OPW participation logo

Today is the first day of my internship in the Outreach Program for Women1 (OPW). I'll be working on the Ceilometer component of the OpenStack cloud computing project under the guidance of my mentor, Julien Danjou, who is the project technical lead of Ceilometer. I'm also supported by two more mentors, Anita Kuno and Julie Pichon. Anne Gentle is the coordinator of OpenStack's OPW internship program, and Marina Zhurakhinskaya and Karen Sandler are the coordinators of the entire Outreach Program for Women. I'm grateful to them all.

I'll defer discussing my work on Ceilometer to another post, but I thought I'd first write about the internship program itself. The Outreach Program for Women started in 2010, as an effort to increase the number of women contributing to open source software. As stated on the program's main page:

This program has proved itself to be very effective in improving community diversity. Women attendance at GNOME's yearly conference, GUADEC, rose from 4% (6 women) to 17% (41 woman) in 3 years. A recent study showed that 50% of newcomers who joined the GNOME project in the last 3 years are women, while only 6% of newcomers to all other surveyed FOSS projects are women, with 15% being the next highest concentration.2

In each application round, various open source software organizations suggest projects, and each project has at least one mentor (who can male or female). The projects can be on any topic, as long as it is relevant to free open source software (FOSS). Many of the projects involve software, but there are also possibilities for working on marketing, design, and documentation.

From 2010 - 2011, the only organization involved was GNOME, but since then OPW has grown rapidly. In my application round, there were 19 organizations! The organizations were Debian, Electronic Frontier Foundation, GNOME, Joomla, KDE, Linux Kernel, MediaGoblin, Mozilla, NESCent, Open Technology Institute, OpenMRS, OpenStack, Perl, Tor, Twisted, Wikia, Wikimedia, WordPress, and Yocto Project.

OPW is modeled after Google Summer of Code (GSoC) but with a few differences.3 Like GSoC, OPW has an unusual application process. A significant part of the application is collaboration with mentor(s) and contributing to open source software. What does that mean? You can think of it as starting the internship early -- a pre-internship of sorts. The applicant looks through the list of organizations and their projects. She contacts the mentor(s) of the project(s) she is interested in and starts working with the mentor(s).4 The mentor(s) suggest some small contributions that the applicant can work on. A "contribution" can be fixing a typo in documentation or writing a test in the code, for example. By collaborating with the mentor and working on a contribution, the applicant gets a feel for the project and the mentor, and obtains experience in using the issue tracker/software/tools.

In my opinion, what's really cool about this process is that it allows the applicant and mentor to evaluate each other in true-to-life situations. It avoids the games you see in hiring processes, like asking logic puzzle questions or showing off credentials. Moreover, even if the applicant doesn't succeed in obtaining a spot, she has learned a lot and can apply again with a strong chance of succeeding the second time around.

Last winter 2012, I first heard about OPW on the Systers mailing list. Shortly afterwards, I attended a talk by Cat Allman at a meetup sponsored by Women Who Code. Cat is the manager of outreach for the Open Source Programs Office at Google and she spoke about how women can get into open source software. In particular, she emphasized OPW because it's one of the rare internship programs which is open to non-students. The only requirement is the applicant identifies as a woman, is at least 18, and has not previously participated in OPW or Google Summer of Code. This was especially good for me, since I am no longer a student. I spoke with Cat after her talk, and she strongly encouraged me to apply for OPW.

I didn't have enough time to do the winter 2013 round, but I made it my goal to apply for the summer 2013 round. After working hard on my application all of April 2013, here I am!

  1. Top image is participation logo by L. Yu, Eller, Ford, Atanasoska, Muraus, and Zhurakhinskaya  

  2. Outreach Program for Women main page  

  3. OPW is for self-identified women only and doesn't require a project proposal. Also, one can only participate in OPW once. 

  4. Most people only apply to one project at a single organization, but some apply to projects at multiple organizations to increase their odds of success. 


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