WP Briefing: Episode 36: Beginner’s Guide to Contributions 2.0

In the thirty-sixth episode of the WordPress Briefing, Josepha Haden Chomphosy revisits the Beginner’s Guide to Contributions to the WordPress open source project.

Have a question you’d like answered? You can submit them to wpbriefing@wordpress.org, either written or as a voice recording.


Editor: Dustin Hartzler
Logo: Beatriz Fialho
Production: Santana Inniss
Song: Fearless First by Kevin MacLeod


  1. Performance Team Information
  2. WordCamp US Contributor Day Table Lead Info
  3. Call for Testing #15: Category Customization
  4. Contributor Quizlet


[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:00:10]  

Hello everyone, and welcome to the WordPress Briefing. The podcast where you can catch quick explanations of some of the ideas behind the WordPress open source project and the community around it, as well as get a small list of big things coming up in the next two weeks. I’m your host Josepha Haden Chomphosy.

Here we go.

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:00:40]  

WordPress is an open source software project and, like many other open source software projects, has an entire community of people who show up to help improve it however they can. Most of you probably use WordPress every day in some way. And I’m going to assume that since you listen to this podcast, you’re also interested in how this all works.

One of the things I mention practically every episode is that WordPress works and continues to work because of generous contributions from people all around the world. I consider my work with WordPress to be my way of giving back for everything that this software enabled me and my family to do. But I once was a first-time contributor, and I remember what it felt like before I knew everything. 

I felt like it moved at the speed of light and that I could never tell what to do now, let alone what to do next. And that everyone around me basically already knew everything. And if you are feeling that way right now, I encourage you to take a big deep breath [breathe] and let me help you get started. 

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:01:43]  

I’m a roadmap sort of person. So I’m going to start by sharing the stages I’ve observed for folks who are contributing to open source. That way, you can tell where you are right now, which spoiler alert is probably a bit further along than you realize. Then I’ll give you some questions you can ask yourself for each stage to figure out what is a good fit for you. Think of it as a guided exploration. 

All right, the five stages. So these are they: 

  1. Connecting. That’s when you’re first learning about the community. You know WordPress exists, but now you’ve just discovered that the community exists. That’s where you are. 
  2. The second phase is Understanding. It’s when you are researching the community, like, you know it exists, you think you want to give back, and so you’re trying to figure out where everything is. 
  3. The third phase is what I call Engaging. It’s when you’re first interacting, you’ve downloaded the CMS, you have figured out which team you think you’re interested in, and you’re headed to events or meetings or whatever. 
  4. The fourth stage is one that I refer to as Performing. And that’s when you’ve decided that you’re gonna volunteer and you’re gonna take some action. You’re going to like a contributor day or running a release or whatever. I think that’s probably not the first place you land, running a release is probably a lot, but, you know, coordinating work on the release or something like that. 
  5. And then phase five, which is the Leading phase. That’s when you’re taking responsibility for things getting done. 

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:03:08]  

Before we get any further, there are four important things to remember about those stages.

The first thing to remember is that there is no set time between any of those stages. You can start in one and then three years later go to the next one, or you can start in one and go into the next stage tomorrow. The next thing to know is that each stage builds on the one before it. In my observation, anytime I have seen a contributor who feels like they’re really struggling, it’s because they skipped a stage in there, which really causes some trouble for them.

The next thing to remember is that not everyone will make it through these stages, which is okay. The majority of the community stops at three. Most contributors stop at four. And that is perfectly fine. That is expected. That is normal and completely in line with what we expect from contribution.

Uh, and the final thing to remember about that list of the phases is that very few people make it into that leadership stage. If we assume, like I do, that 1% of the people who are using WordPress also show up and contribute back to WordPress, then it’s kind of safe to assume also that about 1% of those people who have shown up to contribute to WordPress are moving into a space where they feel like they’re willing to take responsibility for making sure things get done in WordPress.

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:04:31]  

Like we all collectively feel responsible for WordPress’s success, but in that leadership area, you’re kind of taking responsibility for 40% of the web or whatever’s going on there. And not a lot of people make it there, and that is completely fine, too. So that’s our basic terminology today. Those are the caveats that go with our basic terminology.

Most difficulties that arise for new contributors happen because a stage got skipped somewhere along the way. It’s almost never intentional, but from what I’ve observed, that’s what makes it really difficult to get started and what makes it difficult to keep going once you’ve kind of already gotten in there.

So, all right. Big breath, folks with me again [breathe]. Alright, it’s guided exploration time. 

First phase, the connecting phase. Remember, this is where you’ve just learned the community exists, people are talking about it, you don’t know much more. The first step for you is asking yourself what it is you could do. Or if there’s a project out there that looks particularly interesting.

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:05:36]  

So you can ask yourself questions, like, am I a writer? And if I am a writer, do I write technical or prose. The other thing you can ask is, am I a PHP developer, a JavaScript developer, Python, Go; which language am I writing in because I find it most beautiful. Another thing you can ask yourself is, am I a teacher or a mentor, or do I just generally like to be a mighty helper? And I like to make sure that things keep running. 

So once you’ve asked yourself those things, it’s on to phase two, the understanding phase. This is when you’re looking around at this new-to-you community to see what is happening where. So you take a look at the teams that are around, you think about whatever it was you said you were good at in the last question and you look at which teams might be a good fit. 

