Outreachy Mentor Spotlight: Agien Petra

Date: April 3, 2024

We're thrilled to bring you an insightful interview with Agien Petra, a dedicated mentor and coordinator for Outreachy. Agien has an inspiring journey, transitioning from an Outreachy intern to a mentor. She has made significant contributions to Mboalab and has been an integral part of the Outreachy community. In this interview, she shares her experiences, challenges, and the lessons she's learned along the way. Let's delve into Agien's remarkable story.

Photo of Agien Petra at the 1000th Outreachy intern celebration in Bamenda, Cameroon

Photo CC-BY Outreachy

Q: Can you briefly share your background with us and how you joined the Outreachy community?

A: I'm a software engineering graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Software Engineering, currently pursuing my master's in Data Science. I am an organizer for GDG Bamenda and Women Techmakers(WTM) Bamenda. I'm also a Women Techmakers ambassador, and I'm really glad to be one. I discovered Outreachy through the GDG Bamenda community. An Outreachy alum shared a link for people to apply. Despite lacking skills initially, I applied out of curiosity. For my first application to Outreachy, I chose to just observe how the program was. That was when I found Mboalab, a community that shared my interests and values in tech and medicine. I joined the community forum, and I just got chatting.

Q: How long have you been contributing to Mboalab since your internship?

A: Before my internship, I applied thrice, facing tough competition. There were so many people with really good skills and it was a lot of competition but I didn't let that discourage me. Contributing to the Mboalab community made me realize that they weren't just looking for people with technical skills but also people who were good collaborators. The mentors at Mboalab appreciate people who help out others in the community, sharing knowledge and guiding people. That was when I realized what I had missed the first two times I had applied. So I got accepted as an Outreachy intern in Mboalab in December 2022 to March 2023 cohort. It took the third application for me to get accepted.

Q: What led you to become an Outreachy mentor?

A: After completing my internship, I approached my mentor about assisting the community further like guiding other interns from various programs Mboalab was participating in. He suggested I come in as a mentor. I asked what the requirements were and he explained them to me. He told me about the projects that were currently being worked on that needed to be improved but if I had other not-for-profit project ideas that are geared towards helping the community and giving back to the community, it would be vetted and considered as an Outreachy project. I brought in the hospital link-up idea, which we're currently working on for the December 2023 internship cohort. So that's how I became a mentor.

Q: How many Outreachy cohorts have you mentored so far?

A: I’ve mentored two cohorts so far, starting in the next cohort after my internship.

Q: Prior to being an Outreachy mentor, did you have any mentoring experience, and if so, how did it shape your approach to mentorship?

A: Prior to Outreachy, officially no. However, as a community leader overseeing a group of over 500 individuals, managing the expansive Women Techmakers community (WTM) and being a teacher by profession, I found myself in a mentoring role. People would come to me with questions, seeking guidance or asking for insight. These experiences made me better at managing people, connect with them, and manage my time effectively across my different roles. So, while I didn't have formal mentoring experience, these roles certainly laid a strong foundation for my approach to mentorship in Outreachy.

Q: Reflect on how your own experience with an Outreachy mentor influenced your journey, both during your internship and in shaping your mentorship style.

A: Yes, my mentors Elisee and Stephane did influence me. I’d never really seen people who can multitask as well as they did. They always made sure to be ahead of everything they were working on in the community. They would regularly send reminders for meetings, inform us early if they wouldn't be able to meet up. They always made sure that we knew when they were available and in the times that they couldn't, we would be informed beforehand. They never made you wait for a long time when you're stuck on something and needed their help. My mentor, Elisee is also very organized. When I was an intern and the other intern was in India, somehow he managed to make it work with the huge time differences. He always considered his interns and accomodated us when he needed to. He would also send us resources, share our blog posts and share opportunities. And there was never a silly question with him, he always told us you're always welcome to learn. His mentorship played a huge part in my career journey. So I think my mentors have a big influence on my mentorship style.

