The Outreachy 2019 May-August Internship – The Application Process

Introduction

Really excited to be accepted for the project “Debian Continuous Integration: user experience improvements” (referred to as debci in this post) of the 2019 May-August round of the Outreachy internship! A huge thanks to my company and my manager Frank for letting me do this since I mentioned it out of the blue. Thanks to the Women Techmakers community for letting me know this program exists.

There are already blog posts that also has an introduction of the program, such as:

  1. How I got into Mozilla’s Outreachy open source internship program
  2. My Pathway to Outreachy with Mozilla
  3. Outreachy: What? How? Why?

To me, the biggest difference between Outreachy and Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is that you don’t have to be a student in order to apply.

This post won’t be going into the details of “What is Outreachy” in this post, and will focus on the process, where everyone will have a different story. This is my version, and hope that you can find yours in the near future!

Table of contents:

Goals: The Why

What I like about Outreachy’s application process is that it definitely lets you think about why you want to apply. For me, things were pretty simple and straightforward:

  • Experience what it is like to work remotely
  • Use my current knowledge to contribute to open source
  • Learn something different from my current job

Actually the most important reason that I kind of feel bad mentioning here is that I felt like leaving the male-dominated tech space for a bit. My colleagues are really nice and friendly, but… it’s hard to put into words.

Mindset: Start Right Away

The two main reasons I failed in the past:

  1. Hesitation
  2. Spent too much time browsing the project list

Hesitation

I have known about the Outreachy since 2017, but because it requires you to make a few contributions in order to apply, any bit of hesitation will result in a late start. It was a bit scary to approach the project mentors and thought my code has to be perfect in order to make a contribution. The truth is, without discussion, you might not know the details of the issue, hence you can’t even start coding. Almost every accepted applicant mentions the importance of starting early. To be precise, just start at the day when applications are open.

Spent too much time browsing the project list

Another reason that kept me from starting right away was that I had been browsing the project list for too long. Since the project list on the first day is not complete, it means that there will be projects that I might be more interested in joining the list as the time passes. Past projects can be referenced to get a better picture of which organizations were involved, but it is never a 100% sure bet. Also, the organizations participating for the March-August round is different from the December-March round. To avoid the starting too late scenario, the strategy I used was to choose 2 projects to contribute to. One in the initial phase (first week or so), and another during the following weeks.

Strategy: Choose 2 Projects

Choosing how many projects to work on really depends on the time you have available. The main idea of this strategy was to eliminate the cause of spending too much time on browsing the project list. Since already having a full-time job at the time, I really had to weigh my priorities. To be honest, I barely had time to work on the second project.

On the day the project list was announced, I quickly assessed my skills with the projects available and decided to try applying for Mozilla. Yep, you heard me right, my first choice wasn’t Debian because Mozilla seemed more familiar to me. Then I instantly realized that there were a flooding number of applicants also applying for Mozilla. All of the newcomer issues were claimed and it all happened in just a matter of days!

I started to look for other projects that were also in line with my goals, which led me to debci. Never have I used Ruby in projects and neither the Debian system. On the other hand, I’m familiar with the other skills listed in the requirements, so some of my knowledge can still be utilized.

The second project was announced at a later stage and came from Openstack. Had to admit it was a little too hard for me to setup the Ironic baremetal environment so wasn’t able to put in much.

Plan: Learn About the Community

An important aspect through the application process was to get in touch with the community. Although Debci and Openstack Ironic both use IRC chat, it feels very different. From a wiki search, it seems Openstack is backed by a corporate entity while Debian by volunteers.

Despite the difference, both communities were pretty active with Openstack involving more members. As long as the community was active and friendly, it fits the vision I was looking for.

Execution: Communication

Looking back at the contribution process, it actually took more time than I initially imagined. The whole application process consists of three stages:

  1. Initial application: has to wait a few days for it to be approved
  2. Record Contributions: the main part
  3. Final application: final dash

Except for the initial application, which can be done by myself, the rest involves communicating with others. Communication differs a lot compared to an office environment. My first merge request (a.k.a. pull request) had a ton of comments, and I couldn’t understand what the comments were suggesting at first. It became to clear up after some discussion and I was really excited to have it being merged. This was huge for me since this all happened online, which contains a bit of a time lag since in an office environment, my colleague would just come around for a face-to-face discussion.

TL;DR

Had no idea that so many words were written, so guess I will stop for now. Up until now, I haven’t mentioned much about writing code and that’s because you will feel for yourself whether you can get through during the process. So the TL;DR version of this post is:

  • Do not hesitate, just do it
  • Start as soon as applications are open
  • Do not lurk around the project list
  • Get in touch with the community and mentors
  • Communicate about the issues

Really excited to begin this Outreachy journey with debci and grateful for this opportunity. Stay tuned for more articles about the project itself!

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