Learning GitHub Passively

Not to say file versioning isn’t important. It should be an essential part of any workflow. But where I work, we use Subversion. (Here’s a good Smashing Magazine article describing popular version control systems.)

It wasn’t until I started working on personal projects, which I wanted to version control, that I started working with GitHub. It was free. It had a nice interface. And it was apparently what everyone else was using.

That was in early 2012. I’m still a novice when it comes to participating in the GitHub community. I use it mostly for versioning my personal website and side projects.

Sure, I’ve forked a bunch of repositories—not with the intent of contributing to them, but just so I’d have up to date versions of the code when needed. I’ve starred a bunch of repos, which is essentially just adding them to a favorites list, so I can find them when I need them. I don’t follow many people, and no one follows me. I’ve only ever made one pull request, and I’m not even sure I did that right.

So what keeps me from digging deeper into GitHub? Number one, I don’t need to. Number two, like many people, I find the idea of working on someone else’s project—changing their code, submitting pull requests, etc.—a bit intimidating.

Getting more involved in the web development community is definitely a goal of mine. But with little need and little time to do so, my learning of GitHub has been mostly passive.

Not long ago GitHub released a new version of their notifications system. That change included notifications being triggered by watched repositories, meaning if you watch a repo you will receive notifications for all issue updates, pull requests and comments.

github watch button

Watching an active project is a great way to learn GitHub passively.

In example, I’m a watcher of Lea Verou’s Prism.js repository. In the past month I’ve received about 40 notifications for activity on this repo.

image of inbox

To some, that may seem like a bunch of clutter. But to a novice GitHub user, it’s invaluable.

Take, for example, the exchange below between Lea and Maxime.

image of inbox

Following their thread, there’s a lot to learn. You see the initial pull request. Lea’s response revealing how the site’s pages work and how the GitHub project is structured. You learn of a cool site featuring CSS recipes made with Compass and Sass. You even get some clarification on how to properly spell Sass. All in quick little snippets sent directly to your inbox.

Imagine, now, how easy it is to conquer the intimidation of GitHub simply by watching a couple repos. It requires nothing more than reading e-mail.

Just like reading someone else’s code is a great way to learn how to code, watching other people interact on GitHub is a great way to learn how to get involved.

But for those more interested in actively learning GitHub, I’d recommend checking out Chris Coyier’s “Let’s Suck at GitHub Together” screencast and Code School’s Try Git course.

And no matter who you are, check out Gitrep at some point. It’s a great GitHub exploration tool.

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