The Apache Software Foundation Blog

Monday June 04, 2018

Success at Apache: the Chance to Influence the World

by Weiwei Yang

I submitted my first patch to Apache Hadoop in 2015, a very simple bug fix with just a few lines of changes. However the feeling is still vivid to me when the patch was accepted, I felt great accomplishment. It was not about how big the change was, but rather because I knew even a small change would help a lot of people. This is the best thing I like about working in Open Source, the work I've done has the chance to influence the world. 

As of today, I have contributed nearly 200 patches to Apache Hadoop, over 20k lines of code. I still feel happy when the community accepts my patches. I believe that having such passion is an essential for an individual contributor to make the way to Apache. Unless your company paid you to work on Open Source, you must find yourself such accomplishment during the work, otherwise the commitment won't last. Like me, I spent over 3 years until I received commit privileges for Hadoop. In retrospect, it was a tough, challenging but fast growth journey. I am glad I did not give up and finally get where I am now.

If you are hired by a commercial company that sells products or services powered by Open Source software, then congratulations, you are on a shortcut to Apache. Such companies usually have a strong team working directly on Open Source projects and a lot of committers. Being a member of such organization, you will have more time working on the project, get faster feedback of your patches, opportunities to participate more discussions and much deeper involvement. Unfortunately, I was not working for such companies. Moreover, my native language is not English and I have a big timezone gap with the majority people from the community. That makes my path to Apache much more difficult. I believe there are many people, just like me at 3 years ago, who are willing to contribute but finding it hard to. In this post, I will share some tips how to work with the Apache community and how to grow up to a committer.

First, it's important that you know things that are public to everyone. Every Open Source project has its own tutorials introducing how to contribute, be sure you have read that before working on any patches. Those documents generally tell you how to contribute code in the "Apache" way, and how to collaborate with the community.

Second, don't mind fixing bugs. Actually I suggest to begin with fixing bugs. You may find bugs in your daily work, or somebody reported to the community. No matter if they are big or not, bugs must be fixed so that it's easier to get attention from the community. In an Open Source community, everyone volunteers to review some other ones' patches. So don't be upset if nobody gets to your patch quickly, try to soft ping committers around this area. But never push them for anything. And always be polite.

More involvement. There are many ways to get more involvement. First, if a community sets up a MeetUp once in a while, try to attend even you are remote or in an inconvenient local time. Such MeetUps can help you gather information of the development status, current community focus etc. It also helps others to get familiar with your face; second, try to participate in more discussions. This could be discussions on mailing lists, issue tracking systems or a Web conference that discusses a particular issue/design. In my opinion, this is the hardest part especially for contributors from overseas.

Be self-motivated and passionate. Nobody forces you to work on Open Source projects, you need to keep motivating yourself. Like I first mentioned in this post, there are more ways to be self-motivated than just feeling accomplished. Working in the community gives you the chance to work in a diverse environment, meet people from different companies and different countries; you can get as many chances as you want to solve difficult real problems, and improve your skills; you can build your reputation in the community which also helps your career development.

I truly hope my experiences would help people. Now I am working at Alibaba Group, and it gives me more reason to write this post. I see a lot of talented people around, they have solid skills, they have done and are doing a lot work to make Hadoop better. They are open to contributing back but are having various of difficulties to work with the community. I am committed to helping grow this community, and I do believe an open and diverse community will help the project thrive.  


Weiwei Yang is a Staff Engineer working at Alibaba Group. He has been working on Big Data area for over 8 years, most of time working on Apache Hadoop. He contributed to several Apache projects such as YARN, HDFS, MapReduce, Ambari and Slider, and an active Hadoop committer. At present, he is working in Alibaba’s data infrastructure team and is focusing on evolving Apache YARN to support mixed workloads, improve performance and cluster utilization. Prior to that, he worked in IBM for several years and won multiple Open Source contribution awards.

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"Success at Apache" is a monthly blog series that focuses on the processes behind why the ASF "just works" https://blogs.apache.org/foundation/category/SuccessAtApache

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