Monthly Community Roundup: August

Summer is in full swing and even though here at GitHub, we’ve enjoyed a bit of time off between our Wellness week in July and Summer Fridays, a lot has been going on. So let’s all have a little catch-up, shall we?!

Changing the Accessibility Game

My name is Tristano Ajmone, a self-taught computer programmer from Italy, known on GitHub as @tajmone. My first encounter with a computer happened when my parents gifted me a Texas Instrument TI-99/4A for my 11th birthday, and I can still remember the excitement of connecting it to our home TV, switching it on and loading via the tape recorder the Hamurabi game — it was such an overwhelming experience of sheer magic, so powerful that it installed a lifelong passion for computers and programming. These were the early 80s, the 8-bit era, long before the BBS age, let alone the internet as we know it today.

Around 2015 I was drawn toward Git and GitHub because I wanted to shift from working with binary document formats to plain-text lightweight markup syntaxes, like AsciiDoc, and I realized that version control systems like Git would enable collaborative editing on documentation and books projects, so I joined GitHub knowing basically nothing about version control, Git and the open source world. Like every Git newbie, I felt completely out of my depth with this strange command line tool that apparently everybody seemed able to use, except me. It was thanks to the supportive members of the GitHub community that I managed to survive my initial frustrations and ultimately find my way into this apparently complex world. And I strongly believe that if I did it, anyone else can as well.

It’s hard for me to describe how empowering an experience my journey into the GitHub community has been. I suddenly found myself immersed in this huge ecosystem of open source software and assets, where developers from all walks of life participated in a great collective effort to share their code, experiences, ideas, and projects. During the first two years on GitHub, I managed to learn a lot by getting my feet wet exploring the new standard and technologies which power many projects. I learned new things like Git workflows, continuous integration, and so on, but most importantly, I discovered the importance of FOSS licenses, the ethics of reusing third party code and assets, and the etiquette of collaborative work.

Some things can only be learned by doing, and most important by doing them together. Collaborative projects take a life of their own, and whenever you join a new project you soon discover that it has its own rhythm, its own way of going about things, and that every project is unique in its own right. Yet, there’s a common thread to all collaborative editing, which is based on a profound respect shared among people who are devoting their free time to projects they believe in. This common passion is such a strong driving force that it has the power of binding together complete strangers into a common effort that often lasts for years, and where everyone feels welcomed regardless of the added know-how values that he/she brings in, because ultimately we’re all investing the most precious resources we have in life, our time.

From the perspective of indie developers like me, who joined GitHub with a Free account for the purpose of cultivating some hobby projects they love, GitHub has been such an empowering platform because it has provided us with the same high-end technologies used by the big players in the software world. GitHub adds a whole layer of services to Git that are really powerful, from Repository Dashboards, to Issues, to Discussions and Wiki, to many other useful tools that allow every single project to connect with rest of the GitHub ecosystem in ways that were not even imaginable when I first started using computers back in the 80s. Around 2018 I had to take a sabbatical year from work due to health issues, a year in which I would be mostly confined at home. I then decided to take advantage of that year, and of my newly acquired Git skills, to go back to a long lasting passion of mine: text adventures (aka Interactive Fiction).

Once a thriving video games market, text adventures eventually disappeared from the video games scenes when home computers started to gain more powerful graphic chips, soon to be replaced by full animation games. Yet the interest for the genre didn’t simply die with the loss of interest for them from a marketing perspective, there was still a significant user base from the old guard wishing to revive these old games, and be able to make new ones. So an open-source movement began around text adventures, creating modern interpreters for playing the old games, and a new development system for creating new ones.

Beside my nostalgic love for the genre, I really wanted to get actively involved with the maintenance and development of these tools, because text adventures are possibly the only video game genre that is playable by the blind and the visually impaired. Accessibility for the blind has always been a golden rule in the world of text adventures, so much so that no one really needs to be reminded of it, every tool is designed to be accessible out of the box.

That’s how in 2018 I decided to join the ALAN IF Project and its online community. ALAN is one of the very first FOSS tools to develop text adventures, dating back over 25 years, and having been open source since before most of the FOSS licenses even existed. GitHub has been an invaluable platform for the collaborative work that followed. All ALAN related repositories were gradually moved over to GitHub in order to provide a better collaborative experience, and it has been such a beautiful experience ever since.

The Alan IF system for developing text adventure is definitely a niche project, with a small user base, and most people today won’t even know what text adventures are all about. Yet it’s a vivid example of a long standing project that has been actively maintained for over 25 years, motivated by passion for the genre, and the strong belief that this genre needs to be kept alive because of its historical importance for the blind and the visually impaired, for whom text adventures have always been a genre that has placed their needs first.

The technological revolution has been growing so quickly, often catching us off guard, and in the process, we’ve often forgotten how important it is to make technology available and usable by those who suffer physical impairments. I’ve always admired the Interactive Fiction community for having adopted since its early days, a strong policy of making all their tools available to the blind, and that no one in our community ever needs to qualify him/herself as being blind or visually impaired, simply because there’s no need to do so, thanks to a long standing tradition of ensuring that the community would always be a welcoming and friendly place for anyone.

