Open source community in 2018

I was recently searching for a virtual machine with the open source GIS software pre-installed knowing that there was one available for many years which I have blogged about 8 years ago. It was funny to find and read my 8 years old blog post which I’ve started saying that “I am not a big fan of Linux and open source software.” How much have changed since then!

True, back then open source GIS community was not what it is today; QGIS has really grown into a fully-fledged desktop GIS, quite a few Python geospatial packages have been written, and it became a whole lot easier to start using open-source software. Today, I love open-source. Just as proprietary software, it has its own pros and cons, though. But to illustrate the beauty of open-source, I’d like to share a couple of personal stories that I think are very illustrative.

One evening, I was playing with QGIS and have noticed an annoying bug – pasting data from clipboard inside Python console causes the text cursor to be moved to the end of the row. What is funny about this bug is that the same behavior can be seen in ArcMap Python console. I decided to report the QGIS bug on their issues web page. You have no idea how surprised I was when I have received a notification in a couple of hours that the issue was fixed in the QGIS source code and the next release won’t have this issue. Some time later, I have reported a typo in the installation dialog text – it was fixed within an hour after the issue was reported. OK, I do understand that those were not very complicated issues, however, I found it astonishing to be able to get fixes in a fairly large and complex desktop applications that quickly. This is how open-source community operates: next time I upgraded the QGIS, those bugs were not there any longer.

Another night, I was playing with mypy generating Python interface files. I found a bug which I reported on the mypy GitHub page. Later, on the same day, Guido van Rossum himself confirmed the bug and suggested the fix. I have forked the mypy repo, fixed the issue, Guido reviewed the change, suggested refactoring, I have refactored the code, Guido reviewed it again, and merged my pull request. It took just a few hours to fix an issue in a package used daily by thousands users. In addition, having this personal interaction with the author of Python and having him approving the code you write is very inspiring. This is what I love about Python community. This is what I love about open-source.

If you have not done so yet, I encourage everyone find a product, a project, or a program that is open-sourced and start contributing. You have no idea how much you will learn by reading code written by other people and how fast you will grow as a developer by working in a virtual team with other peers. If you are not a programmer, you can always work on finding and reporting issues, improving the docs, or writing a tutorial. Answering or improving questions on the GIS StackExchange website is another great way to contribute to the public knowledge base available for all GIS professionals.

I have myself authored a few programs with open source code published on GitHub. It is hard to describe what a joy it is to hear from the users of those fairly simple programs that they found my programs to be helpful in their work. Yes, you may be writing software as a part of your job you get paid for and this software is then used by your happy customers, but having a complete stranger praising the program you have written and shared is a whole different story. Give it a try!

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