So if you said that you’re a good technical writer, then Docs probably is for you. Have you been training others to use WordPress for years? Then you might wanna look into Training. There are a lot of other things, obviously, like if you think you’re good at working with code PHP or JavaScript, you’re probably gonna end up in Core.

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:06:46]  

If you are particularly good at any of the other tech stacks that we have around in our Trac area or an Openverse, then that’s where you’ll land over there. You have design options. Like if design is really your thing, we have a Design team, but we also have a Themes team. There are plenty of places that you can land depending on what it is that you feel like you are the best at and could really help the WordPress project. And so that’s your phase two. 

Now that you have gotten a good guess at a team, we’re gonna swing through to phase three, which is the engaging phase. This is the phase that is the scariest for most people, but it’s okay. I am here for you. I am here for you in this podcast. So you have figured out what you want to do in order to contribute, and you’ve got a sense for the team that looks right. There are two things that you do next. 

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:07:34]  

One is that you can go to a meeting. There are many kinds of meetings. There are team meetings, bug scrubs, and testing sessions, but they’re all in Slack, which means that you can attend one from anywhere. When they kick off, you wave, you introduce yourself, you let everybody know that you’re there and you’re observing. Folks will welcome you and just kind of give you some concept of what they’re working on. Easy as that. You’ve done your first time meeting attendance. 

Another good option is to keep an eye out for specific events. Some of those events happen online, like Global Translation Day. But also some of them happen in person like, Meetups or WordCamps. And there again, you show up, you wave, you introduce yourself, see if you can make a connection or two, let people know that you’re new and you’re just trying to figure out where you are and what you wanna do. 

If you’ve made it now, all the way to phase four, the performing phase, then give yourself a little pat on the back! Figuring out where you want to go and who your friendly faces are is the biggest challenge when you get started. So congratulations! 

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:08:37]  

Phase four is the phase where you’ve decided you’re brave enough to volunteer – to do some contribution. You’re volunteering your time. That’s where you are now. So oddly enough, you start this phase by assigning yourself something, assigning yourself, a task. This seems counterintuitive.

There’s this feeling that you can’t say that you’re gonna do something. That you can’t just assign something to yourself and say that you’re gonna do it. But in open source projects, you always can. You find a task where you’re comfortable, and you just mention that you would like to give it a try while the team is having their weekly meeting. And it’s simple as that. And not big things either. Like organizing an event or maintaining a component, those are probably too big for your first time around.

I’m talking things like, ‘I will test that patch that you mentioned in the meeting.’ Or ‘I will review the docs and make sure that they’re up to date with the most recent release.’ Or ‘I can help run meetings for the next release.’

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:09:40]  

And then you have phase five, where you just repeat phase four until you are leading something! And I don’t mean leading in the 1950s sort of way, where you have like a corner office and you’re ordering people around. I mean, in the warm, inviting millennial way where you’re leading by inspiring people to do something or you’re leading because you make sure that the meeting happens every single week.

Or you’re leading because you added screenshots to tickets that needed testing and so you moved something forward in a way that was helpful. Easy peasy. You can go to your first contributor today or a WordPress Slack meeting and just be a contributor by the time you leave, right? You might feel like ‘easy as that isn’t quite the right set of words right there. And as a matter of fact, you might be thinking to yourself, this woman is just plain wrong. It could not possibly be that easy. And I agree. It really isn’t literally quote-unquote just that easy. Just like handing someone a notebook and a pen will not instantly make them an award-winning novelist, handing someone a wordpress.org profile and credentials to Slack won’t instantly make them a contributor. 

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:10:46]  

For both of those examples, what makes someone good is the ability to try and fail and still be encouraged to try again. So if it’s been a while since you contributed and you’re thinking about returning, or if you’ve been listening to me for a while and you’re ready to give this contribution thing a try, I hope this helps you to feel brave enough to try and brave enough to fail.

And I encourage you to be brave enough to try again.

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:11:20]  

Let’s take a look at our small list of big things. My friends, we have a Performance team. This team has been a working group for a long time and is focused on some deep, inner workings of WordPress and its surrounding ecosystem to make sure that we are as fast and slick as possible. You can check them out on make.wordpress.org/performance, their brand new site, and see when they’re meeting, what they’re aiming to get into the WordPress 6.1 release, and if that’s something that you would like to contribute to. 

The second thing is that there’s a brand new call out for testing. This time it’s focused on templates and retroactively applying them to an entire category of posts. So it’s a little bit workflow testing, a little bit technology testing, and we could really use your help in bug hunting for both of those things.

And the final thing is that you know since contribution is obviously the focus of today’s podcast, we are looking for table leads for WordCamp US’ contributor day that’s coming up in September. There’s a whole blog post about it, I’ll link to it in the show notes so that you’ll have all the info and can raise your hand if you want. 

[Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:12:25]  

And speaking of things that I’ll have in the show notes, I also am going to put like a contributor quizlet guide thing. If the guided, figuring out of the teams in the phase two section, if that didn’t make any sense to you and you just need something to direct you specifically to potential teams, I’m gonna link to the contributor kind of sorting hat quiz that came out with WordCamp Europe. And that should help you work your way through phase two and get ready for phase three if that is where the spirit takes you. 

And that, my friends, is your small list of big things. Thank you for tuning in today for the WordPress Briefing. I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphosy. And I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.

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