How to have an amazing experience
If you are joining Zulip as part of an outreach program (e.g. GSoC or Outreachy), welcome! Please make sure you read this page carefully early on, and we encourage you to come back to it over the course of the program.
Your experience as a Zulip outreach program participant is your responsibility, and we strongly encourage you take full ownership. The more care, attention, and energy you put in, the more you’ll be able to get out of the program. We’re here to support you, but the journey is yours to make!
The following are the main goals we’ll be guiding you towards, as they are shared by the great majority of program participants, and are aligned with the objectives for our umbrella programs. If you have additional goals in mind for your experience, please let your mentor and the community know, so that we can help you along.
You should gain mastery of the skills needed to be a self-sufficient and effective open-source developer. By the end of the program, all but the most complex PRs should ideally go through only a couple of rounds of code review before being merged. Our most successful contributors gain the expertise to become a maintainer for one or more areas within Zulip.
You should become a valued member of the Zulip community, who works to make it better for all involved. Reviewing PRs, helping others debug, providing feedback, and finding bugs are wonderful ways to contribute beyond the code in your own project.
You should feel proud of the significant positive impact you’ve made on the areas you focused on. Your areas should be more polished, and have several new major features that you have implemented. The sections of code you worked on should be more readable, better-tested, and have clearer documentation.
Don’t forget to have fun! Spending a few months coding on open source is an amazing opportunity, and we hope you’ll have a blast. Your acceptance to the program means that we we are confident that if you put in the effort, your contributions to the open source world will be something you can be proud of for the rest of your life.
You and your mentor
Zulip operates under a group mentorship model. Every participant in a Zulip mentorship program will:
Have an assigned mentor, who will be their go-to for personal questions and concerns, and a consistent point of contact throughout the program.
Receive lots of feedback and mentorship from others in the Zulip development community, in code reviews on pull requests, and by posting questions and ideas in public streams.
Mentors and contributors should stay in close contact. We recommend setting up a weekly check-in call to make sure you stay on track and have a regular opportunity to ask your mentor questions and get their feedback. Talk with your mentor about the status of your projects, and get their advice on how to make progress if some project feels stuck.
Bring up problems early, whether technical or otherwise. If you’re stressed about something, mention it your mentor immediately, so they can help you solve the problem. If you’re stressed about something involving your mentor, bring it up with an organization admin.
Communication and check-ins
Communicating proactively with your mentor, your peers, and the rest of the Zulip community is vital to having a successful mentorship program with Zulip. It’s how we can help you make sure you’re working on a great set of impactful issues, and not getting stuck or taking an approach that won’t work out.
A key communication tool we use is posting regular public check-ins, which are a required part of the program. We recommend reading your peers’ check-ins to get a feel for what they are working on and share ideas!
Getting feedback and advice
We strongly encourage all Zulip contributors to post their questions and ideas in public streams in the Zulip development community. When you post in a public stream, you give everyone the opportunity to help you out, and to learn from reading the discussion.
Examples of topics you might ask about include:
Making a technical decision while solving the issue.
Making a product decision, e.g., if the issue description does not address some details, or you’ve identified a problem with the plan proposed in the issue.
Making a design decision, e.g., if you have a couple of different ideas and aren’t sure what looks best.
See our guide to asking great questions for detailed advice on how to ask your questions effectively.
How to post your check-ins
Frequency: Regular check-ins are a required for all program participants. If you are working 20+ hours per week, post a check-in at least twice a week, e.g., Tuesday and Friday. If you are working less than 20 hours per week, post a check-in at least once a week.
What to include in each check-in:
The status of each ongoing project, e.g., in progress, awaiting feedback, addressing review feedback, stuck on something, blocked on other work, etc. To make your update easy to read, include brief descriptions of what you’re working on, not just issue/PR numbers.
For projects where you are waiting on feedback, what type of feedback is needed (e.g. product review, next round of code review after initial feedback has been addressed, answer to some question, etc.). Use silent mentions to indicate whose feedback is required, if you think you know who it should be.
Any questions or problems you feel stuck on. If there’s an ongoing thread elsewhere, please link to it. Please post each question/problem in a separate message to make it convenient to quote-and-reply to address it. Note that discussions about your work will happen in all the usual places (#frontend, #backend, #design, etc.), and those are the streams where you should be starting conversations. Your check-ins are a place to point out where you’re feeling stuck, e.g., there was some discussion in a stream or on GitHub, but it seems to have petered out without getting to a decision, and you aren’t sure what to do.
What you’ve been actively working on since your last check-in.
What you intend to focus on until your next check-in. Indicate if you are unsure and would appreciate some suggestions or feedback on your plan.
Reviewing others’ changes is one of the best ways to learn to be a better developer, since you’ll both see how others solve problems and also practice the art of catching bugs in unfamiliar code. As discussed in the code review guide:
Doing code reviews is a valuable contribution to the Zulip project. It’s also an important skill to develop for participating in open-source projects and working in the industry in general… Anyone can do a code review – you don’t have to have a ton of experience.
For programs with multiple participants, we will set up a code review buddies system at the start of the program:
Everyone will be assigned to a group of 2-3 people who will be your buddies for first-round code reviews. (In some cases, your buddy will be your mentor.)
