My open source journey

Everybody Struggles: Experience doesn’t make it end

A week into the internship, I felt like giving up. In an attempt to regain my motivation I reached out to my mentor Philip Chimento, to find out about his experience. Surprisingly, he faced challenges too. As an engineering student and someone learning how to code, I’ve always tried to find out if this path was meant for me or if I was just imposing (partly because I thought I used more time that necessary to grasp most concepts). However, the last three weeks as an Outreachy GNOME intern have taught me that everyone, more experienced or not struggles in their own way. I’ll love to seize this opportunity to talk about one of my challenges and what I learnt from it.

Adding context to our discussion, GNOME JavaScript (GJS) is a JavaScript interpreter based on Firefox’s interpreter. My internship project is “Improving on the debugging experience of GNOME’s JavaScript Engine”. Currently, I am working on adding the full option to the back-trace command on GJS’ debugger. If you aren’t familiar with the back-trace, it prints out information about a stack frame together with it’s local variables and their values, helping users to be able assess why a program crash occurred and also come up with a solution to the crash.

When this task was assigned to me, I didn’t know exactly where to start. I read the issue description on Gitlab over and over but it just didn’t click. Not feeling comfortable about asking my mentor about things I thought were expected of me, I spent some time researching on the terms that were emphasized in the issue description like “stack frame”, “back-trace full” and “back-trace”. With some understanding of these terms, I went ahead to ask him some questions. After our conversations and going through the resources he shared with me, I was able to get started on the issue.

Here are a few points that helped me overcome this challenge as well as others I have encountered in the past:

  1. Consistency. Consistency in software development(and anything as a matter of fact) is a habit you cannot do without. The more consistent you are, the more familiar things get and the easier they become too.
  2. Company. The phrase “you are the company you keep” really does apply in all aspects of life. Surrounding yourself with people who can motivate you to work harder is a plus. When you are tired or bored, you will find them motivated. This can encourage you to keep trying.
  3. Mentor-ship. The opensource community is so big today because people have adopted the habit of giving back. With the opportunity given by Outreachy, some of us are chanced to be mentored by people who serve as a great motivation. Finding a mentor who is willing to sacrifice their time to help you get better is one of the best ways of coping with your challenges, getting over them and finding long lasting solutions.
  4. Don’t be shy. Most people feel inferior when they think they do not know something and are often scared of asking “stupid” questions. The truth is there is no stupid question. One of the best approaches in asking questions you can benefit from is to come forward with attempted solutions so that the person you are asking should know what you tried and don’t go over the same thing that may not work. In most cases, just trying to explain a problem opens your mind up to find a solution.
  5. Take a break. Usually, when you are stuck, the best thing to do is change your activity – maybe go for a walk or take a nap. When you get back to looking the devil in the eye(I call my challenges devils), there will be a new approach you can use to win.
  6. Research. The internet is a world of information which if used rightly can help us solve many problems. If the task you have to do is not so urgent, spending a few hours doing some research online usually puts you on the right path.

Challenges will always come. Developing a certain level of grit to just push through when things get hard is what you have to do.

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