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The value of non-code contributions to open source

The value of non-code contributions

I’ve heard people speak dismissively of PRs that fix a typo or update a broken link. But, maybe that speaks to attitudes towards docs in general, and we won’t get into that…

But, if you are a project maintainer who cares about helping and encouraging others to use your work, attention to these little details conveys a big message to your community. Typos are distracting. Broken links are frustrating!

Installation instructions that aren’t clear mean some people aren’t installing your package. And, it can project an image of sloppiness that reflects on your code, even if that’s not the case! Great design elements in your product add polish, and a carefully-designed logo and marketing website adds brand awareness. Testing your product, or participating in user experience testing, can expose uncaught weaknesses and highlight areas for improvement.

When the community translates your docs, you gain a wider audience. When someone speaks about your product at a conference or writes a guide to using your project, new people learn about your work and how it can solve their problems.

When people who don’t contribute code actively participate in your online community spaces, other members get help and feel supported while they code. And then they might choose to contribute back. Sometimes, by offering more community support, and sometimes in the form of code itself… that they learned from your non-code contributing community peeps!

Supporting non-code contributors

It’s especially important to be supportive of non-code contributors who may already feel under-valued or less-than because they are “only” contributing to docs, design, support, testing or product awareness and advocacy. They might also think that devs “just know” how to navigate all the intricacies of GitHub, and so asking for help is further branding them as non-code peeps. (Spoiler alert: knowing how to submit a PR on GitHub is not a skill automatically conferred by knowing how to sling bits!)

New contributor !== code newbie:

Contributing to open source, knowing the process of submitting PRs or the conventions of your project, can be overwhelming or intimidating for anyone who’s never done it before, regardless of coding ability.

That’s why non-code contributions can be great onboarding experiences for your future code contributors! There is little practical difference when submitting a PR and navigating the GitHub process between code and non-code contributions. A non-code contribution can be a gentle way for a first-time contributor to figure out the actual act of contributing before also worrying about how their code will be received or judged by a project maintainer.