Start by self-reviewing your own code.
When ready, request a review from your code review buddies. Use GitHub’s review request feature to send your request. This makes the PR’s status clear to project maintainers. You may also want to send a quick private message to let your buddies know their attention is needed.
Please respond to code review requests promptly (within one workday), and follow the guidelines in the code review guide.
Your initial reply does not have to be a full review. If you’re pressed for time, start by quickly sharing your initial thoughts or feedback on the general direction, and let the PR author know when you expect to provide a more detailed review.
Make sure the GitHub comments on the PR are always clear on the status – e.g. buddy code review has been requested, feedback is being discussed, code buddy has approved the PR, etc. This will help project maintainers know when it’s time to move on to the next step of the review process.
How do I figure out what to work on?
Our goal is for contributors to improve their skills while making meaningful contributions to Zulip. We like to be flexible, which means that you are unlikely to work precisely on the issues described in your proposal, and that’s OK!
In practice, this means that over the course of the program, you will:
Get frequent guidance regarding what to work on next by posting your ideas and questions about what to tackle next in your check-ins.
Like other Zulip contributors, claim issues only when you actually start work on them.
If someone else fixes an issue you were planning to fix, don’t worry about it! Consider reviewing their work to build your expertise in the subsystem you’re working on.
Always keep the following order of priorities in mind:
Your top priority should be fixing any regressions you introduced with recently merged work.
Review others’ pull requests promptly. As you’ll experience yourself, getting quick feedback on your PR helps immensely. As such, if you are asked to review a PR, aim to provide an initial reply within one workday.
If any of your PRs are actively undergoing review or are marked as “integration review” ready, be sure to rebase them whenever merge conflicts arise.
Next, prioritize responding to code review feedback over starting new work. This helps you and your reviewers maintain context, which makes it easier to make progress towards getting your work integrated.
Do any relevant follow-ups to larger projects you’ve completed, to make sure that you’ve left things better than how you found them.
Finally, if all of the above are in good shape, find a new issue to pick up!
What about my proposal?
We have a fluid approach to planning, which means you are very unlikely to end up working on the exact set of issues described in your proposal. Your proposal is not a strict commitment (on either side).
In terms of managing your work:
Regardless of whether an issue was mentioned in your proposal, make sure you bring it up in your check-ins when you plan to start working on something. Project priorities shift over time, and we may have suggestions for higher-priority work in your area of interest, or issues that will serve as good preparation for other work you are excited about. It’s also possible that a project idea is not ready to be worked on, or needs to be sequenced after other projects.
When asking for recommendations for what to work on next, it’s helpful to include a reminder of what areas you’re most excited about, especially early on in the program when we’re still getting to know you. Do not expect program administrators to remember what issues were listed in your proposal.
While some program participants stick closely to the spirit of their proposal, others find new areas they are excited about in the course of their work. You can be highly successful in the program either way!
Tips for finding issues to pick up
Look for, claim, and fix bugs to help keep Zulip polished. Bugs and polish make a huge difference to our users’ experience. If you can fix a high-priority bug in an area you’ve been working on, it is likely to have more impact than any new feature you might build.
If you’re working on something other than the Zulip server / web app codebase, follow your project on GitHub to keep track of what’s happening.
The Zulip server / web app project is too active to follow, so instead we recommend joining Zulip’s GitHub teams that relate to your projects and/or interests. When an area label is added to an issue or PR, Zulipbot automatically mentions the relevant teams for that area, subscribing all team members to the issue or PR thread.
Here are some tips for making sure you can always be productive, even when waiting for a question to be answered or for the next round of feedback on a PR:
You should be working on multiple issues (or parallelizable parts of a large issue) at a time. That way, if you find yourself blocked on one project, you can always push on a different one in the meantime.
It can help to plan a bit in advance by thinking about the issue you intend to pick up next. Are there decisions that will require input from others? Try to start the conversation a few days before you need an answer.
If you are waiting for some decision to be finalized, consider doing preparatory refactoring that will make the feature easier to complete and can already be merged.
How else can I contribute?
Participate and be helpful in the community! Helping a new contributor get started or answering a user’s question are great ways to contribute.
Test and give feedback on new features that are deployed in the development community! It’s fun, and it helps us find bugs before they reach our users.
As you are doing your work, keep thinking about what could make contributing to Zulip easier for both yourself and the next generation of Zulip contributors. And then make those ideas reality!
Timeline extensions for GSoC
Starting in 2022, it became possible to extend the timeline of a GSoC project. This can be a great idea if you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate each week, or have an interruption during the program (e.g., getting sick, travel, family obligations, etc.).
We’re generally very flexible, so if extending your project dates would make it less stressful to put in the required hours, please discuss this with your mentor and Zulip’s GSoC administrator. Please start this conversation proactively as soon as you realize that you might need an extension, as this will give us confidence that you’ll be able to manage your time effectively to successfully complete the program.
It is possible to have the midterm evaluation happen more than half-way through the project timeline. If the balance of hours you plan to spend on GSoC is significantly weighted towards the latter half of your GSoC contribution period, please contact Zulip’s program administrator to discuss pushing out the midterm evaluation.