In June, I went to AdaCamp, a wonderful unconference for women in open technology and culture. It led me to becoming a regular volunteer on an open source software project — OpenHatch, a community that it is itself dedicated to helping newcomers in open source! This has been fun.
Around AdaCamp, OpenHatch kept getting mentioned, and I also met Shauna and Asheesh, who were great. But I didn’t understand OpenHatch yet, and I wasn’t sure I could help. I’m not a programmer — I’m a community manager (for Cydia), which includes skills such as forum moderating and documentation editing. Tasks beyond code usually aren’t listed in bug trackers…and I also assumed that they were being taken care of by other great people.
One concrete step leads to another
In July, I saw Asheesh at another conference, the Community Leadership Summit. After I told him I didn’t know what I could contribute, he came up with the idea that I could answer emails sent to OpenHatch. This was a perfect start for me: it’s a very concrete task that needs to be done, and many questions can be answered with just a bit of research and friendliness.
As I learned more about the project, I found I could help answer questions on the IRC channel too. Since I had a sense of what was happening, I started adding to the newsletter. By August, I found myself reporting bugs and helping other people work on fixing bugs, because I’d learned a lot about the website. Since October, I’ve been an active member of the publicity team too, writing and editing updates on our blog and social media sites.
I help make OpenHatch friendlier, in every part of the project I can find, and being friendly is essential to its goals of helping a wide variety of people. Friendliness helps those who aren’t already used to navigating projects, or who might not already feel they belong.
Why I’ve stuck with OpenHatch
I know that friendliness matters to newcomers. I’d been interested in contributing to other projects before, but my previous attempts didn’t go anywhere. I would update a bit of obscure documentation and wonder if that effort was worth my time, or I would sift through bug trackers, trying to find bugs to verify and feeling very lost — and I didn’t realize I should find a way to ask for help, even if it meant asking in the channels geared toward developers. Sometimes I’d look at a project that felt friendly, but all the non-coding tasks looked like big time commitments, and I just wanted to start with something small.
So like Mandar, OpenHatch is the first non-work open source project I’ve contributed significantly to. There’s something funny about newcomers to open source contributing to OpenHatch itself, rather than being launched into another open source community, but I enjoy helping other new people. Like Mark, I care about helping people grow from consuming software to developing a critical and creative relationship with software. This is one of my motivations for my work as well — people who jailbreak a closed device and tinker with it for fun also learn a lot about software in the process.
I believe that a thoughtful relationship with software is important for everyone who uses software, but there is also huge demand for professional developers and other people who work with software, and working on open source projects is an effective way for beginners (and non-beginners!) to grow their skills. It is important to me that OpenHatch is specifically interested in helping women and other underrepresented people be among those beginners.
It started in person
OpenHatch was successful in turning me from a prospective contributor into a contributor, and I want many more people to meet OpenHatch too and also become convinced to work on projects they care about.
That’s also why I donated to our Open Source Comes to Campus fundraising campaign. My experience is an example of the importance of meeting people face to face, and these events provide that. We’ve run seven events by co-organizing with women in computing groups, and six other events this year. I hope you’ll click and let the busking baby penguin, informative graphs, and smiling people convince you!
A little less than a year ago, I was asked to direct OpenHatch‘s Open Source Comes to Campus event series. Open Source Comes to Campus is a workshop designed to introduce college students to open source, to teach them how to use tools like version control and issue trackers, and to guide them through making their first contributions. When I joined, OpenHatch was averaging two events a year. I was asked, hopefully, if I could run seven events in 2013.
The year did not begin auspiciously. I accidentally scheduled the first event for Presidents’ Day Weekend. We had less than a dozen people show up that snowy morning. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun, and the day seemed like a success when one of our attendees, Jane, grinned widely and said: “Today has been very empowering for me regarding my computer and the ways I can manipulate it.” I scribbled it down on a napkin so I wouldn’t forget it.
Since then, we’ve run twelve more events, nearly doubling our goal from the start of the year. We’ve been to big cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as small college towns like Wellesley, Amherst, Lafayette and Morris, Minnesota. We’ve taught hundreds of students, and thanks to the generosity of our hosts at Northeastern, UMass-Amherst, CCSF, and UIC, who opened their door to students from other local schools, we’ve been able to reach students we would have missed otherwise. We’ve met some amazing people, gotten some thought-provoking questions, and seen some… interesting creations. Through trial and error we’ve been able to make some big improvements to our process and our curriculum. It’s been a great year.
But for every event we’ve successfully run, there’s been another we couldn’t get to. Aside from one part-time staff member (me), OpenHatch is made up of volunteers. We don’t have the time or the money to run events in all of the places we’ve been asked to run them, whether that’s in faraway places like Alaska, India or Australia, or closer to home.
Scaling our events
Our solution? Open Source Comes to Campus In a Box. We’re carefully documenting every part of our events, from the materials we present to the way we build our publicity websites, from food and space checklists to templates of all the emails we send. Our hope is that local organizers will be able to use our materials to run their own events, as has happened with our Python Workshops.
