Changelog Interviews – Episode #317

#Hacktoberfest isn’t just about a free shirt

with Daniel Zaltsman

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#Hacktoberfest is a once per year event in the month of October celebrating open source. For many it’s an on ramp to open source, PRs galore for maintainers, and t-shirts for those who submit 5 or more pull requests. In the end, however, it’s about the awareness of open source and its significance to the greater good to humanity as we know it.

Adam and Jerod talk with Daniel Zaltsman, Dev Rel Manager at DigitalOcean and key leader of Hacktoberfest to cover the backstory, where this project began, its impact on open source, how it has had to scale each year by many orders of magnitude, and of course we cover how you can play your part in #Hacktoberfest and give back to open source.



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We love Hacktoberfest. We’ve silently participated – Jerod, you’ve done some stuff with it just by happenstance, I guess…

I got a T-shirt.

You got a T-shirt?

Oh, yeah…

I personally haven’t yet, but each year we’re silently in the wings of DigitalOcean, cheering this thing on, because clearly we have a heart for open source. Daniel, you’re here, and you’ve been leading this thing… I think what’s interesting is that you were part of the team that started it, so maybe give us the beginnings, the why’s. Why is this in place?

Yeah, thanks guys. I mean, DigitalOcean has always been focused on developers, and we wanted to build developer communities offline and online. This one actually came about – we were offline, running around different university hackathons, and around the month of September (going into October) we were like “Well, what can we build into this?” and this is five years ago. We were like, “What if we gave away some T-shirts to folks at those hackathons, and why not around the world gave back to open source?” 50 commits to any GitHub repos, and we’ll send them a shirt. Pretty DIY. I think it was all just within a blog post. And we ended up sending 505 shirts in 2014.

Back to your question of why - I mean, it’s a pretty simple program that’s focused on wanting to give something back to the developer community, and fusing open source with it.

And clearly, it’s about raising awareness of open source, maybe even taking some of those PR’s that are hanging there, or some things that are – maybe even on-ramps; I know a lot of open source is about finding contributors, and building community, and things like that. So this is just one more thing to put the focus on the need for contribution, and the need to give back to open source… Not just monetarily, because that’s not what this is about, but in ways that take the technologies and the projects forward, either through updated documentation, or legit bigger feature development, things like that.

Absolutely. Hacktoberfest is a month-long celebration of open source. And what is a celebration? You have to have involvement, you have to have different members of the community come together to celebrate it. So you’re right… One thing I would add to the fact that it was driving contributions - we’re also bringing new folks to open source. People that may have never participated around the world. That’s been super-surprisingly effective, because I love some of the stories. I’ll just kind of throw one in here, for instance… I was talking to Victoria, who’s in Frankfurt; she’s organizing a bunch of meetups this year for Hacktoberfest. She actually got involved last year when she was learning to code in CSS, JavaScript, now she’s a Vue.js developer, and last year Hacktoberfest was her first foray into open source, and now she’s organizing the community. Those are things that are just unexpected, and awesomely exciting for me about what this has turned into.

Was it always localized communities the way it is now, or has it always been online, and maybe offline…? Now it seems like you’re doing things where you’re organizing meetups, and you even have a media kit – or not media kit, but like a meetup kit, or an event kit, so to speak. Has it always been both sides, where it’s either online-formed or offline-formed?

The event kit came about three years ago, actually… And since then we’ve just continued to invest resources into that area, because we continue to see community members coming together offline. So not from the very beginning, but it’s really taking off, so we’re just trying to support it because we see the community just taking it from – you know, they’re just doing their own thing, and we’re just getting out of the way, really just supporting them, doing whatever they need. We already have 35 events actually organized for Hacktoberfest 2018, and it’s–

[07:08] It’s a lot.

…October 1st is just starting.

Yeah. So you said first year it was 505 shirts - is that right?

Yeah, 505 shirts.

Can you give me the – I’m sure we’ll go deeper into other stats along the way, but I’m just curious, just to tie a bone on this, what the stats are on shirts across the years… Like, year one was 505, year two is 2,000… I don’t know, whatever.

Yeah, year two was 5,700.

Wow! I was going for 2,000, thinking it would be a lot, but…

I can explain, I can explain. That’s where GitHub comes in the picture.

Yeah, GitHub really helped us reach a new audience, and that partnership has – okay, so 2016, 10,000; then 2017 (last year) 31,000.

So… Yeah.

Progress in the number of T-shirts… And you know, that’s our love language, it’s T-shirts.

That’s right.

You give me a T-shirt, I’ll love you forever.

Apparently, that’s – and you know, we’re not changing that. That’s the way it’s gonna continue to work. And the thing that we’re seeing other companies do is actually use that model to get their communities involved. SendGrid has really been a pioneer in that. SendGrid last year - they were shooting for getting 80 contributors during the month of October; they got 625 contributors to SendGrid’s specific repos… And it’s because they worked swag into the offering. They said “Alright, you’re participating in Hacktoberfest - we’ll also give you a shirt of ours”, and what we’re seeing this year is there’s already a lot of communities that are ready to go with swag if you participate in the larger Hacktoberfest program, but also as an incentive to contribute to their projects.

What is it about developers and swag and T-shirt? Where does the love come from? Because if you look from the outside, you think “Maybe we can’t afford clothing, and we really need these T-shirts”, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Yeah, definitely developers do not need – I think developers don’t need more T-shirts; I am wrong every time.

Well, we don’t need anymore, but we do want more… That’s the thing.

Yeah, I mean… First of all, you guys should be answering this question. My educated guess is that the point of a T-shirt – if the T-shirts didn’t have anything on them, that wouldn’t work; what the T-shirts have is a technology, a community, an idea, a lifestyle… Something that allows developers to connect with other developers and have a conversation, and sort of be at a conference and say “I’m proud to be a part of X, Y or Z community through my shirt.”

