Whether you’ve just started coding or you’ve been doing it for a while, chances are that you’ve heard of GitHub, an increasingly popular code-sharing platform that can help with project collaboration and management.
Github is the largest host of source code in the world, boasting a user base of over 56 million developers. It features a simple web-based user interface that makes it easy to use its project collaboration features. It’s a secure environment where teams can jointly design, develop, and deploy a huge range of software.
At the heart of GitHub is a vibrant open-source community. Open-source software is free for anyone to use, so newcomers and experts alike can contribute. This systematic framework to share code lets programmers learn new skills and help others grow. GitHub gives programmers a space to experiment and peer-review each other’s code so everyone improves.
What Is GitHub?
GitHub is a cloud-based repository hosting service. A repository is a hub for a project, holding all of the project’s files and folders, along with their complete version history. GitHub offers you a few different versions of a repository:
- Private repository lets you decide who can view its files
- Public repository is available for anyone to view
- Internal repository only allows people within an organization to see its contents
The platform operates on Git—a powerful version-control system that lets developers keep track of revisions and changes in the project code. Robust version control lets users explore and change software features without risking the source code files. Once the suggested updates have been reviewed and approved, GitHub also makes it easy to insert the new code into live software.
With accessible hosting and networking solutions, GitHub democratizes software development. Its user-friendly design helps newer users learn their way around the platform easily, giving programmers of all levels a space to interact with the community and grow their skill set.
6 Steps To Leverage GitHub
To get the most out of the GitHub community, it helps to have a good understanding of software engineering concepts, as well as effective communication and organization skills. Here are some pointers to level up your skills on GitHub.
1. Use Help documents and learning labs
GitHub offers extensive detailed documentation for all its available features. These Help documents are great resources for information on a specific topic or command.
If you would like a general overview of GitHub functionalities, there are several tutorial Guides and Learning Labs to help you get started. Each page is thoroughly cross-referenced to give you a complete breakdown of how to use the features.
2. Document everything you do
In any collaborative project, it’s crucial to properly document changes to your code, especially in the long run. Trying to use unfamiliar code can take hours without good documentation. Some basic elements to communicate well with your collaborators include:
- Code comments. Comments within the code should explain what the code is supposed to do in simple English. If you have a comment on each section or function in your code, anyone will be able to follow along.
- README. The README file acts as the cover page for the whole project. It’s mainly to help out anyone new to the code and contains a brief description of the project and its objectives.
- Pull request descriptions. When suggesting updates to existing code, requests should always mention the problem they’re fixing. The descriptions should also indicate how these changes would affect the rest of the program.
- Issue descriptions. An issue is created to highlight a bug or error in the current software. The descriptions should include exact details about the error itself and the branch where it was found.
3. Contribute to open-source projects
You can find many opportunities to contribute to open-source software development on GitHub. Most projects will have Contributing Guidelines that explain how you can help improve the code. Contributing to an open-source project is a great opportunity not only to learn more but also to build your reputation on GitHub.
4. Build your portfolio
GitHub’s massive user base makes it an excellent platform to showcase your work or find talent for your projects. Most recruiters today look for a strong GitHub profile demonstrating skills and contributions to the tech community. GitHub also makes it easy for recruiters to identify programmers who would be a good fit for their projects.
5. Automate your workflow
GitHub Actions is a relatively new feature that helps you create automatic, personalized workflows. Custom deployment and custom integration are just two of the processes you can use to seamlessly sequence your operations. You can customize the Action to Trigger by certain events, like pull requests or issue creations.
6. Pay attention to security alerts and advisories
You will routinely get security prompts, or Dependabot alerts, vulnerabilities affecting a GitHub repository are detected. A security vulnerability could compromise the availability, integrity, or confidentiality of the project code. This makes it vital to check the repository’s security tab frequently and resolve issues as they arise.
5 Collaboration Tools on GitHub
GitHub’s collaborative tools are its most distinctive features. Some of the most common collaboration techniques you can use with a free GitHub account are:
1. Forks and Branches
Forking and branching are two ways to diverge from the main repository and its source code. Each repository has a “master” branch, which then breaks into new branches that work on different modules within the project.
Forking is similar to branching but it makes a copy or clone of an existing process, so it’s more permanent. Unlike a branch, a fork creates a new repository that’s independent of the original.
2. Issues and pull requests
People create issues to discuss and document changes that are needed in a code file. An issue describes an error or problem and manages the changes being made. To resolve an issue, you can make a new pull request, showing how you’ve revised the code in a separate branch that someone can then merge back into the main branch it came from. Pull requests make it easy to review edits to the code and ensure that all contributors are on the same page.
3. Change tracking
A robust changelog is one of the most prominent features of GitHub. It records the code activity including any changes incorporated into the code along with the user who made them, so everyone involved can keep track of revisions and updates. The version history of the project code is available to streamline collaboration even in bigger teams.
4. Project milestones and management tools
When working on large projects, you’ll need to group goals together and keep track of the progress made. GitHub offers advanced project management features, including milestones and visual boards in a clear Kanban-style framework.
5. Community notifications
Much like on social networking sites, users can follow repositories and people on GitHub. You can subscribe to get notifications about the updates and activity within the projects you follow. Making connections on the platform helps developers learn new skills and fosters collaboration within the community.
These are just a few ways you can leverage GitHub and make the most of the platform. As you keep using it, you’re sure to find many more tips and hacks that will help you even more. And, as you contribute more on GitHub, you’ll build a larger network that can help you find new coding opportunities.
Ready to switch careers to software engineering?
Springboard offers a comprehensive software engineering bootcamp. You’ll work with a one-on-one mentor to learn key aspects of front-end web development, back-end web development, databases, and data structures and algorithms. Modules include learning resources, practice exercises, projects, and career-related coursework.
Check out Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track to see if you qualify.
Not quite ready to dive into a software engineering bootcamp?