University students toeing the edge of open source: Stop worrying about credentials and dive in. That’s the advice of Kunal Kushwaha, developer advocate at Civo and CNCF Ambassador. From his own experience as a student contributor, Kunal knows that open source communities welcome learners and that the learning and contributing processes coalesce frequently. 

“The best way to get started is just to get started.”

Kunal Kushwaha

In his freshman year at university in Delhi, India, Kunal, who now resides in London, UK, didn’t know what Kubernetes was when he found the Kubernetes Java client. However, he was proficient in Java, so he proceeded, learning as he went, fixing small issues, like typos, and adding examples and test coverages.  In fact, his very first contribution was to simply delete a file. These first steps propelled Kunal to eventually contribute features. 

One-time mentee pays it forward 

Kunal, who graduated last year, is grateful for the experiences that spurred him to become a student contributor, and opened other doors as well. For example, he was a Linux Foundation LFX mentorship program mentee, and has now mentored others for Google Summer of Code. He was also a CNCF Dan Kohn Scholarship recipient, which brought him to his first KubeCon + CloudNativeCon event in San Diego, California. 

To pay it forward to other aspirants, he began posting free tutorials on YouTube during the COVID-19 pandemic. When his video on Python garnered over 100,000 views, he realized how much he liked teaching and ventured further into that area. His most popular YouTube video – a GitHub tutorial – has received 1.2M views so far. 

Kunal also helped found CNCF Students and chairs the Student Track at KubeCon+CloudNativeCon. Kunal encourages students to check out CNCF’s scholarships and mentorships, join its Slack channel for students, and virtually attend KubeCon events, which they can do for free. 

Class is in session in cloud native communities

Kunal admits that putting on the contributor hat initially, especially as a student, can feel overwhelming. However, most projects are beginner-friendly – even large, popular projects like Kubernetes. Also, the journey towards contributing expands a newcomer’s knowledge via independent research and the community’s input. However, to earn the community’s input and support, one must make their presence and efforts apparent. 

Finding a mentor can be challenging for students, Kunal acknowledged. Simply be active within a community and relationships with potential mentors will result organically, he assured. 

“Don’t start by asking, ‘Hey, I have no idea who you are, we have never met – please be my personal mentor.’”

Kunal Kushwaha

He also recommends what he calls “decentralized mentorship” — asking questions in public forums to cast a wide net for support. “No question is a stupid question — but at least do your research before asking,” he advised. 

Kunal currently works directly with CNCF to attract more students to cloud native, efforts which he is both proud of and optimistic about. “The only thing better than helping people is helping people who help people,” he concluded. 

Get started contributing 

If Kunal’s journey has inspired you, why not check out the CNCF Students GitHub repo, where you can find information on mentorship, attending CNCF events, training courses, and even find jobs after graduation.