Seriously, they're not. At least, I don't think they are anymore. They used to scare the crap out of me.
The first time I joined the #ubuntu-devel channel (slightly under a year ago) and said "hi, um, I have a patch. What do I do?" I was all scared. Jordan Mantha (LaserJock) popped up and offered to make it into a debdiff since I said I didn't know anything about packaging. The patch ended up not being usable because um, oops, memory leak. Wait, what? No teasing about making a newbie mistake like that? And I actually got credit in the changelog for figuring out what's wrong and how to fix it? Wow. Hmm, helpful people, not arrogant about what they know that I don't? Maybe being developers doesn't have to automatically make them scary. Maybe.
Soon after that I became friends with Jordan and with Daniel Chen, who lives nearby. Daniel showed up to our LoCo's Gutsy and Hardy installfests, and at the Hardy one I convinced him to start mentoring me on how audio works. They're both nice guys, just know that mentioning brokenness in QA to Jordan or in audio to Daniel will very likely result in a long, drawn-out analysis of the situation. You've been warned.
OK so at that point, those two stopped being scary, and the rest stayed frightening. Skip to last October, when I went to the Ohio Linux Fest (be there! we're having a Women in Open Source event on Sunday, so let's get that female:male ratio up, alright?). Wow, a whole bunch of Ubuntu and Kubuntu folks showed up. Rich Johnson, Jorge Castro, Jono Bacon, Greg Grossmeier, Steve Stalcup, Jacob Peddicord, and more that I forget. Guess what? It turns out they're all really nice people too! Well, Rich has his moments. Better without the beer...or tequila. Oh, and don't drunkenly moon Jono unless you want to relive the experience, sober, in front of 1200 people. Moving on…
So I think by that point I was probably subscribed to ubuntu-devel-discuss. That's a mailing list I recommend you join if you want to contribute. That's where discussion between users and developers happens. If you've got an idea and want to flesh it out enough to put up on Brainstorm, or are taking a Brainstorm idea and trying to figure out the technical details to write a specification, get opinions on how possible it sounds, etc. go there. It's a more relaxed atmosphere than either the ubuntu-devel mailing list or #ubuntu-devel. It tries to bridge the gap Amber noted in her 'Community v. "Community"' post.
About a month ago, I started setting my IRC client to join #ubuntu-devel by default, and I subscribed to the ubuntu-devel mailing list. On the mailing list, I'm much more talkative than on the IRC channel. It's more discussion-oriented than the channel, it seems. The channel seems to be more full of terse "<Y>X: did you upload $package? <X>Y: no, not yet, writing changelog now" sort of stuff. At that point, I still felt like ducking behind a couch every time I spoke in there, in case anyone cyber-threw something at my head. I don't feel like that anymore. Just lurking and seeing how interaction works there has made it less scary. It's not that they're trying to be scary. They're just trying to be somewhat professional. Sometimes I'll look into the channel and see someone make a joke. And every morning, without fail, Daniel Holbach says "good morning" to the channel when he wakes up. And then it's a reminder that "oh yeah, they're normal people too."
Oh, I also started joining #ubuntu-women and #kubuntu-devel around that time. Lydia is a KDE developer that's almost always in #u-w. She's really nice and helpful. And of course, everybody (except IRC spammers) loves Sarah Hobbs, AKA Hobbsee. I know, it's sad that I can't think of other women developers. Where are you, ladies? Why aren't you in #ubuntu-women? Women who aren't involved: why not? We in #ubuntu-women will show you how. Why do you think that channel exists?
Why am I writing this? Well, the point is: the Ubuntu Developers aren't scary people. They're actually really nice people. So if you're intimidated by the prospect of speaking up in development related areas when you've just started out and can't point to a list of things you've done, remember: they're not scary, they're unfamiliar. There's a difference. The image of developers being way up high, far from users, knowing how everything works, and not making mistakes? All in your head. Why do you think there are so many bugs? ;) Please don't be afraid to help out because you think you're not good enough. You'll learn. Everybody involved totally sucked at this stuff at one point.
Oh, and Daniel Holbach and Scott Kitterman both agreed that when they started out, they also found the whole thing intimidating. To lower the intimidation level, read on: Scott doesn't know C. Neither does Jordan. Daniel says pointers are his weakness. Mine too—especially when passing them into functions. I put in one & and get a *? Or do I put in a ** and get a *? What if the function declaration wants a **? And like I said, my first patch attempt in Ubuntu had a memory leak (Steve Langasek caught it, it didn't get to the archive, don't worry). And that doesn't make everybody go "you can't code, go away" when I try now.