Outreachy progress: 2019-02

Summary of work this month:

  • Created final feedback form for interns and mentors
  • Contacted potential communities for the May to August 2019 round
  • Updated questions on the initial application form
  • Updated the website to the latest stable version of Django 1.11
  • Wrote a blog post announcing changes in eligibility criteria
  • Promotion on Twitter, emailing diversity in tech groups, job boards postings
  • Reviewed 874 initial application essays

The Outreachy internship program opened applications for the May to August round. Most of the time this month has been reviewing the 1,235 initial applications that have been submitted. ?

We’re definitely getting more applications this round. After the six week application period for the December to March round, we processed 1,817 initial applications. Less than two weeks into this round, we’ve had 1,235 initial applications submitted.

That sounds like a huge number, but that’s where the magic of Django comes in. Django allows us to collect time commitment information from all the applicants. We create a calendar of their time commitments and then see if they have 49 consecutive days free from full-time commitments from during the internship period.

So far, about 181 initial applications have been rejected because applicants had full-time commitments. (The number is usually higher in the December round because students in the northern hemisphere have a shorter break.)

We also check whether people are eligible to work in the countries they’re living in, whether people have participated in Outreachy or Google Summer of Code before, etc. There are 72 applications that were automatically denied because of those kinds of issues.

That leaves 982 applicants who were eligible for Outreachy so far. ? And we have to manually review every single applicant essay to see whether supporting this person would align with Outreachy’s program goal to support marginalized people in tech.

We ask specific essay questions to determine whether the applicant is underrepresented. We ask two more essay questions to determine whether they face discrimination or systemic bias in their learning environment or when looking for employment opportunities. Applicants have to demonstrate both characteristics. They have to be underrepresented *and* face discrimination.

It’s quite frankly difficult to spend 5-9 hours a day reading about the discrimination people face. We ask for personal stories, and people open up with some real horror stories. It’s probably re-traumatizing for them. It certainly impacts my mental health. Other people share less specific experiences with discrimination, which is also fine.

Sometimes reading essays introduces me to types of discrimination that are unfamiliar to me. For example, I’ve been reading more about the caste system in India and ethnic/tribal discrimination in Africa. Reading the essays can be a learning experience for me, and I’m glad we have multiple application reviewers from around the world.

One of the hardest things to do is to say no to an initial application.

Sometimes it’s clear from an essay that someone is from a group underrepresented in the technology industry of their country, but their learning environment is supportive and diverse, and they don’t think they’ll face discrimination in the workplace. Outreachy has to prioritize supporting marginalized people in tech, even if that means turning down underrepresented people who have the privilege to not face discrimination.

It’s also difficult because a lot of applicants who aren’t from groups underrepresented in tech equate hardship with discrimination. For example, a man being turned down for a job because they don’t have enough technical experience could be considered hardship. Interviewers assuming a woman doesn’t have technical experience because they’re a woman is discrimination. The end result is the same (you don’t get the job because the interviewer thinks you don’t have technical experience), but the cause (sexisim) is different.

Sometimes systemic issues are at play. For example, not having access to your college’s library because you have a mobility device and there’s no elevator is both discrimination and a systemic issue. Some communities face gender violence against women. The violence means parents don’t allow women to travel away to college, and some universities to restrict women to their dorms in the evenings. Imagine not being able to study after class, or not having internet in your dorms to do research. The reaction to these systemic issues incorrectly punish the people who are most likely to face harassment.

It’s frustrating to read about discrimination, but I hope that working with Outreachy mentors gives people an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.