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My 5 years of GitHub

In early 2009 I was very much not the typical programmer. I had just spent 3 years part time in what was basically systems administration during my undergrad and 1 year of trying to connect chemical production plants to computers. I had to write code for some of my University assignments and had done some shell scripting in my spare time before (all the sysadmin stuff was Windows and there was not a lot of scripting involved there). However in general I had this idea that systems administration and IT was completely orthogonal to writing code and a lot of the Software Engineering classes I had up to the point didn’t really spur my interest. They usually featured a lot of software processes, XML, SOAP, and simple C#.NET Windows applications. Nothing I was really interested in. But after graduating in 2007 and working full time I had this feeling every day that something was missing. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my computer degree, I loved working with computers but I felt I had nothing I was really good at. And the nature of my degree was that it was very practical. Which helped me a lot setting foot and getting started in the industry, but I felt like I was missing all the theoretical education you would get in a more traditional university setting. So I decided to go back to University and get a Masters degree. And I also quit my job and worked part time as an Embedded Systems developer. Which put me way more out of my comfort zone than I expected. But it also confronted me with a lot of new things regarding software development. My first project at work was actually a web based network sniffer that ran on a microcontroller. So I accidentally started learning more about web development while working at an Embedded shop. And another really fortunate accident was that one of our lead engineers - Nathan - was really into git. And me being a subversion fan at the time resulted in some really interesting discussions which made me look into git.

Enter Twitter, twsh and GitHub

I had signed up for Twitter in mid 2007 while I was writing my Bachelor thesis and literally had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. In my circle of coworkers and friends who worked with computers I was most of the time one of the first to explore new things and thus I didn’t know a single person with a twitter account. I don’t even remember how I heard about Twitter in a world that doesn’t have Twitter. But I had extremely interesting tweets back then already of course. Fast forward to 2009 my new found interest in programming from my new job and the programming I had to do for class assignments in university meant that I was constantly trying out new things and experimenting with the concepts I learned. So at some point I decided I wanted to have a twitter command line client and started to write the twitter shell. It was painful and slow and I had no idea what I was doing. It was living there in a subversion repository on my Mac mini at home and I wanted to open source it eventually. I had no idea what that really meant either. But I had used a lot of open source software and was always fascinated by the idea that I could just look into how things work.

I first looked into hosting it on Google code but I found it to be ugly and weird. And a lot of people in my twitter stream were talking about git and this new thing called GitHub. Since there was nothing really tying me into subversion, I moved the code over to git and signed up for a GitHub account on March 28th 2009.

Brave New World

And it literally changed my world. I suddenly found a lot of people who were doing so many interesting things. And it encouraged me to work on all the ideas I had floating in my mind but thought were useless or boring. I found out about the programming communities behind languages like ruby or python. How to package software to be installed from PyPi. I started thinking about how to split software into projects as libraries and how to design APIs. I wrote API wrappers for things like Instapaper, a Notifo library or a tool to import YAML based groceries lists into the iPhone Groceries app and I also heard about continuous integration for the first time.

And I was fascinated by the idea of having a build system do all those things I usually ran commands for automatically. I read up on it and tried to get Integrity up and running, which seemed to be the most accessible solution to me at the time. And having worked on the notifo library I wanted it to push to my phone whenever a build would break or work (yes in general it was quiet enough for me back then that I wanted all of the notifications). So the time had come to contribute to an Open Source project and figure out how to ruby and write unit tests and all of those things. I wrote the notifier, submitted a pull request and after some feedback and improvements, Simon merged my notifier into master and I was super excited. I was finally able to have it running on my own CI instance and know the status of my builds with just a quick glance at my phone:

integrity pull request merged

After that I was less terrified of contributing to Open Source and just trying out things. I kept perusing the GitHub explore page and found all those interesting projects. I went into something like an Open Source rampage and tried to contribute to and open source as much as possible. I even signed up for Calendar About Nothing and maintained something like 120 days with consecutive contributions at some point. And whenever I decided to push a new project I would meet and engage with more people and learn new things. For example I wrote the C++ implementation of Mustache templating for fun and met Jan because of that. Which then led to me meeting a lot of other awesome people in Berlin and around the internet.

And even though twsh never actually got finished and I lost interest in it, I can definitely say that GitHub has changed my computing life to the amazing. And I probably wouldn’t be where I am now without it.