The majority of this month was spent herding coordinators to get communities signed up to participate in this Outreachy round. We now have 19 communities signed up to participate in the December 2019 to March 2020 round. Depending on community funding that’s still TBD, we could have somewhere between 31 and 44 interns this round. That’s on par with last round.
Organizer tasks this month:
Ping 25 communities who have participated in the past. 13 past communities have signed up this round.
Review 6 new communities who have never participated in Outreachy before
Meet with new potential sponsors
Provide on-boarding as time allows for new coordinators
Run two chats with Outreachy May 2019 interns
Review final feedback for Outreachy May 2019 interns
Review initial applications
Answer questions from applicants on Twitter and via email
Prep work for the Outreachy booth at the Tapia conference
The main focus of this month was gearing up for the application period for the December 2019 round. We’ve made some changes to the application process, which required both changes to the website and communication to stakeholders (applicants, coordinators, and mentors).
We aren’t forgetting the May 2019 interns though! Their internships are still active until August 20. We hosted two internship chats this month, and found a contractor to provide resume review for the interns.
Coordinated with a new contractor to add Outreachy career advice services, including career chats and resume review
Reviewed mid-point feedback and facilitated conversations with mentors and interns
Coordinated with volunteers for the Outreachy Tapia booth about travel
Ordered Outreachy promotional materials for Tapia
Provided guidance to new communities thinking about participating in the December 2019 round
Wrote a blog post explaining the process changes for applicants and mentors in the December 2019 application round
Updated Outreachy promotional materials with the new deadline changes
Handle situations where interns were unable to accept the internship
Update the intern contract dates (we need to automate this in the website code!)
Send signed intern contracts to Conservancy
Send an invoice request to Conservancy for Outreachy sponsors
Follow all interns on Twitter, retweet their first blog posts if @outreachy is tagged
Run the first intern Q&A session
Add website code to allow mentors to invite co-mentors and have co-mentors sign the mentorship agreement for any selected interns
Create page for organizers to see contact info for mentors who selected an intern (so we can easily subscribe them to the mentor mailing list)
Outreachy at PyCon U.S. Sprints
We successfully tested the Outreachy website developer’s documentation at the PyCon U.S. sprints. This is the first step towards limiting the “bus factor” and ensuring that many people can work on the Outreachy website.
13 people participated in the sprints. Most were running Linux, but there was one Windows user who successfully followed our installation guide and successfully made their first contribution.
Half of the participants were unfamiliar with the Django web development framework that the Outreachy website uses. There were several people who had never made a contribution to free software before. We’re proud that they could make their first impact on the free software world with Outreachy!
Overall, 8 pull requests were merged, with 7 more pull requests waiting for review. The pull requests included improvements like clarifying our documentation, clarifying application questions, ensuring links on our opportunities page were valid, and improving the layout of our pages for past rounds.
Blog Post Prompts
During the Outreachy internship, interns are required to blog every two weeks. The Outreachy organizers found that interns often didn’t know what to blog about, so we started creating a series of blog post prompts. The prompts are highly relevant to the intern experience as the internship progresses.
Our first blog post prompts normalize the fact that all interns struggle during the first few weeks. The mid-point blog post prompt asks interns to reflect on their original project timeline, and how unexpected complexity means projects often have to be scaled back. We wanted to do a full series of blog post prompts last round, but we ran out of time before the next application period kicked off.
This round, we’re finishing out the last two blog post prompts for weeks 9 and 11 of the internship. They will focus on the next steps after the Outreachy internship, namely how interns can start a career in tech or free software.
The week 9 blog post prompt is for interns to write about what direction they would like to take their career. Some Outreachy interns are still in school, so we ask them to provide what time frame they want to take their next steps in.
The week 11 email will prompt the interns to work on their resumes, and then post them on their blog.
Outreachy organizers are also in discussions with some contractors who may be able to provide some career advice to Outreachy interns. We’ve long wanted to provide more career services to interns, but haven’t been able to allocate organizer time to this. We’re still in negotiations, but we hope this round we can finally offer this.
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.
