In 2002, I got an account on LiveJournal. In order to help my friends get accounts, I started doing LiveJournal support. (I got 5 support points in my first week, which was a reasonably big deal back then. (Warning: Reading other posts from that era of my life is not recommended :))
Over time, as a somewhat more technical member of the support team, I started attempting to explore links to this ‘zilla’ thing that people kept mentioning, LiveJournal’s bug tracker. However, I always found that I never really understood what was going on: looking at the content above the fold in a typical Bugzilla bug is a bunch of confusing looking metadata to a new developer. I remember at some point when someone told me to look at the comment — and I remember saying something along the lines of “Wait, there’s more content in this page if I scroll down?” Yes, I had been reading bugs for weeks, and never realized that … there was information other than the metadata.
I remember somewhat later, as I got more into development, that I would actually read patch files and attempt to understand what they were doing. In one case, I found a patch file written by a friend in the support community that had a pretty clear typo in it. So, I downloaded the patch file, opened it in an editor, added the new line that was missing, and added the “+” at the beginning of the line — like he had for all of his lines, of course — and re-uploaded the patch.
Of course, anyone with a passing knowledge of tools will know that adding a single line to a patch file … isn’t going to go well. But to someone who didn’t know that patchfiles were produced and applied with ‘patch’, ‘diff’, etc., this concept was a strange one.
So, in my start in open source, I didn’t know how to read bug reports; I didn’t know how patchfiles worked. Yet I still was able to learn, improve, and eventually, do a little bit of good in the open source world, thanks to the help of a lot of people along the way.
We all start somewhere.