A few months ago, I became a full Drupal contributor on drupal.org with my theme Bamboo. I have to say that contributing to Drupal has been an eye opening experience and extremely rewarding. Being a project maintainer has many nuances and aspects to it that I could have never imagined. Here are a few things I discovered and learned so far.
Focus Group, Beta Testers and QA Team All in One
With contributing a project to drupal.org, you can never account for every single use case even though you've tested your code for hours on end, crossed your t's and dotted your i's. I've had issues filed for my project for things I never thought of with my code and it's helped me make my project better and more bug free. My word of advice here: don't ignore your issue queue, I see it happen and then your project appears to be unmaintained and people won't use it. In turn you and your project will stagnate, it will not grow.
Essentially, your issue queue is like having a focus group, beta testers and QA team all wrapped up in one. Take advantage of this, it's well worth the time and effort. After all, a user has taken the time to file an issue and put some thought into it.
Listen to your users, they have great ideas
I've added new features based on requests filed in the queue, feedback is invaluable. It really makes you think about and shape the direction of your project in ways you would not have thought possible. I have a "thank you" thread in my issue queue. This is one I've not seen to much. I've had people write to me from all over the world thanking me for my theme, how much they enjoy it and how they are using it, some have even donated money. This is pretty cool, I never thought this would happen and it creates new possibilities.
Build it and they will come?
Maintaining my project on drupal.org is a lot of fun. I enjoy updating the project page, pushing out a new release when there's a bug fix or new feature, posting screen captures, updating the demo, documentation, and change log. It also makes the project appear multidimensional, comprehensive and current.
Random Acts of Kindness
With this whole experience over the past months, I've been wanting to add a fully built out responsive slideshow 'Feature' as a companion to my theme but I didn't think I would have much free time. I had considered asking a few users who really wanted the slideshow to be a sponsor but then I thought I would be limited in terms of the direction and the time I put into it.
In the end, I decided to just take a few days and fully develop the Feature and it's now available on Github. I wrote these people back and they installed the slideshow and are very happy. One person is a bit stuck so I will help them out via email and it's also inspired me to make a video tutorial which will help newbies greatly. So here's my advice if you're a Drupal project maintainer: Carpe diem, pay it forward, do some random acts of Drupal, don't wait, It all comes back to you in the end.