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Outreachy Applicant Doubts

The application period for the December 2018 to March 2019 internship round is now open! The Outreachy organizers have noticed that applicants often have similar doubts about applying to Outreachy internships. This blog post should (hopefully!) help dispel some of those doubts.

Outreachy's application process is a little different from other internship programs. Applicants will need to fill out an initial application and have it be approved. Then they will need to make a contribution to a free and open source project during the six-week application period. Only applicants who finish a contribution will be eligible to be accepted as an intern.

One of the most common worry we hear from applicants is, "How much experience do I need to participate in Outreachy?" Applicants are concerned they don't have good enough skills to contribute to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) communities. Many are concerned because they've never contributed to FOSS before. Outreachy organizers often get questions from applicants like, "How much experience do I need in Python?" and "What if I've never contributed to open source before?"

How Experienced Are Outreachy Applicants?

To answer those questions, I turned to data science! I reviewed the final applications from the last Outreachy internship round (May to August 2018). I looked specifically at the applicants who were selected as an Outreachy intern.

My goal was to determine how much experience selected interns had before applying to Outreachy.

The final application includes two essay questions:

  • Please describe your experience with this free software community and project as a user and as a contributor
  • Please describe your experience with any other free software projects as a user and as a contributor

From those essay questions, I found:

  • 79% of accepted Outreachy interns had never contributed to the free and open source software community they applied to
  • 37% of accepted interns had never made a contribution to any free and open source software community before they applied to Outreachy

That does mean that 63% of accepted Outreachy interns had experience contributing to free software before they applied to Outreachy. However, contributions to free software projects come in many shapes and forms. A contribution might be as simple as answering a question on a mailing list, or as complex as submitting a major project feature.

Of the accepted Outreachy interns last round:

  • 40% had made a coding contribution before applying to Outreachy
  • 19% participated in public community forums
  • 11% organized a free software event
  • 9% reported an issue with a free software project
  • 9% helped run project infrastructure
  • 9% gave a short talk on a free software topic
  • 7% tested free software projects
  • 7% improved security
  • 5% worked on free software project marketing
  • 2% reviewed contributions
  • 2% mentored other contributors
  • 2% improved accessibility

The good news is that 60% of the selected Outreachy interns had never made a coding contribution before they applied to Outreachy! We encourage people to apply, even if they have no experience contributing to free and open source software.

What skills will I need as an Outreachy intern?

Outreachy has projects for people at all skill levels. Most projects expect that you have a little experience with their required project skills, like programming, documentation, user experience, or graphical design. Many Outreachy mentors are willing to teach applicants those skills. If you're worried that you might not have enough skills, you should try making a contribution to the project. In the worst case, you'll learn something new by asking the mentor questions. In the best case, you'll learn that you are experienced enough to apply to this project!

Some Outreachy applicants are looking for more challenging projects. One of the great things about the Outreachy program is that it's a place for people looking to "level up." Many people need a larger, three-month project in order to take the leap and become a free and open source software contributor. There are many projects and bootcamps that cater to teaching beginning programming, but few provide real-world experience working in larger software communities. Outreachy is one of the rare programs (along side Google Summer of Code and Rails Girls Summer of Code) that allows participants contribute to a large free software community.

Becoming a successful free and open source software contributor means learning a variety of skills: technical skills, communication skills, and collaboration skills. It takes time to build up those skills, and many Outreachy applicants are intimidated to get started. Even past Outreachy interns were intimidated to contribute! However, the supportive environment of Outreachy allowed them to overcome their worries and make a contribution to free and open source software.

What if I'm not an experienced software developer?

Outreachy applicants don't need to be experienced in contributing to free and open source software. In fact, last round 79% of Outreachy interns had never participated with the community they applied to Outreachy. 37% of Outreachy interns had never contributed to any free and open source software community. 60% of Outreachy interns had never made a programming contribution before applying.

You don't need to be an experienced software developer to apply to Outreachy internships. Outreachy provides supportive mentors that will help you make your first contribution to free and open source software communities:

"Prior to this application I had never used nor contributed to open source mainly due to being not a computer science student. Outreachy is an excellent program through which you can get in touch with experienced and motivated mentors who are always willing to help you with any sort of issue throughout the internship period and resolving your queries. I found the communities to be very friendly and welcoming."

-- Sunidhi Raheja, Outreachy intern May to August 2018, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap

What if I've never contributed to open source?

One of the most common questions we hear from newcomers to free and open source software is, "I want to contribute, but I don't know how." Outreachy provides a list of projects for applicants to chose from. There's no need to define your own project. Each project listing has a description of how to make a contribution. One Outreachy applicant felt so much more supported because their mentors provided good documentation about how to contribute:

Sonali Singhal

"When I was looking for organizations in Google Summer of Code I discovered an open source organisation. I liked the project ideas they had. I tried working with them for a while. I joined their IRC channel as well as their mailing list.  However I couldn't find anyone to guide me there. I felt confused and hence, I couldn't contribute to it. In Outreachy, I found that everything regarding the contributions was very well described on their website itself. So I decided to apply to a different Outreachy project because they had both, intriguing ideas as well as ample support."

-- Sonali Singhal, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with the Free Software Foundation

What if my contributions are ignored?