Having had a chance to join the ALAN IF Development Team on GitHub has been an important experience for me. It has given me the chance of making the best of a whole year undermined by health issues, and converting it into a fun and learning experience that I knew would contribute to a small but significant cause in promoting software that is accessible to blind users.

The GitHub ecosystem is huge, hosting projects that range from small individual projects to big projects by big players that we all know. Yet, in this wonderful and welcoming platform, we have found so much support from other projects and users, which has been incredible to witness. For example, we asked the Asciidoctor project to add a feature that would help us support include source code in legacy encoding, which we needed for our project documentation, and Dan Allen - @mojavelinux promptly added it to help us out, regardless of the fact that it was the specific need of a niche project. I think that this illustrates the power of the collaborative spirit that fuels the open source community on GitHub, i.e. the idea that we all share a common passion which can’t be measured based on how popular or famous a project is.

Today I look back at where I stood in 2015, before joining GitHub, and where I stand today, and I can definitely say I’ve learned so much from this great platform and the opportunities it offers. Being able to connect with the ALAN project and my old passion for text adventures has been a life-changing experience. Having had the honour and pleasure of working with Thomas Nilefalk, the creator of ALAN, who is a professional programmer, has taught me not only how text adventure engines work internally and the challenges of mimicking human language via computers, but it also broadened my understanding of programming and its methodologies. And of course, it has been great fun too, spending hundreds of hours together working on the same projects, yet never having met in person. Collaboration ultimately leads to people bonding, and knowing that we’re leaving behind some beautiful tools that can and will be used to entertain people with work of “animated fiction” is a pleasant and reassuring thought.

I really want to express my warm-hearted gratitude to GitHub and all its users, without which none of this would have been possible. My final wish is that other newbies will be able to find the warm welcome that I was met with on GitHub, and that they might make the most of this great and empowering platform and community (it’s hard for me to think of GitHub as just a platform or service, without keeping into account its community and staff, which one and all with what GitHub really means to me in its essence).

The Coolest Hubber East of the Mississippi River

Hey! I’m Mickey Gousset, a DevOps Architect on the GitHub FastTrack team. That means my day job is about helping GitHub customers get more “devop-sy”, whatever that might mean. It could be helping them get started with GitHub, automating processes with GitHub Actions, the sky’s the limit. But there is much more to me than that! Come see.

First off, I’m from Tupelo, Mississippi. Do you know what Tupelo, Mississippi is world famous for? We are a small 30K person town in north-east Mississippi, who get thousands of people a year that visit. If you said “Birthplace of Elvis Presley”, you would be right! I also think I am the only Hubber located in Mississippi at this point.

I am extremely passionate about the technical community, and about how we build software and have been for almost two decades now. I was a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (Application Lifecycle Management) for 13 years, and even wrote a few books on the subject. But my favorite things to do is to speak and teach and educate. Code camps, conferences, online videos, podcasts, answering forum questions, you name it, I love to find all the different ways I can connect with people and help them learn and grow. I have a YouTube channel that I need to get updated :wink: and I even experimented some last summer with TikTok. Gotta try and stay current, after all.

Right now I’m diving into all things GitHub Actions, so that I can share that knowledge with the broader community, by providing both demos as well as practical examples that can be used by the community. And some impractical ones as well, such as my Dad Joke Action. I’m in the midst of some summer clean up, but you can follow along at devopselvis · GitHub if you want to keep up and get access to my latest demos and talks as I create them!

Finally, one of my other passions is performing community theater, specifically musicals. It’s been a little bit since I was last on stage, but if you are interested, here is a recording of the last one I was in, called “The Last Five Years”. It was probably some of the hardest music I’ve ever sung.

And just for fun, I’ll share two more things with you:

First up, me attempting to do a TikTok dance with my youngest daughter.

And, this is Ollie. I found Ollie on the side of the road in May 2020 and he was an adorable 8 lbs of floof. He has now turned into 80 lbs of muscle, who still thinks he can sit in my lap. Oh, and he loves to play ball, even sleeping with it.

Wanna know more about me, or wanna talk anything about GitHub? Reach out:
- Email
- Twitter
- Website
- Youtube

We hope you enjoyed this first installment of the Monthly Community Roundup. Special thanks to @tajmone & @mickeygousset for sharing their stories with us! If you’d like to be featured or have any ideas for improvement, please let us know below. :slight_smile:

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Thanks so much, @tajmone & @mickeygousset for your support of the GitHub Community!! Your dedication to helping others be successful is inspiring :sparkles:

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Great opening paragraph. Thanks for making everyone in the southern hemisphere feel left out and irrelevant. Hope you enjoy our summer in six months time.

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@kurahaupo, you’re absolutely right, and thank you for the call out! Apologies for highlighting only the summertime for folks living in the northern hemisphere. We absolutely did not mean to be exclusive and will try to be better in the future.

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Thankyou, truly, for your graceful reply. It is very much appreciated.

I apologise that my words were far more harsh than was warranted for so minor an infraction; you just had the misfortune to strike a nerve while I was at a low ebb.

I do hope you enjoy your summer.

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