I wrote my first Skrift article in 2017. I was not just new to the magazine but I was also pretty new to tech. I’d joined the industry 3 years prior after a career in education and to some degree I could say that I had already found my voice. I was not in any way new to speaking or writing but I was new to speaking and writing tech. I was, understandably, a little nervous. That was just a few months before I made my first pull request to an open source repository. This was exceedingly new territory for me. The repo in question was the Umbraco-docs repository and whilst it felt like a teeny-tiny change to me at that time, I was once again, a little nervous.
Despite my nerves I did do it. I became a contributor to Skrift and to Umbraco-docs. Later, I became a contributor to the CMS, to Our.Umbraco.com and to other publications. As a contributor to both I had a shiny new contrib badge on my Our profile and status as a published author too, with my piece there on the internet for anyone to read and enjoy from that point on. And it felt good.
In open source, your work is always public to some degree. As someone on the outside of HQ submitting a change to the docs, fixing a bug or creating a feature in the CMS repo, it felt as though the whole world would be watching. I didn’t know the people who’d be reviewing my changes and I didn’t know those who had starred the repo. It felt very public indeed. I imagined people scurrying to check what I’d done as a notification landed in their inboxes, skeptical that a new developer could add anything to the already perfect docs or codebase, ready to decline my suggestion or just have a giggle at the way I’d chosen to approach the problem. Later I learned that I was entirely wrong.
Our entire ecosystem is founded on community collaboration. As experienced Umbracians, we might have learned to take a phrase like that one for granted but I’m often reminded of how special that is when I enter other tech spaces and see that it’s missing. In the Umbraco community we are told again and again that without an engaged community we couldn’t be here and those of our number who have been in this community for more than a decade can attest to the veracity of this statement. Each release of the product sees an average of 10% of the contributions from people who are not employed by HQ. We are proud to namecheck each contributor because that person has given up their time to make the product that we all use better. An open source codebase allows people to fix their own bugs and so get their projects built the way that they want, but it never demands that you raise a PR to leave the codebase better for the next person. Yet so many people do just that.
Writing for Skrift is something that probably won’t get you a job. Or a raise. Or even a promotion! But as people who have joined the industry ostensibly to solve problems, we write because we want to pave the way for others; we want them to learn from our mistakes, from our experiences and from our learnings.
I didn’t think I knew much about much when I wrote that first article but I was convinced that I had something unique to offer to those who cared to read. I was a beginner and I was an expert in being one of those. I met the team behind Skrift at Codegarden and they told us all that they needed authors, that finding authors was difficult and that motivated me to be of service. If they wanted me, they could have me. Skrift has been Skrift for 8 years and 100 issues but that would not have been possible without its contributors.
Like the Umbraco codebase, the magazine thrives on collective efforts. I could listen to the three MVPs behind the magazine speak the whole day long but I can’t see Skrift being as successful as it has been with only 3 voices behind the work therein. It takes a lot of people to make this happen. Our codebase is not created entirely by the 40 or so people who work in it at Umbraco HQ and nor should it be. It is used around the world so we are grateful for the world’s input. Skrift works in much the same way: with a huge set of voices, comes a diversity of input that you could not achieve in such a small team. If you have a global community, you need authors whose experiences reflect that diversity.
It would, however, be reductive to reduce the myriad of contributions to Umbraco to code contributions. We welcome them, we count them and we use that number, among others, to measure the engagement of our community members too but that isn’t the whole story.
Any open source maintainer will tell you that by the time a person takes the time to submit a pull request to your repository, a whole host of other things have happened. They’ve already engaged with your software, your documentation and your issue tracker and it’s likely that they’ve engaged with another person too. It’s a rare contributor who submits their PR without some exchange with a more experienced contributor.
It’s very likely too that the person in question will not be a person employed by HQ - that they’ll be someone doing the wonderful but rarely witnessed community work of guiding and mentoring others. Alongside mentorship, there are those writing about their experiences as a contributor, who might have helped convince that person they should contribute in the first place. Perhaps it was at a local meetup that they learned that they could contribute too. We mustn’t forget that meetups are organized entirely by community contributors who maybe won’t always have time to be raising PRs too. Finally, if they’ve hit a snag along the way, it’ll be the folks on Discord or at the Our.Umbraco.com forum who coach them along. It really does take a village to raise a PR.
We are largely technicians but we are not only technicians in this community. Our backgrounds come with us to our community work and it’s thanks to our varied approaches as junior developers, project managers, designers and writers that we are able to support those entering into the community so thoroughly. It helps us to keep going too.
A quick glance through the authors list of the last 100 issues of Skrift will introduce you to engineers with over a decades experience writing about tech, about life and about so much more. You’ll meet business owners writing about work-life balance and remote working. Mindfulness experts talking about the power of creativity and of course, you’ll find me. You’ll find me writing pieces that are both scary and exciting. Pieces that help me to think better, to understand more and best of all, to look back on where I’ve been these last few years and the things I took the time to say.
Code or words, tech or life, there’s one thing both the Umbraco CMS and Skrift will forever share in common. The contributors are built into the DNA of who they are. People built these things in their own time, for their own reasons and their legacy lives on whether that piece has been archived or the code has been rewritten. Perhaps that’s why we stay. When you’ve helped create something, it’s hard to say goodbye to it. Thankfully, we don’t need to any time soon.