Finished cleaning up the technical debt that kept us from having two Outreachy rounds active at once
Added code for gathering internship midpoint feedback
Migrated the travel stipend page off the old wiki for Outreachy to the Django website
Added a required field for mentors to provide the minimum computer system requirements to contribute to the project
Created intern blog post prompts for weeks 5 & 7
Followed up on all December 2018 sponsorship invoices
Minimum System Requirements
New for this Outreachy round is asking mentors to provide the minimum system requirements for their project. Many Outreachy applicants have second-hand, 10 year old systems. They may not have the memory to be able to run a virtualized development environment. In the past, we’ve had applicants who tried to follow installation instructions to complete their required contribution, only to have their systems hang.
By requiring mentors to provide minimum system requirements for their projects, we hope to help applicants who can’t afford a newer computer. We also hope that it will help communities think about how they can lower their technology barriers for applicants who face socioeconomic hardship
This month I migrated the travel stipend instructions page from our old wiki to the new travel page. During that migration, I noticed the language in the page was filled with complex vocabulary and longer sentences. That’s how I tend to write, but it’s harder for people who speak English as a second language to read.
I used the Hemmingway editor to cut down on complex sentences. I would recommend that people look at similar tools to simplify their language on their website
Debt, debt, and more technical debt
I had hoped that January would be spent contacting Outreachy communities to notify them of the round. Unfortunately, Outreachy website work took priority, as it wasn’t ready for us to accept community sign-ups.
Most of the work was done on cleaning up the technical debt I talked about in my last blog post. The website has to handle having two internship rounds active at once. For example, in January, mentors were submitting feedback for the December 2018 internships, while other mentors were submitting projects for the upcoming May 2019 internships.
A lot of the process was deciding how long to display information on the website. For example, when should mentors be able to choose an applicant as an intern for their project?
Mentors could find a potential candidate very early in the application period, so the very soonest they could choose an intern would be when the application period starts.
Most people might assume that interns can’t be selected after we announce the internships. However, in the past, interns have decided not to participate, so mentors have needed to select another applicant after the interns are announced. The very latest they could select an intern would be five weeks after the internships start, since we can’t extend an internship for more than five weeks.
It’s a complex process to decide these dates. It requires a lot of tribal knowledge of how the Outreachy internship processes work. I’m happy to finally document some of those assumptions into the Outreachy website code.
One of my resolutions for 2019 is to be more transparent about the work I’ve been doing for Outreachy. Hopefully (fingers crossed) this means you’ll be seeing a blog post once a month.
I’ll also throw in a selfie per month. My face is changing since I’ve been on hormone replacement therapy (testosterone) for about 7 months now. I started to get some peach fuzz around month 5. It’s still patchy, but I’m growing it out anyway so I can see if I can get a beard!
What is Outreachy?
Outreachy is a three-month internship program. It’s completely remote (both interns and mentors come from around the world). We pay the interns a $5,500 USD stipend for the three months, plus a $500 travel stipend to attend a conference or event related to their internship or free software.
The goal of the internship is to introduce people to free and open source software. Outreachy has projects that involve programming, documentation, graphic design, user experience, user advocacy, and data science.
Outreachy’s other goal is to support people from groups underrepresented in the technology industry. We expressly invite women (both cis and trans), trans men, and genderqueer people to apply. We also expressly invite applications from residents and nationals of the United States of any gender who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latin@, Native American/American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. Anyone who faces under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country is invited to apply.
What’s My Role?
I own Otter Tech LLC, which is a diversity and inclusion consulting company. It’s been my full-time job since July 2016. I work with clients (mostly in the technology or free software space) that want to improve their culture and better support people from groups underrepresented in tech. Outreachy is one of my clients.
I am one of five Outreachy organizers. Two of us (Marina Zhurakhinskaya and I) are heavily involved in running the internship application process. Karen Sandler is great at finding funding for us. The whole Outreachy organizers team (including Tony Sebro and Cindy Pallares-Quezada) makes important decisions about the direction of the program.
Outreachy also recently hired two part-time staff members. They’ve been helping Outreachy applicants during the application period, and then also helping Outreachy interns when the internship is running. We don’t have a good name for their role yet, but we’ve sort of settled on “Outreachy Helpers”
December 2018 Progress
The December 2018 to March 2018 internship round kicked off on December 4. Usually that’s downtime for me as an Outreachy organizer, because mentors and coordinators step up to interact with their interns. In the past, the only real interaction the Outreachy organizers had with interns was if their mentor indicated they were having issues (yikes!). This month was spent increasing the frequency and types of check-ins with interns and mentors.