At Hacktoberfest, the added aspect to that is now it’s the fifth year… It’s kind of cool to have – it’s almost a collector’s item at this point.

Oh… You know, vintage…

I was gonna even say – that, that it’s vintage, a collector’s item, but also limited. You can’t get 2018’s in 2019, or go back and get 2016’s… It’s like it’s a once and done. You’re not gonna reprint more. Participate and get, or no.

Exactly, yeah.

So as Adam was talking about at the beginning of the show, I kind of accidentally got a Hacktoberfest shirt; I think 2016. It wasn’t accidental, I just didn’t think that my commits were gonna add up, or something… I did know what Hacktoberfest was and what was going on, but when the shirt came in the mail, it was – or maybe when the email came; I don’t know, I can’t remember the logistics, but I was pleasantly surprised, and I still wear it with pride.

Maybe how it works, maybe how it’s changed… Has it been exactly 50 commits to any open source repo, and that’s how it’s always worked? Maybe just some of the details on the actual program… Because I know right now what we’re all thinking is “Okay, how do I get one of these stinkin’ shirts? I want one.”

[10:55] Yeah, it was 50 commits. That was only the first year. The next year we decided to shift the methodology completely to pull requests. We thought there was more meaning to that in terms of the contribution, and more quality… So the past three years (2015, 2016 and 2017) it’s been four pull requests. This is a good time for me to say - we’re changing that up this year.

Oh, boy.

Yeah, it’s important to highlight, because we’re celebrating year five, so what do you think it’s gonna be?

Five pull requests.

You got it, yeah.

I’m right here with you.

Tracking. I like it.

So does that mean pull requests opened, pull requests merged? What’s the exact requirement?

The exact requirement is you have to open up five pull requests. If they’re merged, that’s fantastic. That’s something that is an added layer of complexity that we have not explored yet. We have these conversations internally around “Well, what if we switch it up and do this? This thing would actually make for more quality, but it’s got these other issues…” I mean, there’s a lot of different things we could do, and I’d love your guys’ input on that, too.

Just to keep it simple - open five pull requests and get a shirt. Within the month of October, 1st to 31st, all timezones included… That’s been an issue in the past, where folks from these far-off timezones are like “Am I gonna get a chance to complete?” and we’re like “We’ve got you covered”, to all the folks in Fiji.


I’m thinking about also the tech required to track this. Is it simply just some GitHub API stuff and it’s fairly simple, or is it a lot more than that to actually track? And the validity, because somebody can eventually game this somehow, and I’m sure someone has or will, and that’s on them… But are you concerned about that?

Yes and no to your question about the actual tooling behind it. It is just GitHub API wizardry. Pretty simple, but then the magic stuff comes in when we add things like the Invalid tag. The Invalid tag was introduced two years ago to give maintainers the power to see pull requests that are really not good stuff, like “Don’t come around here with that. You’re clearly wasting my time and you’re not giving back in a meaningful way”, and that gives maintainers the power to tag things as invalid… So that’s obviously something that we count and consider.

We have to – the whole timezone stuff actually does add a bit of complexity sometimes, but for the most part, yeah, it’s just counting five pull requests. And I think you bring up a good question about gaming the system. There’s three things that come to mind, that we’ve done to – because I think that folks that game this system are gonna continue to try to game the system… But we’ve learned why some people do it, and we’ve sort of shifted the program in these three ways.

One, the Invalid tag, which I’ve just mentioned. Allowing maintainers to mark issues invalid has been pretty powerful. Two, no longer focusing on just a few repos. We used to just promote repositories on the website. Now instead we rotate repos, so that all the attention isn’t going to just a few select projects, which are just getting bombarded… Instead, it’s really just evening it out and letting everyone have a chance to shine on the Hacktoberfest site.

And the other thing that we’re introducing this year, the third thing, is values - Hacktoberfest Values. Those are coming from the community, and those are really guiding principles that we’ve seen the community lead by. It’s not us coming up with it, it’s something I continue to see in the feedback and the experiences that we see.

I think that when the community has values and principles guided by that community, I think there’s more of a level of accountability around focusing on quality and caring about one another, and celebrating open source in a meaningful way.

I think it’s sad, but it also makes total sense that people would actually game a system in order to win or earn a T-shirt, right? Because it goes back to the pride point of like you associate yourself with this thing when you’re wearing a T-shirt, and so it says something about you… So you’re gaming a system to wear a T-shirt for a thing that you didn’t legitimately earn - it just seems like backwards to me, but that’s a developer and somebody who likes to poke and prod at the rules of systems… I definitely understand the desire to be like “Hm, what’s the minimum I can do to get myself one of these T-shirts?”

[15:26] And still be valid(ish)… The -ish part, you know?

Yeah, exactly.

That’s why we make the rules really simple, and kind of paste them all – they’re all over the place… They’re in the confirmation email, they’re on the website… That’s really front and center. At the same time, the usual “People don’t read the instructions”, and “Send us an email and ask us what’s going on…” But you know, there’s just certain ways that the community operates that you guys have even shared from your personal experiences that we’re not gonna change, and we’re just gonna have to embrace.

Well, it’s funny that I mentioned that, because quick shout out to beardicus who’s a member of the Changelog community Slack, Brian Boucheron, who works for ya’ll as a technical writer. He was talking about Hacktoberfest in our Slack recently, and even in there I started asking him specific rules, like “Okay, so if I commit to my own open source repository, but I open a pull request for myself, does that count?” Just trying to figure out where are the edges of this system… And we had a fun time discussing what does or does not count, so I can see where – as developers, that tendency of being like “Where are the boundaries of this, technically, and how exactly can I poke it in the right way?” It definitely happens unfortunately, and that means you are gonna send a T-shirt to somebody who might not have earned it, so… That’s the give and take.

