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You are here: Home Bulletins 2019 Spring The free software movement needs you: How to become a volunteer

The free software movement needs you: How to become a volunteer

by Andrew Engelbrecht Contributions Published on Jun 13, 2019 04:24 PM

When I first got into free software, I had a lot of fun learning how to administer my machine when I ran into small issues. One day I saw a posting looking for help by the FSF on a free social network, so I went in to volunteer. After a while, I was given the opportunity to learn about system administration, and after an internship, was later hired by the FSF as a Web developer, and then as a sysadmin.

While I have ended up in a technical position at the FSF, much of my volunteer work was nontechnical, and many organizations and free software projects benefit from volunteers who help in ways other than software programming. These groups need help with Web site and application design, bug reporting and triage, fundraising, writing, outreach through social media, answering questions online, and other creative work. By helping the free software movement in these ways, you have the opportunity to personally grow as you contribute.

One of the biggest volunteering opportunities offered by the FSF is the annual LibrePlanet conference. We don't have enough staff to run the entire conference ourselves, so we depend upon the help of volunteers. At our last conference, over 50 volunteers assisted with tasks like registration, GNU Press shop sales, room moderation, answering questions, and streaming video live over the Internet. Our streaming software was created by a previous FSF tech team volunteer intern, David Testé, who flies in every year from Paris to help us with the event.

Another job that requires a lot of hands is our twice-annual Free Software Bulletin mailing: we stuff over 10,000 envelopes, with the help of about 35 volunteers. It's a fun time that involves many passionate activists filling our conference room, working together, connecting, and talking about our shared interests.

The free software movement also relies upon activists to help spread the message of software freedom. We're indebted to the people who tell their friends and loved ones about the value of free software, and the technical issues that matter to us all. Many years ago, I was fortunate to meet a few people who inspired me to use GNU/Linux and to learn more about software freedom, and to them I am thankful.

If you are a programmer and want to contribute to free software while building your programming skills, ask a project maintainer for a list of entry-level software issues to start with. If you do your best to create quality patches, you will grow your coding skills as you contribute.

If you're new to coding, or would like to contribute your non-coding skills, there are many free software projects that could use your help. If you care a lot about a program that you use, find its project Web site for more information. Non-technical contributions are also valued immensely, and volunteering presents an opportunity to develop your skills further, whether you design Web sites, update documentation, or spread the word.

I encourage you to volunteer your time and skills to whatever project or organization that may need your help. You have the opportunity to meet great people and to grow in the process. It also can be a lot of fun. The FSF, and other free software organizations, benefit from your contributions, and we hope to work with more wonderful people like you! For a list of ways to volunteer, see

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