Outreachy Chat Server
This round, we’re trying something new to have the Outreachy interns talk with Outreachy organizers and with each other. We’ve set up a private invitation-only Zulip chat server, and invited all the Outreachy organizers, interns, mentors, and coordinators. I’ve been doing a bit of community management, participating in discussions, and answering questions that Outreachy interns have as they start their internship. I also ran a text-based discussion and then a video chat for Outreachy interns to do a second week check-in.
I think the Outreachy Zulip chat has worked out well! I see interns connecting across different free software communities, and mentors from other communities helping different interns. Zulip has the concept of “streams” which are basically chat rooms. We have a couple of different streams, like a general chat channel and a channel for asking questions about Outreachy internship procedures. I’m fairly certain that I got more questions on the Zulip chat from interns than we ever got by using email and IRC.
The other thing we’re doing this round is collecting feedback in a different way. In the past, we collected it at two points during the internship. The midpoint was at 6 weeks in and the final feedback was at 12 weeks in. However, this round, we’re collecting it at three points: initial feedback at 2 weeks in, midpoint feedback at 8 weeks in, and final feedback at 12 weeks.
Collecting feedback three times meant more overhead for evaluating feedback and sending the results to our fiscal sponsor, the Software Freedom Conservancy. I wrote code in December to allow the Outreachy internship website to collect feedback from mentors as to whether interns should be paid their initial stipend.
We’re also collecting different feedback this round. I’m collecting feedback from both interns and mentors, based on a suggestion from a former Outreachy intern. Interns and mentors are asked the same questions, like “How long does it take (you/your intern) to respond to questions or feedback?” and “How long does it take (your mentor/you) to respond to questions and feedback?” That way, I can compare people’s self-evaluations with what the other person involved in the internship thinks.
There’s also a freeform-text for interns to give feedback on how their mentor is doing. This is important, because many Outreachy mentors are new to mentoring. They may need to have some coaching to understand how they can be more supportive to their interns. While most of the interns are doing great, I can see that I’m going to need to nudge a couple of mentor and intern pairs in the right direction.
Interviews with Alums
I did video interviews with five Outreachy interns at the Mozilla All Hands in December 2019. I loved interviewing them, because it’s great to hear their personal stories. I’ll be using the footage to create videos to promote the Outreachy program.
I’ve created short-hand transcripts of two of the videos, but haven’t gotten to the other five. Transcripts help for a couple reasons. Most importantly, I can add closed captioning to the finished videos. I also have a searchable text database for when I need to find quotes about a particular topic. Seeing the text allows me to group similar experiences and create a cohesive narrative for the promotional video.
Ramping up for May 2019 Internships
The Outreachy December 2018 to March 2019 internships are just starting, but we’re already thinking of the next round. January is typically the time we start pinging communities to see if they want to be involved in mentoring interns during the February to March application period.
That means we need to have the website ready to handle both a currently running internship cohort, and a new internship round where mentors can submit projects. There’s some technical debt in the Outreachy website code that we need to address before we can list the next round’s internship dates.
The Outreachy website is designed to guide internship applicants through the application process. It’s built with a web framework tool called Django, which is written in Python. Django makes web development easier, because you can define Python classes that represent your data. Django then uses those classes to create a representation in the database. The part of Django that translates Python into database schema is called the ORM (Object Relational Mapper).
For example, the Outreachy website keeps track of internship rounds (the RoundPage class). Each internship round has dates and other information associated with it. For example, it has the date for when the application period starts and ends, and when the internship starts and end.
It makes sense to store internship rounds in a database, because all
internship rounds have the same kinds of deadlines associated with them.
You can do database queries to find particular rounds in the database.
For example, the Django Python code to look up the latest round (based
on when the interns start their internship) is
The work I’ve recently been doing is to deal with the fact that two internship rounds can be active at once. We’re about to open the next internship round for mentors to submit new projects. On February 18, the next application period will open. But the December 2018 round of internships will still be active until March 4.
The Outreachy website’s pages has to deal with displaying data from multiple rounds. For example, on the Outreachy organizers’ dashboard page, I need to be able to send out reminder emails about final mentor feedback for the December 2018 round, while still reviewing and approving new communities to participate in the May 2019 round. Outreachy mentors need to still be able to submit feedback for their current intern in the December 2018 round, while (potentially) submitting a new project for the May 2019 round.