Well, also if it’s simply based on pull requests, there’s a lot of pull requests opened and not merged on GitHub, on collective repos that are open source, just by nature.

So having the budget alone to cover –

30,000 shirts last year…

Was it 30k or 50k?

It was 30k last year.

Okay. But you’re expecting 50k this year.

That’s real money right there.

That’s a lot of money. I’m just doing the back of the napkin here… The average shirt costs - if you’re getting them in that kind of quantity, it’s probably pretty low, plus you probably have relationships with a printer, so maybe $8-$10 plus shipping worldwide… That’s still a decent budget, just on T-shirts.

Well, you know that when you go on the Hacktoberfest site today, now that we’ve launched, you can see who we have as our partners in this, and we’re really lucky to have amazing partners like GitHub and Twilio this year to actually help chip in to companies that have similar values and a focus on developers and open source… So we’re not doing it all alone. That would keep me up all night. But still, everything you’re saying is absolutely right, and if you did the napkin – I didn’t wanna let you keep going with the napkin math, because I would have been freaking out over here, because I don’t wanna be reminded of how much it costs to ship 50,000 shirts to (last year) 121 countries. How awesome is that?

Oh, my goodness.

Well, let’s do it differently then… Let’s say - since you came at it from that angle - if others didn’t step up for this good cause that definitely influences open source and provides future careers for some, or on-ramps for many, if you had to go alone at your own dollar… Sure, DigitalOcean - you guys are great, but at some point you probably had to cut your budget off and say “We just can’t do it this year because it’s just so expensive.” Would that have happened?

If I didn’t secure partners, I think we would have shifted the mechanics of the program to limit the amount of shirts that we can give out and figure out other ways to reward community members.

[18:58] Of course, another option that we were considering is having the program be self-funded, and a great program that existed before Hacktoberfest and still powers on is 24 Pull Requests, and that’s also a really effective, meaningful program giving back to open source that’s community-organized. DigitalOcean, I would say, pushes Hacktoberfest forward, but at this point the community could do it on its own. I think it’s interesting looking into how this year goes, what the lessons are gonna be, and going into next year.

Yeah, we’ve actually covered 24 Pull Requests a couple weeks back, in the December timeframe too, and it was a lot of fun talking through that with Andrew Nesbitt… And just the sheer weight of that and its impact. I was gonna ask you about other models similar to that. I can’t recall if you came first or they came first, and it’s not really a matter of who did, but just how what you learn contributes back to other programs similar to this… Or if there’s any communication at all.

We honestly haven’t had a whole lot of communication; it’s more about cross-promotion. I think that’s what it’s been centered around. Through these two programs, the model is pretty evident, what works.

Daniel, let’s talk about who should be involved in this, how to get involved… Of course, the emphasis is on community, and you said even bringing new folks to the open source community… But when it comes to Hacktoberfest, you have a lot of different perspectives or angles that you can come at participation. You can say “I strictly want a T-shirt. How am I gonna earn a T-shirt?” and we talked about that a little bit. You can be a maintainer of an open source repository and you would love those extra commits this month… Maybe you’re a business, like you mentioned, SendGrid getting involved with their own T-shirt… So from these different perspectives, give us some information on the best ways to go about participating.

Yeah. Let’s split it up into five. That’s what comes to mind for me. One - beginner. Two - contributor. Three - community organizer. Four - maintainer. Five - business. How does that sound?

Repeat it back to me one more time, because you were ready for that and I wasn’t. Beginner…

Beginner, contributor, maintainer, community organizer and business.

Adam, can you tell he’s thought about these things before?

I actually just came up with that list.

He’s on the fly! This is nice.

Wow… You’re good at this. Alright, let’s go.

[22:52] I wanted to package it for you guys. So the first thing is beginners. Beginners hear about Hacktoberfest through their friends, and they want a T-shirt. “That sounds exciting. Let’s get a T-shirt! Wait, what? We have to do open source? GitHub? Git? What is this stuff?” So beginners actually, while it seems – I think it can come off as kind of intimidating, but there’s so much great content, there’s so much community involvement and there’s so much past experience within the Hacktoberfest community that beginners actually have a lot of routes they could take to get a foot in the door and participate in Hacktoberfest if (if!) they stay committed throughout the month. Because I do hear stories of folks who are like “I got my first pull request. Oh, no! Suddenly it’s October 29th. Ugh… Okay, it’s too late. I’m not gonna get it.”

That’s why I encourage beginners to really stay in it and do the upfront hard work of learning how to get up and running with Git and setup in GitHub and starting to learn how to find opportunities to contribute, and seek out meetups to participate in, and look for friends who are talking about it on Twitter. There’s a lot of ways to work your way to getting a shirt, and it’s really rewarding is what I’ve seen, as I told the story of Victoria… Another story that comes to mind is Aditya who was just getting started with open source through Hacktoberfest, and fast-forward is now a maintainer of Homebrew Cask, because that’s a project that he was passionate about, and started from contributor to maintainer.

So beginners - go for it. There’s a lot of exciting things down the road, and it’s worth it.

It also helps that I’m a big fan of Cask. I use it all the time.

It also helps. [laughs]

I mean, just saying… Now I can appreciate the maintainers of that project even more because of its roots, you know what I mean?

Oh, yeah.

That’s so cool. Maybe that’s not the only thing that got that person there, but it was a beginning, it was a start, it was a place that there was an on-ramp, which is what we look for in open source - those on-ramps, those invitations.

