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When I look back on the 25 years since I graduated and entered the market as a professional software engineer, I see a tapestry of accomplishments, failures, joy, frustration, and finally peace.  One accomplishment, in particular, the Co-Founding of OpenEJB with David Blevins, stands at the top of that list.

I started out in Open Source working with Mark Flury on EJB-OSS in 1999, which was later renamed JBoss.  Shortly after that experience, I was hired by a company to develop an entirely new Open Source EJB Container system, OpenEJB, which later became an official Apache project. The opportunity to get paid to do something that was so exciting was astonishing, but I never would have gotten to that point if I had not volunteered my time to EJB-OSS in the first place.

When David and I co-founded OpenEJB we made a huge effort to create an environment where everyone was welcome.  We always made time for new contributors, even if their contributions were just advice or comments; being inclusive & showing gratitude so that they felt welcomed and appreciated.  I’m happy to say that that tradition carries on in the TomEE project, which, is where my heart is today.

If I had to start all over again I would select a project where the community is supportive, the scope is limited, and I feel I could make a difference.  Those criteria describe the TomEE project perfectly. I’ve said before that the folks at Tomitribe are wonderful, honest, helpful, and just all around good people.  Well, many of the people who work for Tomitribe also contribute their time to TomEE. In fact, many of them started out as volunteer contributors and were hired by Tomitribe when it became obvious that they were passionate and good Open Source citizens.  There are others who continue to contribute to TomEE who have carved out different careers as independents or top software engineers in other organizations, and they too are good, honest, people that started out as volunteers. With few exceptions, the ones that stuck with TomEE have seen their careers blossom and have made friends that will last a lifetime.

No matter what Open Source project you choose, try to select one where the community is open and welcoming.  Start by joining the mailing list and ask one simple question: “How can I help?” The response to that question will tell you everything you need to know about that Open Source community.  If people are helpful and ask you questions about your interests and skills, then its a project you can join with confidence. Confidence that you will learn, that you will make new friends and that you will not be ridiculed for what you do not yet know.  If, on the other hand, your plea to help is ignored or met with RTFM, then you know everything you need to know about how you will be treated. It’s really that simple.

I’m hopeful that this blog post will encourage at least one person to give their time to Open Source. TomEE is a great place to start if you are interested in enterprise computing. The project will be on the cusp of advances in microservices and Jakarta EE, and that is an exciting place to be right now.  If you are interested but are unsure how to get started, please feel free to send me an email ([email protected]) or send me a message on twitter (@rmonson), or just get on the project mailing list and ask, “How can I help?” You will be delighted with the response.


Richard Monson-Haefel

Richard Monson-Haefel

Richard has more the 24 years of experience as a professional software developer and architect. He has written five books on enterprise Java including EJB, JMS, web services, and software architecture. He has served on the JCP executive committee and multiple expert groups, is the co-founder of OpenEJB and Apache Geronimo, was a Sr. Analyst for Burton Group (aka Gartner), and is a celebrated public speaker.

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