Getting Started in Open Source

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While open source still lags behind other areas of tech with regard to diversity (check out our recent article on that very topic), it’s still one place where women are openly encouraged to participate. Whether you’re working on a thesis, interested on the space and want to improve on your coding skills, or have the kind of ideas that could change the way we do business, there are many organizations and programs that can help you find your way into the open-source community.

There’s also room within the open-source community for tech pros with non-coding skills, such as technical writing, design, community engagement and event organization. People outside of software development often don’t realize that their contributions could prove valuable for open-source projects.

Open-Source Resources

An excellent point of entry is opensource.com. The site includes how-to guides, tutorials, and overviews of different projects, as well as a section specifically for beginners. (Some conferences found on the site also have diversity scholarships for attendees.)

Red Hat is a multi-national software company that provides open-source software products to the enterprise community. It’s a good resource, as it sponsors a number of hackathons and workshops. If you need inspiration, it also created and sponsors the Women in Open Source Award to bring attention to outstanding women in the community and in academia.

Google Summer of Code, a global program that offers post-secondary students the opportunity to write code for open source projects, inadvertently became the grandmother of outreach to women in open source when, in 2005, alarmingly few of them applied for its pilot program, sparking conversation. The program’s inauspicious start not withstanding, accepted applicants are paired with mentors from participating projects to gain experience in real-life open source scenarios.

Born in the wake of controversy over Summer of Code, FOSS’s global Outreach program, Outreachy, partners with the GNOME Foundation, Red Hat and the Software Freedom Conservancy to provide internships to people from groups underrepresented in open source. Outreachy interns work remotely with a mentor to contribute to projects such as OpenStack, Linux kernel, Wikimedia, and Mozilla.

Rail Girls Summer of Code is a global program designed to bring more diversity into open source. What sets it apart from other programs is that its focus is not on producing complex code, but on having participants learn transferable skills from their project work.

Other open-source internship programs are more specialized. Both Tor Summer of Privacy, and Mozilla Winter of Security are for students who want to collaborate with privacy tools. Mentors are international experts in anonymity and security issues.

The Linux Foundation sponsors the OpenDaylight Summer Internship, which is described as a collaborative open-source project that aims to accelerate adoption of software-defined networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).

Some private sector businesses offer support, as well. Toptal, a company that enables businesses to hire remote, fully vetted, experienced software developers, provides scholarships to women contributing to open-source projects. Applicants must be over 13 and can come from anywhere in the world; there are no educational requirements. The company’s senior management has tremendous enthusiasm for open-source inclusiveness and flexibility; its first three winners came from undeveloped countries.

One-Day Events

There are a number of one-day events that provide excellent introductions to open source. A representative sampling includes: The Anita Borg Institute’s Open Source Day at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the yearly, all-female hackathon Pearl Hacks, and Django Girls, a one-day workshop, that takes place in cities around the world that focuses on programming in Python and Django.

Another way to get involved in the space is to attend local open-source conferences and meetups. A lot of the community based programs are low cost and have content intended for beginners.

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