Learning from a 579-year-old printing press

Gutenberg is the name of WordPress’ new editor and like its namesake, the Gutenberg printing press, I think it’s going to be a big deal.

Recently I’ve been committing real time to upskill in web development. I wanted to go way outside my comfort zone as an opportunity to grow. So contributing to an open-source project like Gutenberg seemed like a good place to start.

Things I learnt from doing this:

1.  I have no idea what I’m doing, but I can learn anything – Seriously I know nothing! So, when I started looking for something to do to add value I needed something fairly basic. Thankfully Gutenberg is newbie friendly. This presents itself in a number of ways (see point 3) but the first sign of it was the “good first issue” tag on GitHub issues. As the name implies, this shows issue which are good entry points into making a contribution. So after a few days of self-doubt, I picked one and started working on it.

2.  There’s way more to contributing than code – The first thing I needed to do was get my development environment setup. I’d been learning Javascript for a while so I figured I’d be in good shape but in reality, I was miles away. I needed to setup docker, node, NPM and use GitHub with other peoples code. I’d never done any of this before. So before writing a line of code I already had a lot of new learnings. When I did get to coding, I thought I was in for some simple CSS changes. It turns out Gutenburg is using a CSS pre-compiler called Sass. Surprise! I’ve never used that before either, so back to Google University for another lesson.

3.  The community is incredibly supportive – Given the first two points, I needed a lot of advice. When I got stuck or submitted some code there was the community willing to advise and guide on how I could improve. They are also super accessible and transparent, I’d say more so than most work environments I’ve been in. Slack meetings and GitHub issue comments brought genuine insight, and as a result, skill growth. I never would have got any of it without the patience and generosity of the group.

4.  Having your code on millions of websites is a buzz – It’s strange in retrospect, but when I started doing all this it hadn’t occurred to me that if I managed to deliver something it would end up on millions of websites. Now that I have actually done that it does have an addictive feel to it. However minor my contribution is, the scale of the end result is truly massive.

I think at this point it goes without saying I would highly recommend contributing to a project. Regardless of your skill level, there is something to be learned and value to be given and received.

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