One of the issues newcomers to free and open source software face is a lack of response from project maintainers. It can be frustrating to submit a pull request or propose a feature, only to be ignored. One Outreachy applicant tried to contribute to free and open source software before they applied to Outreachy, and ran into this issue:

"I was both a user and contributor of another project. As a user, I was quite satisfied by their responses, to any queries I had while building my project. From the contributor perspective, the community was not active enough to consider any input from other contributors. There was lack of  response from the side of maintainers and feedback on any contribution was minimal."

-- Prakriti Bansal, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with CNCF Tracing

Contributing to free and open source software projects under Outreachy is different! Mentors are ready to respond to contributions from Outreachy applicants, and are always willing to answer questions.

"I have been working under the guidance of my mentor. He explained everything very clearly and helped me get comfortable with the code base. He is a great support, as he constantly attends to my doubts and encourages me to ask and interact more.  The environment is so comfortable that it motivates me to contribute endlessly. I have devoted countless hours working on the projects given to me without ever feeling weary. I discovered that IRC is a great way to communicate with my mentors and other members of the organization. Every task given to me, has been more enthralling than the previous one."

-- Sonali Singhal, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with the Free Software Foundation

What if I'm afraid to ask questions?

Outreachy mentors are really friendly! They will enthusiastically guide you through your first contribution to free and open source software:

"As a new contributor to the project, I have to admit I was a bit intimidated, but the mentors have been super welcoming and helpful at every turn. I happily eased into a simple contribution, and was then recommended a few other fixes that took me further into the project. Each of these contributions was a great learning experience. I’ve deepened my understanding of the project contribution processes and standards, and already feel much more confident in my ability to read, comprehend, and safely edit different levels of code."

-- Erin Comerford, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with Mozilla

What if I'm not good enough?

Many Outreachy applicants still have doubts about applying. They wonder if they're "good enough" or "experienced enough". Often times that's due to imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you're not good enough, that all your achievements came about through luck, and that someone will find out at any minute. Imposter syndrome often causes people to not ask questions because they might receive harsh criticism. People from groups underrepresented in tech are more likely to feel imposter syndrome because of the discrimination  they face. They often have to work twice as hard to achieve the same recognition as people who don't face discrimination. This leads them to feel like their accomplishments are never good enough.

Outreachy provides mentors who can help applicants overcome imposter syndrome:

Kate Manning

"Just reading through issues and pull requests, I’m always struck by the overall tone of kindness, openness, and respect that the team creates in their communication. I felt welcomed and appreciated from the start, which was great for a nervous noob working toward a career change and wicked imposter syndrome. I look forward to continuing to contribute to this community over the next weeks and months."

-- Kate Manning, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with Mozilla

Will I find friendly people?

Did I mention Outreachy mentors are really friendly? They are! Applicants also appreciate working with friendly free and open source software community members:

Prakriti Bansal
"As a contributor, it has been a mind-opening experience working with Outreachy communities. Maintainers/developers are welcoming to newcomers. From my very first PR in the repo, I never felt like an outsider. I got quick and constructive feedback on any contributions I made or any issues I opened.  Maintainers are willing to discuss and open to suggestions from contributors on any aspect of the project, whether it be coding or documentation."

-- Prakriti Bansal, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with CNCF Tracing

Smarita Sharma

"The best part about my project is that this community as a whole has been extremely supportive. It’s the support and kindness I received from the community that makes me want to make my contributions count."

-- Smarita Sharma, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with Bahmni

Outreachy inspires applicants

Outreachy's mentors are positive role models in the free software community to inspire the next generation of free software leaders:

"I have learned a lot by having people reviewing my code, in fact, looking back, I realized I have never been this immersed in coding before.  There are, of course, days when I don’t know what to do, but the mentors are always kind and willing to guide and correct me. I believe this open source is very helpful for my personal growth. Thus, I plan to continue contributing even after the application process is over. I aspire to be a maintainer of an open source projects and to keep contributing to open source projects regularly.  Then I would also mentor aspiring newbies to get on board with open source contribution."

-- Fienny Angelina, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with Mozilla

It's important to recognize that these quotes taken from the Outreachy applicants only represents the applicants who were selected as interns. Applicants who aren't selected for the internship often find the experience of applying itself to be rewarding. Here's a quote from an Outreachy applicant who was accepted this round after not being accepted for Outreachy in 2015:

"The set of skills I've learned during the Outreachy application period in 2015 was a tremendous asset to me throughout my graduate school and my professional life in general. Moreover, the excitement that I felt and the confidence that the experience gave me is what motivated me to aspire for more and it is one of the reasons why I have decided to pursue a Ph.D. in CS."

-- Haneen, Outreachy intern May to August 2018 with the Linux kernel

How do I apply to Outreachy?

We highly encourage everyone who meets our eligibility rules to apply to Outreachy!

Outreachy's application process is a little different from other internship programs. Applicants will need to fill out an initial application and have it be approved. Then they will need to make a contribution to an open source project during the six-week application period. Only applicants who finish a contribution will be eligible to be accepted as an intern.

We find the most successful applicants are ones that make smaller, consistent contributions throughout the application period, contact mentors, and ask the mentors and community questions when they get stuck.

Applications for December 2018 to March 2019 internships are now open!  The deadline for contributions is October 30, but potential applicants should start working on their contributions 2-3 weeks before the deadline.

https://www.outreachy.org/apply

The list of Outreachy projects can be found at:

https://www.outreachy.org/apply/project-selection/

Good luck with your application! Remember, if you have doubts or questions, you can contact the Outreachy mentors and our applicant helpers.