Right. Well, while we’re on beginners, let me give my pitch to potential beginners who want that T-shirt, okay? We have two repos on the Changelog Organization. One is called Transcripts, and the other is called Show Notes. Neither of them have code in them; they all have markdown files that are open source transcripts and show notes, and they’re integrated into our CMS. And as I like to say, we have the fastest Merge button in the West, pretty – although I guess merging doesn’t matter in this case, because the opening of the PR is what matters. That being said, just start going to contribute very quickly.

So if you wanna get involved and you are afraid or intimidated by the coding side of pull requests and contribution into the community, well, find non-code contributions that you can do, which will still get you pull requests. Our repos are easy and awesome, and hey, you get to listen to Changelog shows while you’re contributing - how cool is that?

I like the pitch, because you can easily go to pretty much any show on our site and go to the transcript and just for “unintelligible”, or just go to the transcript repo and do a Find by, and look for “unintelligible.” And then go listen to that show, even to that point in the show… I’m overselling it, sorry… But this is how easy it gets. [laughter] That’s how easy it gets. Anyways, I won’t oversell it.

Daniel, now you’ll find the real reason why we invited you on - so we could pitch our listeners on helping out on our transcripts. Nah, just kidding.

The thing is that’s helped our transcripts so much, because they’re very readable and they’re very inviting… And it’s so nice, because people can actually read the show, versus just listen to it. For those who prefer that method, it’s just like - you’ve helped level up. It’s nice.

I love it. I mean, you guys are pitching the program that DigitalOcean created five years ago. It’s amazing, so thank you for doing that. And I think it’s a perfect time to talk about contributors, who are experienced contributors… Because you guys are shouting out beginners, but you guys are okay with non-beginners, right?

Oh, absolutely.


[27:10] Cool. Perfect. Contributors - the best thing to do is really go on GitHub and search, and just start to spend time on GitHub throughout October, jumping in and using GitHub search to find issues that are related to things that you’re interested in.

One route you can go take is think about the technologies that you’re using on a regular basis, or that you’ve come to love through your experience contributing. That’s a really natural first step for you to jump into. If projects aren’t coming to mind when that prompt comes up, just go on GitHub and maybe search by the language that you are predominantly using… Or once again, the search functionality is just super-effective, and just looking through a whole lot of different types of contributions that you can make…

I think that what we saw last year is things were getting labeled “hacktoberfest”, and contributors were jumping in minutes later. It was really amazing to see. So… Contributors, you might have some competition out there, that’s why I recommend jumping in and sort of block some time off and jump in throughout October and I’m sure you’ll find something meaningful to contribute back to. And as you guys said yourselves - not only through code, but also through documentation and through testing and other… I mean, you guys just called it out yourselves; you guys weren’t necessarily pushing for code, so that’s great.

Right. No questions there, that sounds all good. Move us on to maintainers now, because that’s a different perspective altogether.

Yeah, and on the flipside of that, maintainers will benefit from actually labeling their different issues “hacktoberfest”, and doing so strategically. At first, when we introduced the recommendation to label your issues “hacktoberfest”, that was a really good move, because it sort of allowed contributors to find issues with ease. Now what we’re seeing is there’s actually a lot of – you know, last year 240,000 pull requests to 60,000 repos. That’s the activity that happened in Hacktoberfest 2017.

So think about 240,000 pull requests… The smart thing to do for maintainers is to add specificity to the labeling strategy for the different issues. Is it a “first timers welcome”? Do you wanna talk about the time investment that it’s gonna take, or the difficulty level? Things like that allow the community of contributors to jump in and self-identify and connect with these issues in a way that’s actually gonna get things done.

The other thing I would say to maintainers is don’t necessarily label everything at the beginning of October. It’s October 1st, it’s important to already have some issues labeled now, however don’t worry about getting everything in there right now. You can spread that out throughout the month too, because different things will pop up at different times. We found that that has worked for maintainers.

So does the – I might have missed it, you might have said it… Do the issues with the Hacktoberfest label - are those aggregated and listed on the Hacktoberfest website, or is it simply to indicate to people who may wanna contribute that you have some good ones, or are you actually aggregating those and having a discoverable list?

Yeah, we have a discoverable list on the website.


When you land on the site, everytime you refresh the page you’ll get new ones.

So this is before October 1st, so some timing to mention for listeners… We’re recording this before, obviously, so currently the site doesn’t represent what it will represent on October 1st. I’m assuming the “Coming soon” means this kind of stuff will come when October 1st hits.

Thank you for explaining my ignorance here, Adam… We are looking at a splash page, which by the time this airs, will be a much better or much more informative page with that stuff, so that’s why I don’t know the answer to that… Even though if you’re at the website you probably know that already.

Yes, that’s absolutely right, guys… [laughter]

Insider baseball here, okay…

I could have also told you that.

All good, all good.

I like the motivation for maintainers though, because they’re always looking for ways to find more help. There’s no maintainer out there that is gonna turn away somebody… You know, join the community, but then just help taking on the burden of the project, in any way, shape or form. No one’s gonna take that away, so having something like Hacktoberfest for maintainers must just be like “Yes, give people a reason to wanna get involved.” Even if it’s just for a few weeks…

Let’s say you add 100 contributors to a project, and five of them stay and actually become long-time, sustained contributors or community members; or some percentage. It’s a win.

Yeah, it’s a win for maintainers, as long as they don’t have their wedding, or their babies coming, or something really important in your life is happening in October that’s gonna make a double duty.


Why is no one planning around this? I mean, that’s what I’m doing; I’m planning my October on this.

Plan your life out, people. October is taken, okay? It’s Hacktoberfest, no life events allowed.

And what about community organizers? What’s their role here?