It’s mostly a lot of refactoring and debugging Python code. I’m writing more Django unit tests to deal with corner cases. Sometimes it’s hard to debug when something fails in the unit test, but doesn’t fail in our local deployment copy. I’m fairly new to testing in Django, and I wrote my first test recently! I feel really silly for not starting on the tests sooner, but I’m slowly catching up to things!
January 2019 is going to be spent contacting communities about participating in the May 2018 to August 2018 round. I have some video footage of Outreachy interns I interviewed at the Tapia conference and Mozilla All Hands, and I hope to put it into a promotional video to inspire people to become mentors. It’s a fun exercise that uses some of the video editing skills I have from making fanvideos.
I’ll be giving a talk at FOSDEM on changing team culture to better support people with impostor syndrome. The goal is not to ask people with impostor syndrome to change, but instead to figure out how to change our culture so that we don’t create or trigger impostor syndrome. The talk is called “Supporting FOSS Community Members with Impostor Syndrome“. The talk will be from 9:10am to 9:40am on Sunday (the first talk slot).
[Note: comments on this post will be moderated by someone other than me.]
Recently, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m non-binary. Non-binary can be a bit of an umbrella term, but for me, being non-binary means I don’t identify as either a man or a woman. For me, gender is more like a 3D space, a universe of different traits. Most people gravitate towards a set of traits that we label as masculine or feminine. I don’t feel a strong pull towards being either really masculine or really feminine.
I’m writing this post for two reasons. The first reason is that representation matters. I know some non-binary people in tech and from the indie comics industry, but I’d love to see those voices and stories promoted. Hopefully being open and honest with people about my identity will help, both to raise awareness, and to give other people the courage to start an exploration into their own gender identity. I know talking with queer friends and reading comics helped me while I was working out my own gender identity.
The second reason I’m writing this is because there’s a couple ways allies can help me as I go through my transition:
Use my new name (Sage) and my correct pronouns (they/them)
Educate yourself on what it means to be non-binary
Think about how you use gender in your software and websites
Think about making your events more inclusive towards non-binary folks
I’ve changed my name to Sage Sharp.
I would appreciate it if you could use my new name. If you’re thinking about writing about me, there’s a section on writing about individuals who are transitioning in “The Responsible Communication Style Guide”. You should buy a digital copy!
Pronouns and Titles
I use the pronoun ‘they’. If you’ve never had someone ask for you to use a specific pronoun, this Robot Hugs comic does a good job of explaining how to handle it.
If you have to add a formal title before my last name, please use ‘Mx Sharp’. ‘Mx’ is a gender-neutral honorific, like ‘Mr’, ‘Ms’, or ‘Mrs’. Mx is pronounced in a couple different ways: /ˈməks/, /ˈmɪks/ or /ˈmʌks/ (miks or muks). I like pronouncing it ‘mux’ like the electronics part multiplexer, but pick whichever pronunciation works for you. If you want to get really formal and are reaching for a term like ‘lady/gentlemen’, I prefer the term ‘gentleperson’.
I’ve found positive gender-neutral terms to describe myself with, like “dapper” or “cute”. I cringe every time a stranger attempts to gender me, since they usually settle on feminine forms of address. I wish more people would use gender-neutral terms like “folks”, “friend”, “comrade”, or say “Hello everyone!” or “Hi y’all” and leave it at that.
Being able to write in a gender neutral way is hard and takes a lot of practice. It means shifting from gendered terms like “sister/brother” or “daughter/son” to gender-neutral terms like “sibling” or “kid”. It means getting comfortable with the singular they instead of ‘she’ or ‘he’. Sometimes there isn’t a gender neutral term for a relationship like “aunt/uncle” and it means you have to make up some new term, like “Titi”. There’s some lists of gender-neutral titles but in general, just ask what term to use.
I’m really not looking forward to my gender being listed as ‘other’ or ‘prefer not to say’ on every gender form out there. I don’t even know if I can change my gender in social media, email, credit cards, banking… It’s a giant headache to change my name, let alone hope that technology systems will allow me to change my gender. It’s probably a separate post all itself, or a topic for my Diversity Deep Dives mailing list.