Q: What are some of the challenges you've encountered as an Outreachy mentor, and how do you navigate them?

A: The first challenge was the data science/machine learning aspect of the project because that skillset wasn't one of my strengths. And that was challenging because when an intern comes to me stuck on something, I’d try to find resources, but I wouldn't even know which one would help the intern. My previous mentor is a machine learning expert. So more often, I go to him, and it's one of the motivations why I decided to do my master's in data science because I felt like if I wanted to do something in a biotech lab, this is the future for me. Another thing was working with different timezones. Working with interns with huge timezone differences was hard at first. And sometimes at 12 am, I have to go to the meeting because it will be more difficult for the interns to juggle their internship work and make time for the meeting. So I'm like, let's have the meeting at a time that favors the interns since the meetings are not that long. So I have to sacrifice my time to go with the intern’s time. It’s no longer that much of a challenge now that I have experience with handling situations like that. And I realized that working at odd hours is when I’m most productive, and it has become a part of me.

Q: Can you share a particularly rewarding or impactful mentoring experience that stands out in your mind? How did it feel to witness the positive outcomes of your mentorship, and how has it influenced your commitment to guiding others?

A: During the 1000 intern celebration here in Bamenda, that was my wow moment as a mentor. I mean, the other interns were just like, oh, the first time I applied, this was it for me, or the first time I applied, why was I not taken? What do you advise during the contributions they should be done or not done? So I felt like my experience as a mentor gave me the opportunity to be able to guide other applicants. So to be able to answer these questions that applicants have in my capacity as a mentor, it felt very rewarding to me. Outreachy is a program that’s about community and support. It’s not just about technical skills alone. So being a mentor in a program that values good support makes me very happy.

Q: Considering the principles of free software and open source, how do you envision both your mentees and yourself engaging with these principles throughout your mentorship journey? How do these principles influence your approach to collaboration and contribution within the open-source community?

A: Firstly, it is through Outreachy that I discovered Etherpad. I love using it; most of the time, even outside Outreachy work, I create files for our meetings with Etherpad. I just love the fact that everyone can collaborate, everyone can write, and anybody can edit the pad. So that is one of the software that I love using so much. And the Zulip channel for communication is also another open-source platform that I also love. In our community, we participate in Hactoberfest; we encourage our community members to participate in open-source projects. We encourage open source a lot during our events.

Q: For individuals considering becoming Outreachy mentors or unsure about their suitability, what advice do you have for them?

A: I always tell everyone around me, if you're someone that loves giving back and you’re good with people, become an Outreachy mentor. Because as a mentor, you're there to help people grow and feel included in the community. So if you feel like you're the kind of person that wants to be able to talk to people and be able to connect people to resources, answer questions that they have, and help people believe that they can do it then what's stopping you. You don't have to be an intern to be a mentor. So if you're someone who is passionate, you should probably just have to go through the list of communities that are participating in Outreachy. Know what your goals are, look for a community that shares your values, what do they do, what is their mission, or the software they use? If you feel like you have those skills, if you feel like you can actually fit into the community, talk to the coordinators of that community, or contact the Outreachy organizers and offer your help. If you have good projects in mind, you feel like these projects are really beneficial to the community, could help change the world or make the world a better place, then consider participating in Outreachy as a mentoring community. Maybe, you don’t have all the skill sets or you don't have enough resources to bring those projects to life. Find any organization that could probably use the skills that you need for that project, or probably share the same values you do, talk to the coordinators about bringing this project into the Outreachy program. Being an Outreachy mentor is a very rewarding experience. I'm encouraging each and everyone out there who wants to become an Outreachy mentor to just go for it. Trust me, you will not regret it and plus the connections are very useful. Being a mentor. Being able to talk to people, being able to connect people worldwide is a truly rewarding experience.

Q: Where can readers find more about you and the impactful work you contribute to in the open-source community?

A: You can find me on LinkedIn as Agien Petra or sometimes on X(formerly Twitter).