Similar to maintainers, community organizers are hungry to build community online, offline, and Hacktoberfest, because of the offline piece, Hacktoberfest has become a time when there is this real demand for coming together and hacking away at open source. Community organizers are leveraging that to bring their local communities together.

For instance Adam, who actually works at DigitalOcean, has been a Hacktoberfest community member before he joined DigitalOcean… He told a couple of days ago that they’ve got 30 people signed up for the Edmonton, Alberta meetup, and that’s more people that showed up to their meetup last year. I don’t know how much they pushed their community throughout the year, but that’s certainly an indication that something is bringing people together – I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s really just a hunger for coming together, and last year 119 meetups were organized around Hacktoberfest, and this year I’m honestly expecting over 200 around the world.

Wow. That’s spectacular. One question I have which kind of relates to the maintainers and the community organizers - and Daniel, you may or may not have insights or tips on this, so feel free to say “I’m not sure”, but when we have an influx of what you might call “casual contributors”, or people who their main motivation is for the T-shirt, or they’re just getting started… I don’t wanna call them low quality or low value contributions, but let’s just call them casual, because I think that’s probably what they are… As a maintainer, the real value comes kind of like what Adam said, over time, if you get long-term contributors. So you’re introducing, hopefully, a casual contributor to eventually become somebody who’s going to contribute repeatedly.

It seems like for maintainers and community organizers - specifically more maintainers, but also organizers - it would be nice to have or to help out somehow with resources, or knowledge on… It sounds ikey to say “turning somebody into a contributor”, but you know what I’m saying - taking a casual contributor from Hacktoberfest, that never would have found you, but they’ve found you on the website because you had the label, and now they’re interested… But how do you actually convert them from casual to repeated? Are there tried and true methods?

[35:08] How do you guys do it?

We be nice, we welcome, we thank… Talk about the thing we did from Kent C. Dodds, Jerod. That’s a pretty interesting thing. The contributor sections of readme.

Yeah, so we used the All Contributors spec command line tool that Kent C. Dodds came up with, which is a way to basically provide shout-outs or credit to all the contributors towards your project, right there in the readme. So there’s a grid in your readme, which has everybody’s avatars and a little emoji representing how they contributed. That includes non-code contributions, as well as code contributions.

We use that, and it works very well for smaller projects. I think Kubernetes couldn’t do that, because they have seven thousand, or however many thousand people who are contributing, so it wouldn’t really scale very well… But that’s good for small projects.

You know, we thank people on Twitter, we show that it matters to us… The things that we really seek contribution on are our transcripts and show notes. We also have our website which is open source, and we’ve had some great contributions there… But we aren’t necessarily trying to - I don’t know, Adam - build a base of core contributors. I mean, for transcripts we definitely would, but… Yeah, we’ll just be nice and give shout-outs, and show people that it helps and that it matters, and that we appreciate it. But beyond that, I don’t have hard answers either.

One place they could go to for more resources however, which is no longer an active show, but a great resource in retrospect and it is a lot of greenfield kind of content is Request for Commits, the show we had with Nadia Eghbal and Mikeal Rogers, who did a show on exploring different perspectives in open source sustainability.

“The human side of code” was one of the taglines for this show, essentially. It went 19 episodes over two seasons… Plenty of content in there for contributor on-ramping, how to fund your open source… All these different things of being a maintainer, essentially, but how to attract and keep and nurture a community of involved people in a project and/or idea. So just to add one more thing to the resource pack would be Request for Commits as a podcast; listen to episode 1 through 19, and that’s essentially open source 101.

And building on that, Nadia developed – I believe that she was the one that worked on GitHub’s open source guides, which are the phenomenal resources which we link to from the Hacktoberfest site… And I love how you brought up Mikeal Rogers…

It was intentional.

If he’s listening, hey Mikeal! …because Mikeal was at DigitalOcean when we started Hacktoberfest.

I bet, I bet!

Oh, nice…

I remember that, because I first met Mikeal in the time whenever he worked at DigitalOcean. This was when the io.js fork happened, and I was like “How in the world do you do your job at DigitalOcean AND help lead this fracture and then regovernance of Node?” And then obviously he quit DigitalOcean a couple months later, not because of the like or dislike for the work, but just moving on in his career.

Yeah, absolutely. And I realize I didn’t add one aspect of the community organizer piece, and that’s the event kit, which is a tool. So we talked about the tools that allow maintainers to bring folks from these casual contributors to ongoing and consistent core contributors; for the event side of things, we have an event kit that we developed two years ago. That’s been a collaboration between my colleague, Samantha C. and GitHub’s Joe Nash, who runs their university programs.

The event kit has just been phenomenal at giving folks a template of how to put together an event, and how to make it an awesome event. And what I’m seeing is communities are actually organizing for the second or third year in a row Hacktoberfest events. So that’s telling me that something is working.

[39:11] Samantha and Joe were really active… This year they’re actually gonna be releasing some webinars, and there’s gonna be a video on the site (you should see it in the event kit section) that’s gonna show you a Q&A with them and them providing an overview of how to put together an event yourself… So also a helpful resource for the community organizer side of things.

Is there a list of community-driven events anywhere that I missed? Or will it appear whenever the 1st hits and then there’s some information, more so for like “Hey, I’m in Houston, Texas, and somebody has already started this. You don’t have to begin from scratch, you can just join up.” It’s gonna be a separate page on the site. Just go to /events and you’re gonna see all the events that are happening around the world, and in there you can also submit an event, and that’s added to the list.

So that’s the place I’m gonna be looking for. You see how I dropped the number 200? Let’s connect after October and see how close I was to that prediction… Because a lot of this, it’s like “Well, Daniel, shouldn’t you know exactly what the results of this are gonna be? Shouldn’t this be a data-driven program?” Well, yes, but there’s also aspects of this that are really hard to predict.