If you’re a programmer, website designer, or user experience person, ask yourself: Do you even need to collect information about a person’s gender? Could your website use gender neutral language? If you do need to address someone in a gendered way, maybe you just need to ask for their preferred pronouns instead of their gender? Could you drop the use of gendered honorifics, like ‘Miss’, ‘Mrs’ and ‘Mr’, or ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’?
Inclusive Tech Groups
There’s a lot of tech spaces that are designed to help connect people from groups who are underrepresented in tech. Some tech groups are for “women” or “girls” (which can sometimes mean young women, and sometimes means adult women). It’s unclear whether non-binary folks are included in such groups, which puts me in the awkward position of asking all the groups I’m currently involved in if this is still a space for me.
I recommend reading Kat’s post on the design of gender-inclusive tech spaces. If you run a group or event targeted at gender minorities in tech, consider what you mean by “women only” and whether you want to be more inclusive towards non-binary folks that also want a space away from the patriarchy.
I know that in the past, a lot of folks looked up to me as ‘a woman in open source’. Some people felt I was a role model, and some people felt triumphant that I overcame a lot of sexism and a toxic environment to do some pretty badass technical work. Guess what? I’m still a badass. As a non-binary person, I’m still a minority gender in tech. So I’m still going to continue to be my badass self, taking on the patriarchy.
When you meet someone, don’t assume what their pronouns are. As an ally, you can help by introducing yourself and normalizing pronoun usage. E.g. “Hi, my name is Victor, and I use he/him pronouns.”
If you’re a conference organizer, make sure all your name tags have a space for pronoun stickers. Have sheets of pronoun stickers at registration, and make sure the registration volunteers point out the pronoun badge stickers. If someone is confused about what the pronouns are, have a handout on pronouns and gender ready to give them. Wiscon is a conference that does a very good job with pronouns.
Don’t print pronouns collected from the registration system on badges without permission, or force everyone to put a pronoun on their badge. Some people might use different pronouns in conversation with different people, for example, if a person is “out” as non-binary to some friends but not their coworkers. Some people are genderfluid (meaning their feelings about their gender may change over time, even day to day). Some people might be questioning their gender, and not know what pronouns they want yet. Some people may prefer not to have a pronoun sticker at all.
The best practice is to provide space for people who want to provide their pronouns, but don’t force it on everyone.
What if people misgender you?
Some people who knew me under my old name might get confused when you use my new name. It’s perfectly fine to remind them of past work I did under my old name, while emphasizing my new name and pronouns. For example:
“Sage Sharp? Who’s that?”
“Sage is a diversity and inclusion consultant with Otter Tech. They were a Linux kernel developer for 10 years and wrote the USB 3.0 driver. They help run the Outreachy internship program.”
“Oh, you mean Sarah Sharp?”
“Yeah. They changed their name to Sage and they use ‘they’ pronouns now.”
I know it might be hard for people who have known me to get used to my new name and pronoun. You might even slip up in conversation with me. That’s ok, just correct the word and move on with your conversation. No need to apologize or call attention to it. We’re all humans, and retraining the language centers of our brains takes time. As long as I can see you’re trying, we’re cool.
What about your old accounts?
The internet never forgets. There will be old pictures of me, articles about me under my old name, etc. I’m fine with that, because that’s all a part of my past, who I was and the experiences that make me who I am. It’s as much a part of who I am as the tattoo on my arm. I don’t feel sad or weird looking at old pictures of myself. Seeing my longer haircut or myself in more feminine clothing can be surprising because I’ve changed so much, but after that initial reaction what I feel most is empathy for my past self.
At the same time, I’m also not that person any more. I’d like to see current pictures of me with my current name and correct pronoun.
If you see a news article that uses my old name, please let them know about my new name and pronouns. (But if it’s some troll site, don’t engage.) Several photos of my new style can be found here. If you see a social media website that uses my old name, don’t bother emailing me about it. I might have abandoned it, or found the name/gender change process to be too complex. Speaking of email, my old email addresses will still work, but I’ll respond back with my new email address. Please update your phone and email contacts to use the name ‘Sage Sharp’.
Phew, that was a lot to process!
We’ll keep it simple. Hi, my name is Sage Sharp, and I use ‘they’ pronouns. It’s nice to meet you!