Commons website.

Photo credit: Peregrino Will Reign / / CC BY-NC-SA.

5. Evangelise

Raising awareness of Open Source projects is a great thing to do. Don’t get in everybody’s face about it, just let people know what you’ve been using. Created using MyPaint on LinuxMint. Written in Sigil using Ubuntu. Proudly supporting WordPress. That sort of thing.

6. Donate

Last but not least, give them money. With money, the project can hire extra developers that can bug fix quicker, create new tools, make it better for you. Some projects offer one-off donation payments, whilst others allow you to pay small amounts monthly. This is a better idea because it really helps the developers plan when they know how much money is definitely coming in.

7. Be professional

One of the discriminations against open source software is its lack of professionalism and so no matter how you help with open source projects make sure you are professional about it. Raising the quality of the project starts with its users. Make sure that you act in a professional manner when discussing projects with others and create quality output when you use open source software.

Now you know all of this, go forth and help make open source projects amazing.

Suggested starting places

Here are just a couple of places to get started. Because I am a designer, I’m afraid that these are for designers, too.

Originally posted on twenty-one, the Sparkwood and 21 design blog. Resposted using Creative Commons.


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