We’re gonna be giving out 50,000 shirts this year, and I’m predicting 200 events around the world. I don’t know if that’s what’s gonna actually happen, so I’m gonna be interested to connect with you guys and see how close we were.

We can do a little minisode in November, Jerod, and just do a Hacktoberfest catch-up of…

It’d be fun, yeah.

…like a little break, or something like that, and do that… That would be cool. I love making predictions, 1) to motivate, but then 2) to just try to predict the future and see how close we were… And as you know, Jerod, we’re sometimes close, but Daniel, I have a feeling you might be a little closer – I also said 50,000; that’d be a great number, and 200 events around that time around the world would be great, too.

Yeah. And a big driver of all of this is the last of the five ways into Hacktoberfest, and that’s the businesses.

Well, tell us about that piece there. We’re really curious, because you mentioned that had it not been for this, you had defined potentially a change of model if you didn’t have other businesses. So do you mean at this level, or do you mean businesses in general being involved?

Yeah, it’s interesting… You just made me think that both are true, because I think the more businesses we can get involved in Hacktoberfest, the more Hacktoberfest could thrive… Which is a bit counter-intuitive, because it seems like it’s just a community-driven program, developers around the world celebrating open source. Well, who is in these businesses? Who is building these software and hardware companies? It is developers, and that’s why it’s been really great to see companies like SendGrid, or for instance you may have heard of this company that’s participating this year, Microsoft, participating in Hacktoberfest… Which is helping us drive more involvement, because they have their communities that they’re bringing into the fold. The reason for doing it is a really great reason - they want more contributions to open source, and that’s why we do the whole thing. So everyone’s missions are aligned here. We’re on the same page, and that’s what makes it really exciting.

SendGrid - I mentioned them earlier - their statistics… They got 43 pull requests in October 2016, and they got 1,249 in 2017. That’s a 2,800% increase. I wanted to quote them and share what they said… They said “It’s important to emphasize how completely taken by surprise we all were by this activity. We added some issues, we sized them and tagged them appropriately, and then people just kept completing them. Sometimes the same issue at the same time, and often in ways we couldn’t predict, but that were awesome.”

So that’s where I sort of push for this business side of things, because I really think that any business who has an open source component can benefit from this.

Daniel, we were talking about businesses getting involved, and there’s different angles here. You’ve got SendGrid, which you can quote, obviously; lots of cool stuff happening there. I’m sure you have a close relationship because of this. Lots of small businesses getting involved that are seeing benefits from the impact of Hacktoberfest… And just the sheer inertia of what a T-shirt can do to a developer’s motivation… What else have you got? I know you’ve got Microsoft you mentioned… They threw in their hat – I’m not sure what the involvement is. Can you walk us through more of the business side of things? Either SendGrid or Microsoft, and what’s happening there.

The model - I can’t say that SendGrid were the first to come up with the model of “Hey, participate in Hacktoberfest and we’re gonna have our own Hacktoberfest community (sort of) structure, SendGrid-specific, the repos and the issues there”, because a lot of open source projects have done that, and projects that have participated, Exercism, and Rust, and Laravel, and OpenShift by Red Hat, and Jenkins, and Ember… I mean, a lot of those communities were using this model of “Hey, within our contained community we’re gonna give back a sticker, some swag, if you participate within this larger Hacktoberfest program.” SendGrid is just one of the businesses that jumped on board and has had success, and they’re continuing to do that… And that’s why I’m sort of pushing, in a way, I’m sort of sharing that story, because I’d love to see other businesses get involved and reach out. It really is a win/win for everyone…

I’m overselling it now, but clearly the overselling, whatever it is, there’s – you know, Microsoft is participating this year with that same model. Microsoft is encouraging open source contributors to participate in their repos, and they’re gonna give a shirt… And I think it’s Ashley McNamara that’s gonna design the shirt. How awesome would that be? I think that’s what they’re doing.

Clearly, the pitching is working, or the program itself is pitching the whole thing for me, really… Yeah, so that’s the business piece. I’m not gonna get into the other side of it too much, but I’m just surprised that more companies aren’t using Hacktoberfest internally, as a tool to encourage their engineers to have more time to hack on open source. I think maybe that’s like the next frontier…

Let me sell it with you too, because what I like about this SendGrid example is that they were surprised… And I think what you will find as we collectively – and I’m gonna use the words of a recent podcast we were on with Donald Fischer of Tidelift… He said, “We as humanity have decided to build our future on technology, and that technology is largely built on open source.” That’s the truth, so that means that what we’re seeing here applies to a wide majority of businesses - everything from my local grocer, H-E-B, here in Houston, Texas, ginormous, whatever, here in Texas, just like Texas is… They are a technology business; every business is involved in technology, and parts of their businesses are open source - SDKs, easy ways, whatever… But the cool thing about SendGrid is that they were surprised by, and then they found ways to benefit from it, to encourage more, but then also to just widen their community. They use this as marketing, in a lot of ways, successfully…

And I think this is just an open door. If your business is at all influenced by open source, this is an opportunity to just, you know, get in the DigitalOcean shadow and do some of this stuff with Hacktoberfest. It’s just a loss if you don’t plan for this. That’s what I would think. And you know, we’re gonna do some stuff this year, too. We’re still working on some fun ways to do some stuff, but this podcast is just one way that we’re gonna get involved, and throw our hat into the ring and do some fun stuff.

