In Tuesday afternoon’s “Kernel Internship Report and Outreachy Panel” session at LinuxCon North America, interns and mentors involved with the Outreachy program spoke enthusiastically of their experiences with the program. The panel was moderated by Karen M. Sandler, Executive Director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, and organizer of Outreachy.
Sandler provided an overview of the Outreachy program, which offers a paid three-month internship for women and other underrepresented groups to work on a free and open source software project. Helen M Koike Fornazier, a former Outreachy intern and now a Software Engineer at Collabora, described her Linux kernel project involving video4linux, with Laurent Pinchart as her mentor. She wrote a driver, which simulates some media hardware using the Media API.
Although Fornazier’s work didn’t get merged into into main kernel, she is still developing it and hopes to get it merged later. Overall, she said, her goals within the project were met. She wrote a driver from scratch and was offered a great opportunity. “Outreachy helped a lot,” Fornazier said, noting that getting a real project to work on was key. “It’s easier than you think,” she added.
Bhaktipriya “Bhakti” Shridhar’s work, mentored by Tejun Heo, involved improving work queue implementation in the Linux kernel and removing 280 legacy workqueue interface users. Shridhar, who heard about Outreachy at school, found the Linux kernel community very supportive and expressed a wish that she could participate again.
“Having a special space for women and newbies is important. All your questions are encouraged and answered,” Shridhar said.
Outreachy allows participants to do only one internship but many go on to participate in other projects, such as the Google Summer of Code, or form new local groups, according to Sandler. “Our interns take our values and spread the ideas elsewhere,” she said.
Former Outreachy mentor Tiffany Antopolski, who is now a teacher at Mohawk College and volunteer with Kids on Computers, said her involvement with Outreachy provided momentum and helped her discover a love of teaching.
“None of this would have happened without Outreachy,” she said. “In many ways, it changed my life.”
Red Hat engineer and Outreachy mentor Rik van Riel said mentoring seemed like a good way to get more involved with the project. He said it was very satisfying to teach people and help them find the answer. He noted that communication was vital to success.
“Interns needs to ask questions,” he said. “If they are quiet, reach out to them.” The community can be intimidating, and you have to make sure participants stay engaged and keep asking questions. “Sometimes you just need to point them in the right direction,” he added.
Antopolski agreed, saying, she tells interns, “I’m not here to teach you how to code; I’m here to motivate you.” To be a mentor, she added, you have to be excited about it. “You have to love the project and you have to want to teach people.”
van Riel said participants mainly need to learn how to work within the kernel community. They already know how to program, he said, but they need to learn how to write changelogs, for example, and become familiar with the overall process.
For those considering getting involved, Shridhar’s advice is to be bold, be curious, and be open. “If you find something that you like, pursue it,” said Antopolski.
Currently, Outreachy internships are open internationally to women (cis and trans), trans men, and genderqueer people. Additionally, they are open to residents and nationals of the United States of any gender who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latin, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. They are planning to expand the program to other participants in the future.