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Outreachy helper report #1: Changing technology one applicant at a time

October 1, 2018 · 5 min read · EN > reports > diversity & inclusion

As Mister Rogers used to say, when times are stressful, “Always look for the helpers.”

That was the phrase that started my on-boarding process in the organization of Outreachy, a program that offers three-month remote and paid internships in open source projects to underrepresented groups in technology. As a person who had the opportunity to join the program as a Wikimedia intern one year before, it is a pleasure to offer my help - Outreachy opened many doors in the last few months, including an amazing trip to Mozilla Festival as a session facilitator. As Ellen Körbes states in their amazing talk Montanhas de Altitudes Variáveis, the path to become a tech professional is similar to hiking a mountain, and as I am an experienced hiker myself, helping newcomers to develop strategies to overcome hardships and proceed to the peak seems like the right thing to do.

Promoting it like there’s no tomorrow

In September, I had the opportunity to give a talk at Python Cerrado, a regional Python conference that happened at Faculdade do Gama, a campus focused on engineering and tech at Universidade de Brasília (UnB). With the title “Open code != working open: what I learned after a year working in open source”, I told attendees my story with open source, how to start contributing and what I learned from contributing myself, explained the process to apply to Outreachy and passed on all the advice my mentors, peers and friends taught me in that process.

That talk prompted a lot of attendees to talk to me later that day with questions about the application process. Frequently asked questions included whether they needed a visa to become an intern, if travel was needed, and how to make a contribution that counts as a valid one.

One thing that particularly intrigued me was one person that told me they had applied in the previous round, but the unresponsive mentors were the main cause of them giving up the whole process. Similar complaints were made in other occasions throughout this application round, which tells me a systemic change in the way mentors sign up for the role and interact with applicants needs to take place. I was also invited to participate in Workshop ADAs in October, an event within Federal University of Goiás’ CONPEEX, to join a debate about the hardships women face when working in tech. This initiative was led by a program within the Institute of Computing that has the goal to make technology more human, ComputAÇÃO Humana - in particular one of its projects, Projeto ADAs. I had the opportunity to hang out at their stand, casually chatting with people about Outreachy as they came by, and then directly talk to their public in the debate.

The interesting thing about including me in that conversation was, I was the only person that don’t have a degree and just started working in tech. As excited attendees went to talk to me afterwards, I realized that my presence represented a unconventional way to start working with technology - and the message it sends it’s powerful: there isn’t a right way, just a path that is the one that works for you.

Other means of outreach were Mozilla Festival itself and public and private chats with applicants. In Brazilian ones in particular, I noticed a lot of them would feel more welcome and less nervous when communicating with me in our native language. I believe there’s a level of connection and understanding that is only achievable in our mother tongue, and being able to provide this kind of support is both awesome and wholesome.

Listening to their stories

This application round, our work focused mainly in reviewing, checking and verifying information applicants provided and reading their essay questions. As days went by, the most mechanic procedures of this process would be handled quickly, but taking the time to listen their personal stories was always something more demanding time-wise and emotionally. Deciding whether they faced and currently face systemic discrimination and that they belong to an underrepresented group in tech is a task that requires attention to details and considering every single information. For instance, the tone of an essay can change extraordinarily when we take location into account.

That reviewing process helped me catch a lot of interesting data on the usability of Outreachy’s current system and the language the program uses. Our explanations get really heavy on jargons sometimes, and it confuses a lot of people that aren’t a contributor on open source projects before applying. As a lot of applicants don’t have English as their mother tongue, it’s about time to simplify it as much as possible to make the program more accessible.

What does the future hold for Outreachy?

There’s a lot of technical debt concerning Outreachy’s current system that needs to be paid. Mainly documenting its internals, the testing, and small bugs and features that need to be addressed as soon as possible. We also need to solve problems regarding our jargon heavy explanations, and invest our time in simplifying the application process for non-native English speakers.

As Outreachy is now welcoming more folks from different backgrounds, I believe we’re heading to a future where this will become the ultimate model of promoting inclusion in tech. And honestly, to me that is the best timeline possible.


⌨️ About the author

Anna e só is a documentarian who loves working with open projects and takes pride in offering them a unique point of view. They are currently working with Open Collective as a Google Season of Docs technical writer. They are also an Outreachy helper and a technical consultant in the project Free Software Ecosystems from LAPPIS/UnB. In their spare time, they are usually breaking and rebuilding things such as this blog theme.

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