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[Outreachy] · · 7 min read

My journey to Outreachy, or How I learned to stop worrying and start contributing

It was May of this year when, while I was reading some local news, I saw an announcement about the 5º Encontro Nacional de Mulheres na Tecnologia. The chance of meeting people with similar passions and experiences it’s always reassuring, so I immediately searched for more information. When I looked over its schedule, a Lighting Talk caught my attention: “Programa Outreachy: receba para estudar e trabalhar em projetos de software livre” (“Outreachy: get paid for studying and working on FOSS projects”) by Ana Rute Mendes, a former Outreachy intern at Mozilla. This unleashed a series of searches that led me to the conclusion it would be an amazing experience to me.

Even though I wanted to go to the meeting, I couldn’t — I was living a really turbulent moment in my life that required time and taking care of my mental health. However, I kept this information with great care after reading the list of proposed projects of the last round, assigning to the next months the beginning of my preparation for the application process.

Two months later, my immense dissatisfaction with Twitter made me exile from the platform. I went to Mastodon, where I got involved with its community, which since my first toot treated me really well and welcomed me with kindness. This ended up motivating me to communicate more in English — although I am a fluent speaker, I had little opportunities to use my second language.

After some time of use, feeling increasingly thrilled about the project and its userbase, I wished to thank them somehow. It didn’t take too long until I noticed the Brazilian Portuguese localization was quite similar to the European Portuguese one. After reading the translation guide and taking notes about the status of the corresponding files, I decided to start making small contributions.

According to my GitHub timeline, the first thing I made was to report an issue. I must confess I was really nervous before posting it — I still didn’t feel confident when expressing myself in English and I couldn’t shake off the feeling I was some kind of an impostor. I constantly asked myself if the things I was stating made sense or if I really should convey that information. Eight days later, with the help of Mastodon’s documentation, I learned to use git’s basic functionalities and submitted my first pull request. Looking back, I think I should have given more details about the changes I made and explained better my motivations, but that was a good start that encouraged me to produce the first full Brazilian Portuguese translation for Mastodon and keep maintaining it. I also provided the localization of the its landing page, joinmastodon.org, afterwards.

Although it surely sounds like a well planned path, it was a natural progression. I was always looking for the next thing to do for Mastodon, prompted by the urge of seeing new Brazilian users and the recognition of the importance of my work, and that led me to contributing to the localization of mobile apps like Tusky. These opportunities made me feel more and more passionate about this type of work, with which I’ve had only informal experiences: when enrolled to the Software Engineering for Avionics course at the Federal University of Goiás, I did a non-official translation of the Generic Avionics Software Specification report in a group assignment since I wanted to help team mates that had difficulties reading formal documents in English. From that education period comes my appreciation for the documentation process — something fundamental for critical systems —, some experiences with project management and software development, the adoption of the systematic perspective for problem-solving and a great technical background on aviation. This involvement surely shaped a lot of who I am professionally, enhancing my world perspectives and my abilities.

My contact with FOSS isn’t new as well, being a constant aspect of my life for almost seven years. From messing around with my first Android smartphone to today, I had experiences with SciLab; I went to events like Flisol (where I met my fiancé and a year later we did a talk together); I became an user of Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Elementary OS, Debian, Manjaro and the one I am currently using, Antergos; I learned how to use LaTeX, which completely revolutionized my academic life as a visually impaired undergraduate; I used NVDA when I had to deal with proprietary softwares without any accessibility options for low vision users on Windows… It was a matter of time until I finally would start to contribute.

In the first half of September, Outreachy began to announce which organizations would participate on the Round 15, and in September 11 I introduced myself to my possible mentors on Phabricator. When I read about the “Translation outreach” project, I was sure it was meant to be for me: it felt like the path I’ve taken until now prepared me to do it. This project was first announced on Round 14 and potential interns introduced themselves, but none of them actually applied. Keenly reading past discussions about it, I started to work on the microtask assigned as the required contribution, observe further debates with other applicants, make some questions and research further about related subjects. I also contacted the mentors privately to ask more personal questions about the required documents to prove enrollment in a university and expose some of my first ideas.

When I noticed I was about to finish the assigned microtask, I asked them what else could I do. Johan pointed out the Wikimedia Translators discussion list, to which I promptly subscribed. I also followed various Twitter profiles of Wikimedia’s projects and communities to understand more how they work. I would say this curious attitude was decisive to my application: through this course of action, I could comprehend better the communities’ culture when observing the way they communicate with the world and their peers and follow the latest technical changes on Wikimedia as I translated a new Tech News issue every week.

In addition to the form to be filled and submitted on Outreachy’s platform, Wikimedia requires applicants to publish a public project proposal on Phabricator. I published the first draft on October 9, two weeks before the deadline, and asked for feedback as I constantly worked on it to improve its contents. Antecedence and exclusive dedication to this task helped me craft a quality proposal, besides carefully listening to what my mentors had to say. You can read it here.

As the deadline passed, I kept making contributions, translating different parts of the documentation, dedicating Fridays to the Tech News and researches about the current state of Wikimedia. The only moment I decided to interrupt this workflow was three days before the results announcement: I recognized my efforts, noticed how anxious I was and gave myself some rest.

The application process was exhausting not for the amount of work, but for the emotional process. You are required to make long-term plans to present proposals, but at the same time this is emotionally stressful because you constantly carry within yourself the fear of creating too much expectations and ending up failing. You wish that days would come and go quickly and the results to get announced soon but simultaneously you don’t want it to happen too quickly since you are afraid of an outcome that won’t make you happy.

But sometimes, what seems impossible actually happens.

This is the first post of a series about my Outreachy internship at Wikimedia. Each one of them will be available in both Brazilian Portuguese and English, but feel free to translate them to any language of your choice as long as you respect the CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Thank you for reading and take care.