This Hacktoberfest, Consider Documentation

I love Hacktoberfest. This is my fifth year joining the worldwide community of developers in submitting pull requests (or merge requests--welcome GitLab!) to contribute to open source. Needless to say, I'm excited! I credit Hacktoberfest for the success of Killed by Google, so it will always have a special place in my life. I launched Killed by Google in 2018, and Hacktoberfest contributors helped compile a majority of the list of dead Google products.

This year, instead of focusing on contributing code, I've decided to take a different approach. For Hacktoberfest 2021, I am planning to focus on contributing improvements to project documentation. It's such an undervalued way for developers to make huge impacts to open source software projects.

Why is documentation important for open source software projects?

Good documentation is a make or break area for software projects. Good documentation means a developer can jump in, evaluate if that project fits into what they're building and eventually consume that project to build incredible things. However, subpar documentation makes maintaining, consuming, or contributing to any software project harder. It's also an extremely overlooked aspect of open source software.

Screenshot of a chart from OpenSourceSurvey.org. Figure: "Problems encountered in open source." Incomplete or confusing documentation: 93%. Unresponsiveness: 79%. Dismissive responses: 57%. Conflict: 42%. Unexplained rejection: 26.5%. Unwelcoming language or content: 18%.
Courtesy OpenSourceSurvey.org

In 2017, the Open Source Survey found that incomplete or outdated documentation was a problem observed by 93% of respondents, a problem identified more than any other issue users had with open source projects. However, only 60% of contributor respondents said they make minimal or no contributions to project documentation.

Contributing to documentation makes you better developer. Really.

When you're working on documentation you'll end up utilizing a multitude of skills: communication, writing, grammar, deciphering a project's code. You even end up using ✨creative thinking✨. "Creative thinking?" Yes! "But how!?"

When you jump into the project's codebase for documentation, you'll form new new and valuable perspectives about many aspects and areas of the project. Those perspectives can turn into ideas. Use those ideas to make enhancement suggestions, contribute or improve features, and ultimately make the project better, more accessible, and powerful for everyone involved.

Join me in dedicating at least one of your Hacktoberfest PRs toward an open source project's documentation!