When most people think of contributing to an open source project, I suspect they probably think of
contributing code changes, new features, and bug fixes. As a software engineer and a long-time open
source user and contributor, that’s certainly what I thought. Although I have written a good quantity
of documentation in different workflows, the massive size of the Kubernetes community was a new kind
of "client." I just didn’t know what to expect when Google asked my compatriots and me at
Lion’s Way to make much-needed updates to the Kubernetes Development Guide.
This article originally appeared on the Kubernetes Contributor Community blog.
The Delights of Working With a Community
As professional writers, we are used to being hired to write very specific pieces. We specialize in
marketing, training, and documentation for technical services and products, which can range anywhere from relatively fluffy marketing emails to deeply technical white papers targeted at IT and developers. With
this kind of professional service, every deliverable tends to have a measurable return on investment.
I knew this metric wouldn’t be present when working on open source documentation, but I couldn’t
predict how it would change my relationship with the project.
One of the primary traits of the relationship between our writing and our traditional clients is that we
always have one or two primary points of contact inside a company. These contacts are responsible
for reviewing our writing and making sure it matches the voice of the company and targets the
audience they’re looking for. It can be stressful — which is why I’m so glad that my writing
partner, eagle-eyed reviewer, and bloodthirsty editor Joel
handles most of the client contact.
I was surprised and delighted that all of the stress of client contact went out the window when
working with the Kubernetes community.
"How delicate do I have to be? What if I screw up? What if I make a developer angry? What if I make
enemies?" These were all questions that raced through my mind and made me feel like I was
approaching a field of eggshells when I first joined the
#sig-contribex channel on the Kubernetes
Slack and announced that I would be working on the
“The Kubernetes Code of Conduct is in effect, so please be excellent to each other.” — Jorge
Castro, SIG ContribEx co-chair
My fears were unfounded. Immediately, I felt welcome. I like to think this isn’t just because I was
working on a much needed task, but rather because the Kubernetes community is filled
with friendly, welcoming people. During the weekly SIG ContribEx meetings, our reports on progress
with the Development Guide were included immediately. In addition, the leader of the meeting would
always stress that the Kubernetes Code of Conduct was in
effect, and that we should, like Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.
This Doesn’t Mean It’s All Easy
The Development Guide needed a pretty serious overhaul. When we got our hands on it, it was already
packed with information and lots of steps for new developers to go through, but it was getting dusty
with age and neglect. Documentation can really require a global look, not just point fixes.
As a result, I ended up submitting a gargantuan pull request to the
Community repo: 267 additions and 88 deletions.
The life cycle of a pull request requires a certain number of Kubernetes organization members to review and approve changes
before they can be merged. This is a great practice, as it keeps both documentation and code in
pretty good shape, but it can be tough to cajole the right people into taking the time for such a hefty
review. As a result, that massive PR took 26 days from my first submission to final merge. But in
the end, it was successful.
Since Kubernetes is a pretty fast-moving project, and since developers typically aren’t really
excited about writing documentation, I also ran into the problem that sometimes, the secret jewels
that describe the workings of a Kubernetes subsystem are buried deep within the labyrinthine mind of
a brilliant engineer, and not in plain English in a Markdown file. I ran headlong into this issue
when it came time to update the getting started documentation for end-to-end (e2e) testing.
This portion of my journey took me out of documentation-writing territory and into the role of a
brand new user of some unfinished software. I ended up working with one of the developers of the new
kubetest2 framework to document the latest process of
getting up-and-running for e2e testing, but it required a lot of head scratching on my part. You can
judge the results for yourself by checking out my
completed pull request.
Nobody Is the Boss, and Everybody Gives Feedback
But while I secretly expected chaos, the process of contributing to the Kubernetes Development Guide
and interacting with the amazing Kubernetes community went incredibly smoothly. There was no
contention. I made no enemies. Everybody was incredibly friendly and welcoming. It was enjoyable.
With an open source project, there is no one boss. The Kubernetes project, which approaches being
gargantuan, is split into many different special interest groups (SIGs), working groups, and
communities. Each has its own regularly scheduled meetings, assigned duties, and elected
chairpersons. My work intersected with the efforts of both SIG ContribEx (who watch over and seek to
improve the contributor experience) and SIG Testing (who are in charge of testing). Both of these
SIGs proved easy to work with, eager for contributions, and populated with incredibly friendly and
In an active, living project like Kubernetes, documentation continues to need maintenance, revision,
and testing alongside the code base. The Development Guide will continue to be crucial to onboarding
new contributors to the Kubernetes code base, and as our efforts have shown, it is important that
this guide keeps pace with the evolution of the Kubernetes project.
Joel and I really enjoy interacting with the Kubernetes community and contributing to
the Development Guide. I really look forward to continuing to not only contributing more, but to
continuing to build the new friendships I’ve made in this vast open source community over the past