I have been working on more Drupal projects as of late and in the last month or so I have finally followed up with getting more involved in the community.
My only previous experience with an OS community was the time I spent working with the Apache Forrest project. I found that to be a great intro to the "OS way". The group was very small (no more than a dozen active devs and a very small group of users) and I got to see the inner dynamics very clearly. I felt compelled to contribute for two reasons, one being that it was very much in development so I needed to ask the devs the questions I had directly and there were so few that I felt the least I could do was help out where I could to keep it moving forward and try to make their jobs easier. I mainly helped with documentation but since I ended up not using Forrest for my projects, I drifted away from it.
I have been using WordPress for a while and the application fulfilled my needs but, for some reason, the WordPress community sort of passed by me. I asked a few questions on the forums and that was about it really. Perhaps it is the nature of the software and therefor of the WordPress site that it does not feel like "community" to me. Maybe it is just me.
When I came to Drupal I wasn't even thinking in terms of joining the project like I had with Forrest. It is a huge project, there are tons of people and I'm no expert coder. I also wasn't sure if the Drupal platform was one I was going to stick with. I needed something more than WordPress for a project at work and so far of the "big OS CMS" out there Drupal appealed to me the most, but I was really sort of shooting in the dark.
I started out by simply looking through the site for answers I needed and occasionally being able to help others on the forums. Last summer I went to Lullabot Drupal training and finally start to grasp how awesome a platform it could be if I spent the time to understand it. They mentioned community stuff but, ya know, I was just trying to get my work done and I already helped on forums sometimes....
Since Drupal could do so much for me and I was slating it for more projects I decided I should try to keep a better pulse on the things in the pipeline, especially with Drupal 5 about to hit. I started by joining a few of the mailing lists and then I checked out this IRC thing for more real-time support. It turns out it was a great place to just listen and learn even when I didn't have questions myself - I even managed to help some other folks out. My real roller coaster ride into the community though started with two occurrences that came very close together - the formation of the Drupal Dojo group and merlinofchaos' call to begin a new theming project to simplify life for themers. They were both things that I felt I could be involved with to push my new developer's brain without completely making my head explode. A few tentative steps and great support from Drupal devs like webchick, merlinofchaos and greggles has brought me fully into the fold. I am now on the Documentation Team, new maintainer for the abandoned Postcard module and learning a frightening amount about Drupal, PHP and working in a large OS community (not to mention somewhat addicted to the Drupal IRC channels).
Every large community has its characters, its dynamics and ups and downs. Once I really reached out with a desire to learn, the community that is Drupal has embraced me and I really feel that I am a part of a larger whole that is doing Good Stuff (TM), growing and having a good time. I'm learning by leaps and bounds and feeling good about the contributions I'm making. I think I'll stick around and see what happens. :)