I founded and managed an open source project (OSSEC) for many years. And one of the questions
I would get very often was about open source participation and how to get involved.
Many people complained that they wanted to help, but the specific project they were interested in
was not very open or was very hard to get started. Others said they contacted the developers,
but never heard back.
Not all open source projects have an open culture or an open development model (go figure), but most
of the time, the person trying to get involved is not following proper netiquette as well.
So if you want to get started and more involved on an open source project, those are some suggestions:
Be a doer, not a talker. Most open source projecs are done by volunteers and passionated people. If you want to be talker, please back it up by doing and contributing. And start by doing first and you will be heard later.
Actually use the project you want to be involved.. Don’t blind shoot everywhere to see if a project will be open to your ideas. Find a project you actually use and need and focus on it. And the odds are that if you use a software long enough, you will find things you want to improve and features to add.
Start small. As any project, it takes some time to get used to how it works and how the code is organized. So start with simple things. Even if you detect a typo or a simple bug, try to fix that first and send the patch to the developers.
Small pull requests. Same as the previous point, it allows the developers to get to know you and trust your code. Do one pull request per bug fix or feature you are suggesting.
Look for their bug tracker (bugzilla, trac, etc) and try to solve some of the problems there. You will get a lot of love when you solve someone’s else needs.
Join the project mailing list, forums and IRC channels. But remember to be a listener for a while to get used to the current processes.
And that’s about it. Most of those are common sense, but not everyone has that (specially some young developers).