[49:09] So I’m gonna sell it with you - I think if you’re a business that relies on open sources, or built in technology, get involved. Find a way. Is there any previews that you’re aware of? I know Ashley is designing the T-shirt for Microsoft… Have you seen it? Do you care to know about it as organizers of this? Is this something that you’re like “Let’s see the T-shirt. What’s it look like?” Do you get involved on those levels? Like, this is an unofficial involvement; it’s not like they said “Hey, DigitalOcean, can we participate? They just did it.”

We have brand guidelines on the Hacktoberfest site that we encourage communities to use. They’ve actually been really helpful for community organizers who don’t want to take the time to create yet another event poster… So we’ve done the work for you, community organizers. Just find the event kit, and in there you’ll find the community guidelines, which will allow you to leverage the Hacktoberfest branding for your communities and projects.

So if you do get involved, you do have to tie in the collective Hacktoberfest branding somehow.

Okay. I won’t get involved then. [laughter] I’m just kidding, that’s cool. I wasn’t thinking that, but that’s actually a good thing on your part too, because 1) you’re just making sure that where it began, that Hacktoberfest the brand is there, not so much DigitalOcean the brand… I’m assuming that’s the case, at least.

Yeah, the focus is to continue to bring it back to have a sort of unified front, so that we’re all working together on this, so that Hacktoberfest continues to grow. That’s really the reason for this - we want folks when they’re sharing Hacktoberfest to their friends, they’re all talking about the same Hacktoberfest. For us, that’s really important on a branding aspect as well.

DigitalOcean really cares about branding; it’s something that’s baked into the simplicity of our mission. We care a lot of our branding, we care a lot about design, and part of the creating a simple cloud experience for developers is creating a visually simple experience, that’s enjoyable as well. So that’s one of the things that DigitalOcean has carried over into Hacktoberfest and how we execute the program.

For those curious, inside this kit is vector files, PDFs for the guidelines, the computer itself, which is the core visual piece, the word Hacktoberfest… So you’ll have not only PNG, but also vector-level versions, so if you really wanna take it far and do like a gigantic poster, you can. You’ve got the full working files, not just web-friendly. It’s print-friendly too, which is cool.

Let’s talk about - since we’re on this kick of branding - how important it is to be visually appealing… Maybe even T-shirt quality. I know Jerod is, because he loves out T-shirts, but we personally, as Changelog, we print our T-shirts on American Apparel Tri-blend T-shirts. We do Tri-Black, they’re super comfortable, super comfy, and my relatives who support me in my business and our business and what we do - they would wear it anyways, but because it’s super comfy, they’re like “Please give me a T-shirt, and one for my friends too”, because they’re super comfortable… So tell me more about the T-shirts themselves and maybe how important it is to be visually appealing and be on-brand, or just the branding nature of this.

Yeah, I talked about the branding side a little bit, and the importance to have a consistent design experience… And as you can see, the Hacktoberfest is something brand new, crafted in our design lab year after year; it’s something that everyone internally gets really excited about when the new designs come out. I know my co-pilot and partner in this program for many years now, Lee Riley at GitHub - the excitement also builds even more when I share the designs with the GitHub team. So that’s the design side of it.

[53:10] As you said, the feel of the shirt - that’s super important too, I agree with you. I think that a shirt that feels good is gonna have more mileage than one that’s cheap. With Hacktoberfest, we wanna create the first kind of experience.

We actually are using – are you guys familiar with District tees?

This year it’s something new - we’re doing a District VIT, which I think you guys are really gonna enjoy… And we actually had a bunch of samples, and we talked to different companies this year to source the different materials, and this is the one that we’re feeling really good about. We’ve put in the first order, so there’s no turning back now.

How many samples did you get and who wore them?

The design team?

Myself, and how many samples - eight.

Nice. Okay, because I’ve made mistakes before… I’d said something more like I need to try that T-shirt on, in like all the sizes too, because gosh, it’s terrible when you get a 2X that’s not a 2X, or a small that’s not a small… And it’s like, “Oh, that’s a bummer.” It feels good, but it doesn’t fit.

Yeah, that’s a constant challenge. The logistics part of Hacktoberfest is really a thankless – and I’ll take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s involved in actually getting the shirts to all the community members around the world. It’s something that starts in October, we start shipping them out within October, so that folks can celebrate and feel good about completing the challenge in the month that it happens… But at the same time, you see shirts arriving in January, because they’re going all over the world.

It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time, and I appreciate all the patience that the community has with the shirts, and I’m proud of the logistical challenge that we’ve taken on… We’re making improvements there too, because we saw a lot of shirts not make it last year to certain countries, like India, for instance, and we’re making improvements in that regard, so that we lower the percentage of unfulfilled orders… Because we really care about making this work, and everyone who earns a T-shirt, for them to get one in a timely way.

Yeah, something like doing the work, getting a T-shirt, and then not getting it, you’re like “Oh, man…!” But at the same time, you have to realize, your business isn’t shipping T-shirts. Your business is a simple cloud, and this is something that it seems from this call was a happy accident, to some degree. You did it with intention, but the success of it may have been the happy accident part, and you’re not gonna quit, because hey, look at the great things it’s doing, and you’re pulling in partners and finding different reasons, but… It’s a bummer whenever you’re in a place in the world where it’s harder to send things without fail… I agree, it’s tough, and you wanna make sure they get their shirts. Even the telling you.. man if you did October, and you got to November, and you tallied it up and then you didn’t get their shirt until March or May of the following year - they’re not gonna do it next year, or maybe less likely, because like “Hey, I want my T-shirt at least within a relevant timeframe.” How has that changed over the years? Have you always been somewhat in a range of near November(ish) of the following month or so, in terms of shipping?

The answer is no, initially… We first started shipping things out at the end of October. We would wait for the program to end, we’d tally up all the results, and then we’d start shipping in November… So there you go, that certainly wasn’t desirable in terms of like the quick turnaround. But we changed that, and last year we started shipping out as early as the first week of October. So that was an improvement.

