Outreach Program for Women: "The impact that the program has had on the participating free software projects has been profound"

The Outreach Program for Women (OPW) is a paid internship program in open source — both programming and other contributions — for anyone who was assigned female at birth and anyone who identifies as a woman, genderqueer, genderfluid, or genderfree regardless of gender presentation or assigned sex at birth. Applications for the December 2013 to March 2014 internship program are now open, closing November 11.

OPW is run by the GNOME Foundation and includes internships in several open source projects, including GNOME, Debian, Fedora, the Linux kernel and Mozilla. The Ada Initiative is excited to see this program expanding each year and proud to count its co-organizers, Marina Zhurakhinskaya of Red Hat and Karen Sandler, Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, among our advisory board members.

With the deadline for applications closing soon, we asked Karen Sandler to talk about the successes of OPW to date and plans for the future.

Q. What are the most exciting changes since you and Marina Zhurakhinskaya took over the program?

Photograph of Karen Sandler

Karen Sandler, GNOME Foundation ED and co-lead of OPW

Karen: I think the most exciting change was expanding the program beyond GNOME to other free software projects. We were having such a good result with the program within GNOME, we just couldn’t keep it to ourselves! We now have over 20 participating free software organizations. With that has come a lot of other great changes, like having others help us to organize and promote the program within their own communities and to the public. Sarah Sharp is a great example of this, working to build the participation of women in the Linux kernel.

One of the things that I love about the program is that many of the women who come through it wind up being our best advocates. Some of our former participants have gone on to speak about the program at conferences and in their communities. Some other participants become mentors in future rounds. One participant now serves on GNOME’s board of directors and is our treasurer. So as the program progresses more people become active in shaping it. We’ve been growing it organically within GNOME infrastructure so as the program expands beyond GNOME it benefits from the influence of new mentors and advocates.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention another exciting change that isn’t within the program per se, but is more of a change to the rest of GNOME from the program: as a result of the Outreach Program for Women all of our mentorship and ability to get newcomers started has improved within GNOME. The program is modeled after Google’s Summer of Code, so we had good experience with formally inviting people to work on time-limited projects with us. For OPW, however, we thought critically about what could be keeping women away from free software and introduced changes to overcome those obstacles. For example, Marina realized that making the initial contribution could be the hardest part – just getting started. So we require making a contribution as part of the application process and put in mechanisms to assist women with their very first steps in contributing. We identify mentors and specific places where they can be contacted. This has been so helpful that we now do the same for [Google Summer of Code (GSoC)]. It’s improved the quality of our applications and has the additional benefit of letting all newcomers know who and where to ask for help. And, in the context of OPW, even women who are not accepted to the program can walk away knowing that they are contributors to a free software project.

Q. What do you recommend to OPW interns to get the most out of the experience?

Karen: I think one of the most important things is to stay in contact with your mentor and others in the team that you are working with. This is probably good advice for anyone getting started contributing to a free software project actually. Letting people know what you’re working on and how it’s going is the best way to get help when you need it and also to get people to care about what you are doing. We require participants to blog at least every other week, but frequent blogging makes you more visible to others in the project which helps build relationships and create opportunities to have your work more fully integrated into the project. It also means that folks will be excited to see you and will know who you are when you come to their conference!

Q. Introduce us to some of the interns from the 2013 mid-year round, and their projects?

Karen: We had 37 participants this past round, so there are too many great internships to recount. But here are three that popped to my mind:

Jessica Tallon worked on federation support for GNU MediaGoblin via the Pump API with Joar Wandborg as her mentor. She rewrote PyPump so now images can be successfully submitted to MediaGoblin via PyPump and commenting via PyPump works too. Her wrapup post is here.

Lidza Louina worked on the Linux Kernel improving drivers in the staging tree with Greg Kroah-Hartman as her mentor. Lidza started out by doing driver cleanup, then went on to merge two TTY drivers into the staging tree that had been out-of-tree since 2005. That involved getting them to compile, updating the drivers to work with new kernel API, and cleaning them up to match kernel coding style. Lidza contributed 18 patches to the 3.11 kernel, and 62 patches to the 3.12 kernel (as of 3.12-rc2). Lidza gave a lightning talk about her project at LinuxCon North America on September 18, 2013. You can see her slides and her weekly summaries.

Tiffany Yau’s internship was with GNOME’s Engagement team for marketing (she even weighed in on whether to change the team’s name from Marketing to Engagment). Her mentors were Allan Day and Sri Ramkrishna. Tiffany helped us do much better at drawing attention to and promoting GUADEC, among other marketing tasks. She was completely focused and helped log all of the happenings of the event while also filming short interviews with key people in the GNOME project. As a result, his year’s GUADEC was a vast improvement marketingwise than previous years. You can see her work included here.

Q. What happens to the interns in the longer term? Do they stay in free and open source software and/or use their skills in employment?

Karen: We actually don’t have great statistics on this as we haven’t formally been tracking it. I do know that about half of GNOME’s participants have continued to contribute after their internship is over, which is pretty great. Anecdotally, I know that the internships help the participants focus their career paths and give them a resume boost in addition to confidence building. I think our program is having a substantial impact and as it grows we’ll be able to collect more actual data. Most importantly, the participants get a real sense of free and open source software and what it’s like to be a regular contributor.

It’s a little outside of your question, but the impact that the program has had on the participating free software projects has been profound and worth mentioning. One example I can easily point to is that Wikimedia had in the past only one woman apply for GSoC. After they participated in one round with OPW, they had 7 accepted GSoC students who were women. In the GNOME project, we’ve had a very visible changes. Women are participating in our top level discussions and are always present on Planet GNOME. While we started at 4% women in attendance at GUADEC in 2009, this year we had about 18% participation by women with 22% of the speakers being women. It’s been a phenomenal change. I encourage anyone who’s interested in the program (as a mentor, sponsor or participating organization) to contact me or Marina and to encourage awesome women to apply!

To learn more about the OPW, visit the program webpage. Applications for the December 2013 to March 2014 internship program are now open, closing November 11.