There is room to improve
Yes, this is another FreeBSD advocacy article. And the theme is simple.
Everyone can contribute.
I’ve said it. Michael Lucas has said it. I have no doubt others have
said it. But I’ll say it again. No matter what your skill level is.
No matter how experienced you are with FreeBSD. You can contribute.
If you haven’t, I urge you to start. It’s never to late.
I’ll give you an example of how easy it is. FreshPorts is a project
I’ve been working on for a few years. I needed some help creating some
text files. This was a series of copy/pastes from CVS to simple flat
text files. About 40 files were needed. I asked for volunteers.
Jonathan Sage stepped in and created the files for me. This was great.
It allowed me to concentrate on things which Jonathan could not do (such
as altering the database to allow me to compare what’s in FreshPorts
against /usr/port/INDEX). But it also allowed him to contribute to
This has been a simple example of delegation. It involved two
people carrying out quite different tasks. Each according to their
ability (with respect to the project in question).
Contribute according to your ability
You may be a programmer and not know anything about coding in C or
with FreeBSD. That doesn’t stop you from writing an FAQ. No, not
the whole FAQ. Just a single question and the answer. If you see
the same question asked time and time again, but it’s not in the FAQ,
then write it up and submit it to the documentation team. They will
be glad you did. The next time the question is asked, point them
at the FAQ. It shortens your answer, and lets people know it’s in
the FAQ, thereby, eventually, lessening the traffic on the mailing
Perhaps you don’t know how to program. But you know a few things
about FreeBSD. That’s enough to start answering questions on
the mailing lists. If you think you know but aren’t sure, look it
up. If you still aren’t sure, say so in your answer. The great thing
about mailing lists is that your answers will be reviewed by others
who do know more than you. That’s good. Yeah yeah, you might give
a wrong answer. But let’s put it into perspective. What’s the worst
that could happen? Someone corrects you. Big deal. You learn.
Don’t worry about anyone messing up their system because you gave a
wrong answer. If you say “I’m not sure, but I think…” and someone
acts on that answer, and messes up, well, they’ve been dumb, and you’re
safe, because you said you were guessing. To be even safer, say
“Wait for someone else to confirm, but I think…”.
Go ahead! I dare you to get involved.
Why do I bother mentioning this? Because it’s true. And perhaps
you didn’t know about it. You can help out on the mailing lists.
It’s easy. Don’t use the excuse “I might give a wrong answer”. So
what if you do. Believe me, with mailing lists, if you give a wrong
answer, it won’t take long for someone to correct you. If they do,
take it with grace. Ignore anyone who tries to insult you or take
you down. If you are correcting a wrong answer, you should be polite
and explain what part of the answer is wrong, and then provide the
correction. There is no need to be rude about it. Rudeness is a sign
of someone who lacks self-control, awareness of others, and reflects
poorly upon the community. If someone is rude, tell them, then ignore
them. They have no business being on the lists if they can’t control
FreeBSD is a large distributed cooperative project. Not everyone on
the project shares the same skills. That is good. We don’t want
50 people writing the same driver. We need people who can write code.
People who can test code. People who can answer questions. People
who can write documentation. People who can read documentation and
point out the bits which are confusing. That is very important.
The documentation must be clear. If you find something confusing,
then someone else probably does too. Therefore it’s important
that you point these problems out. Let someone know and it will
You don’t need to know the answers to help
When I was working as a consultant (that’s what the university called
it) one summer, my job was to sit in a windowless office and help
people with computer related questions. I had a large set of manuals
and access to other people who knew more. My job was not to know
the answers. It was to know where to find the answers. That’s what
many new people don’t know yet. They don’t know where to find the
information they need. Chances are, you do know. Why don’t you
help them? If you keep pointing people to various sections of the
online documentation, they will eventually learn where to find the
What’s in it for you?
How does this help FreeBSD? The community has a hierarchy. Those that
know help those that don’t know. Your level within this hierarchy
varies from topic to topic. You might be able to answer questions
about installing, but know nothing about setting up a web server. Fine.
Then you should answer the questions that you can answer. That will
achieve two things:
- First, it will allow you to answer a question. You help
others. Others get help. You learn more about helping. Everyone
- Second, because you are answering the question, it allows someone
else to answer another question, for which you didn’t know the
answer. That gets more answers in less time. Again,
It’s pretty simple. Not everyone is an expert on everything.
But everyone knows a bit about something. Help out where you can.
Don’t be discouraged if one person tells you off. Ignore them.
Of course, if you get lots and lots of people saying you’re doing
something wrong, then perhaps you aren’t fitting in very well and
should find another vehicle for contribution. Find your niche.
Work it. Contribute.
It is that easy.