The Outreachy Internship Program

December 5, 2018   

In this blog post, I discuss the application process in my applying to the Outreachy internship program.

The Motivation

The Prevaling Imbalance in ‘Diversity’ within the Classroom

I came to the U.S from my home country, Nigeria, to pursue a Masters degree in Computer Science. As an international student, even though my University provided an inclusive space for people of all backgrounds to collaborate, what always stood out to me in every class I took - more than 20 classes in the over two year period of the degree program - was the abysmal ratio of black students to students of every other color. I observed that three groups of races dominated the student-population: Americans, Asians, and Indians. For instance, in a class of 25 ~ 30 students, sometimes I would be the only black-student. Other times just 2 or 3 students would be Blacks, while the rest would be of the aforementioned three groups. This was very disappointing to me, especially in a field like Artificial Intelligence(AI), which was the focus of my program; Black’s in Technology and Black’s in AI were highly underrepresented. This was a sad reality I had to adjust to at school.

The Prevaling Imbalance in ‘Diversity’ within the Chicago Community

Outside of school activities, I was a very active tech-volunteer within my community and in the city I resided in, Chicago. Over the span of time since arriving in the U.S, I had volunteered for the organization of over 30 events across the city. Events ranging from large technology conferences to small meetups. Apart from events that were specifically geared towards Blacks and People-of-Color, I observed the representation of this minority at events was always well below average; even at events across Chicago that were put together by big tech-companies that prided themselves about improving diversity.

The Prevaling Imbalance in ‘Diversity’ within the Job Market

Looking for jobs during and after my degree program, was another aspect in which I realized just how bad the situation of things was across the tech-industry. In applying for jobs and during interviews I experienced direct discrimination and systematic bias as person of color; from companies passing me up for other candidates, just because I was Black.

Reflecting over multiple rejections I had received over time, from several tech-companies in the city, I decided I would make ‘Attention to the Role of Diversity’ a key factor in my determination of which companies to apply to for jobs. Not just the ‘diversity’ that many of these companies wrote about on their websites for appearance, but the kind that was truly evident from the way company-employees treated prospective candidates, in their mere interactions; treating them as people not as just applicants. In my research into organizations which had this kind of trait, I observed a close link between Open Source software communities and the Diversity of this kind.

These findings, coupled with my prior experiences, became key influencers in my choosing to apply to the Outreachy program the day I discovered it existed. This so happened to be on the last day of the application-period for the December 2018 cohort of the program.

The Outreachy Application and Internship Project

For a very long time it was my desire to get into open-source software development. The major barrier, that had always prevented me from contributing to open-source, was really not knowing where or how to start. That, and the confidence-gap and impostor-syndrome concerns I had of not believing my software-development skills were good enough to contribute to opensource projects with meaningful impact.

The Outreachy program had a focus on reaching people from underrepresented backgrounds in tech. Aside from this however, one of its more subtle aims was really to introduce these same people (of any skill level) to the open-source development mindset and encourage them in taking that first step into the domain. To others, it was an opportunity to get one’s foot in the door; towards getting that first job. To me, however, it was all of the above, and an exciting prospect I found, when ranked against other job opportunities I was pursuing at the time.

I found the application forms and process to be very straightforward, applying to two projects during the Outreachy application - one in the OpenStack community while the other was in the Jenkins community. The opportunity to raise my skill-levels in the Java and Python programming languages was the key motivator in applying to these projects. Security and Cloud Computing had been areas I personally had long interest in working in, particularly due to my desire to build a startup-company around the latter in my home country. The first project centered around security and audit-logging in the opensource software automation tool, Jenkins, while the second project revolved around the opensource cloud infrastructure project, OpenStack.

Getting into Outreachy - Work with Diverse Opensource Communities

The Jenkins and OpenStack projects had different approaches to software development and project-communication and I gained very valuable experience from these. For instance, the OpenStack project made heavy use of Gerrit for their code-reviews and change-management - which was not something I had been exposed to before - while the Jenkins project teams made use of git forks and pull-requests as the means by which contributors inputs were reviewed. Many OpenStack teams made use of the public freenode IRC system for team-communication, which was something I had not used before and I found this very interesting to learn. The Jenkins team used both IRC and Gitter for communication. While I was aware of Gitter as a communication-tool, I had never used it in practice. The differences between both projects extended even to the way software bugs and project-issues were tracked and managed. For instance, OpenStack teams made use of Launchpad, while Jenkins teams used Jira. I found very valuable the differing perspectives these two projects exposed me to.

I had a great experience working as a contributor on both projects. Even though I arrived late to the project (due to my late initial outreachy-application) I found the communities and their project-mentors very welcoming and helpful, giving me detailed feedback as well as guidiance on areas I had difficulty figuring out; such as building out the source code in the projects, and working around bugs and other errors I had encountered during the implementation of tasks given to me within each project.

About 10 days after making the final application, on November 16th, Outreachy announced the final project interns for the December cohort. I learnt I was selected to be an intern for the Jenkins community project I had applied to and was extremely excited at the opportunity I had just been given.

The Road Ahead

I would strongly encourage anyone worried about applying to the Outreachy program to give it a shot. One of the biggest obstacles I found was really in taking that first step, particularly when one feels they aren’t qualified for an opportunity. I found the program emphasis on diversity to be crucial, as I believe everyone has something to bring to the table; particularly in the world of software where diversity-of-thought and perspective matters just as much as raw skill and talent. This is more evident in organizations and programs, like Outreachy’s, that factor it in as a guiding principle in their selection of candidates.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the start of this new journey and the many more things I will learn, during the course of this internship. I will be making many more posts on my experience as I travel the road ahead.