[57:04] But as I said, the challenge last year was a lot of shirts, specifically in a few countries, just have a really hard time getting through customs, and they just don’t make it… So we’re using different tactics, like dropshipment this year, and paying a little bit extra for different fulfillment services, so that the percentage of shirts that don’t make it actually decreases. We really care about this… So I’d say that’s one of the behind-the-scenes changes that we’ve made this year.

And once again, repeating the important changes that we’ve made this year, it’s five pull requests and 50k shirts. I mean… Yeah. Talking to you guys is really making me feel like some community support here… [laughter] Because it’s huge, guys. It’s really–

Well, I was just wondering how big can it possibly get… Because I’m a couple of years down the road on you now, thinking “Well, in 2020 how many shirts are they gonna be shipping out?” Do the rules necessarily have to change because there’s just – there’s a point that this scale becomes a bit ridiculous, right? Or do we just keep on scaling…?

No, I agree with you. I wouldn’t say that the scale is ridiculous, it’s more about the focus - it might get lost, and that’s concerning for me… And that’s why I think it’s important to have the conversation with the community, and have you guys involved in that. That would be really useful, so that we can all come together and just hear out the community on what the different ideas are, because I think there’s a lot of great suggestions out there for building on what we have built together so far.

Yeah. And no suggestion we come up here would be the best, but you know I would just say like find a way to do a tiered system you know I mean.

Well, I love how the businesses involved can do their own shirts…

Yeah, that’s nice.

I mean, I wouldn’t rely upon that as like the only way that it works, but it seems like that could maybe offset… So it’s like, you know, if you do all your PRs to Microsoft repos, then you get a Microsoft shirt. Maybe you don’t need the other Hacktoberfest shirt again. As Adam said, our ideas, especially off the top of our head, probably aren’t the best ideas… So we’re happy to be involved in this conversation as it advances. Undoubtedly, there are lots of ways that you could cut this, and some are better than other.

Yeah. At the time, we’re also very sympathetic to the shoes you’re in and the choice you’ll have to make.

Yeah, thanks guys. And based on those suggestions you gave, I don’t think I’ll be asking you guys. [laughter]

Live on the air, thank you. Well, the cool thing is that you know that we knew that this was an important thing; for one, it’s kept going. We’ve been tracking it, and as Jerod mentioned, he’d gotten an accidental T-shirt, even though it was on purpose, or he earned it; he didn’t expect it…

That’s right.

…to show how easy it is to get acclimated with open source, get acclimated with Git, GitHub, pull requests, core things that if you wanna be a contributor to open source, there are necessary mechanisms to be familiar with… And we’re huge advocates of that; that’s what we wanna be. The reason why we have no explicit tag on our podcasts is because we wanna be what we say “future hacker-friendly.” If you are driving with your children in your car, or you’re a young adult or a young adolescent getting into software, our show is one of the things you use as a lens to look at the world and say “This is how software development is happening, this is where things are going” - we wanna be welcoming to that.

We wanna make sure we support you all in this mission, and that’s why we wanted to get on the phone with you and talk through this story, figure out where it came from, what the motivations were behind it, who’s involved, what the successes are, and more importantly, the impact and how you can get involved. I think that to me is super important.

[01:00:59.27] And like you’d said, lost in the mission – it’s not about the T-shirts; that’s the nice-to-have, that’s sort of the carrot out there. The important thing is open source, understanding it, what’s involved in it, the importance it places in our world, the importance that when you pull out your phone, whether it’s an Android or an iPhone, it’s full of open source… And there’s places to get involved, and we wanna be able to give people the necessary on-ramps to that, and more importantly, support the maintainers and those who are already in the fight… Give them the necessary things to be invited, to be welcomed, to be appreciated. That’s, I think, the thing I would wanna take away from this; that’s what this is - it’s a beacon of saying “Hey, you’re welcome here, whoever you are. By the way, we’ll give you a T-shirt.”

Thank you so much for supporting it. That was amazing. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I came up with a new idea… See, now you’ve challenged me.

So the rule change that I would suggest next is if you can get a patch committed to the Linux Kernel during October, then you get a T-shirt. [laughter] That would fix your scaling problem, wouldn’t it?

That would fix it. It would actually limit it quite a bit. Yes, that’s a good one, Jerod.

That’s right. Don’t discount me, Daniel; I’ve got ideas over here, so let’s keep talking…

He said he’s not coming to us for the ideas, Jerod. We’ve already shot ourselves in the foot.

Yeah, I’m offended. [laughs]

We’re the motivators, not the idea makers.

I’m offended.

You guys are for sure, and you guys have really been helping carry Hacktoberfest forward with this conversation even more so, so I really appreciate that.

Cool. Well, anything in closing, anything happening that we may not have covered? Anything super-secret, any stats, anything else that just was on the table and we didn’t get in our list?

Hacktoberfest - a month-long celebration of open source. Year five is coming soon. That’s the only thing I would say. I think we’ve covered everything. Just get ready, and hack away.

What’s the URL? You never said the URL on this call yet. Is it Or is it and then add the year?

Okay. Well, you heard it here. Don’t pull over, just earmark that. We do put that in the show notes, so don’t worry about that; if you’re a listener, you know that. Go back to the show notes, we’ll put the URL in there, and there you go.

Daniel, thank you so much for your time, thank you for you and the rest of the team. Everyone involved in this, if your name wasn’t mentioned here and you work at DigitalOcean or at GitHub, or any of the collaborating companies that work so hard to make this happen, huge thank you from us and the community, and just keep doing it; we’ll support you how we can. And thank you for the time.

Thank you, guys.


Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

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