We’ve already had one success story. In late November, an enthusiastic group of students from Princeton’s Women in Computer Science pulled off a great event with over thirty attendees, the first accomplishment of their newly-created open source club. They’ve given us some valuable feedback about how to improve both our events and how we document them. We’re excited to keep going! Boston University will be running a similar event in the spring, and we’re looking for more schools who are interested.
Our efforts to improve and scale Open Source Comes to Campus have paid off in other ways as well. Because our materials are now online, we can tell students who will be arriving late to check out a lecture or activity ahead of time. We can also use the activities on their own at other events: I gave our open source communications tools presentation at AdaCamp, and ran our hands-on git activity at BarCamp Boston. Thinking hard about how to improve the contributions workshop led to a (still in beta) guide for open source projects on how to become more accessible. It also led to a carefully curated set of first tasks, supplied by OpenHatch-affiliated projects. These tasks are ideal for attendees at our events, as well as for newcomers who reach out to us online.
We’re always looking for help with Open Source Comes to Campus. How can you get involved? If you’re affiliated with a college or university, you can host an event. If you’re an open source aficionado who’d like to volunteer as a mentor, you can sign up to be notified when there’s an event in your area. If you have an open source project you’d like to welcome newcomers to, you can become an OpenHatch affiliated project. You can help us with the issues in our issue tracker, give us feedback on our materials, and you can always, always join us on IRC.
If you’re financially able, you can donate to support us, too. Your contributions, sponsorships from companies like Puppet Labs, Github and Google, and the effort of dozens of volunteers have made it possible for us to reach more than 200 students this year.
Mandar and I (Britta) both hang out in the OpenHatch IRC channel, and I asked him to write a little about his experience as a relatively new contributor to the project.
I’m a semi-recent Masters graduate from the University of Michigan, and I live in Ann Arbor, where I work in the field of computer networks. I started programming a little in high school, studied electrical engineering, and became interested in Python while using it in data analysis projects in college.
I don’t remember how I found OpenHatch, but it was probably through searching for something like “how to contribute to open source”. I found a couple of bugs in OpenHatch and reported them. I also hung out on #openhatch on Freenode, and the people there were very supportive toward contributing. So, I decided to submit some patches to try and fix some of the issues with the site. They were reviewed and accepted pretty quickly.
Before this, I had been using open source software for a while, but the closest I got to contributing code on a volunteer basis was doing data analysis for non-profits at the A2 DataDive event. We put our efforts on GitHub, but they were largely one-time.
What is it like to participate in OpenHatch?
Contributing to open source projects often requires a relatively large amount of activation energy – including complicated workflows with CC’ing people on emails, mailing patches, filing a bug with a Request For Packaging, etc. In contrast, I have found this to be fairly low for OpenHatch – you submit a pull request on GitHub, and it gets reviewed.
I have also found help with contributing to other projects from people I first talked to on #openhatch, specifically Paul Tagliamonte who walked me through how to package a simple project for Debian.
What are your goals for OpenHatch, and for yourself?
OpenHatch aims to index bugs from different Open Source projects and collect them in one place; so people who are interested can work on them. Indexing these bugs from all the different bugtrackers can be hard — for example, you don’t really want to showcase a bug that has already been fixed by someone else, but hasn’t been closed. I think there is ample scope for improving the existing interface, which I would love to work towards.
For myself — I work on Open Source primarily on a hobbyist basis, because I love to tinker with things. Yet, since my college days, I have found great value in using Free and Open Source software such as Emacs, git, and Debian GNU/Linux. So far, I have liberally used the “free as in beer” aspect of it; I might like to give back by contributing to some of these projects via the “free as in speech” bit.
You can learn more about what OpenHatch has been working on (and support it with a donation) on our 2014 fundraising page.
On Wednesday, September 25th and Thursday, September 26th we ran our fourteenth Open Source Comes to Campus event, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Thanks to Women in Computer Science at UIC for hosting! Check out the gallery of the best photos from the event (and the other ones).
- This was our first two-day event, and the different structure really changed the event. It emphasized for us the importance of getting our teaching materials online and in great shape. It was very helpful to be able to point attendees to, for instance, the Git training mission as a way to catch up on what they missed the day before. It would have been even better if we could point those who only came the first day to resources for what they were missing the next day. Since this event, we’ve put many of our materials online.
- Because many attendees could only make one night, there was a great deal of duplicated material. Projects time was much shorter than usual, and almost all of the attendees chose to work on a single project: my effort to digitize the 1870s radical feminist magazine, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly (read more on Wikipedia). A number of attendees did transcription while others helped with documentation and helped me brainstorm better ways to organize the project.
- Our career panel was part-local, part-remote, with Chicago-area mentor Beth Lynn Eicher in person and Sumana Harihareswara and Marina Zhurakhinskaya joining by video conference. This is the second time we’ve had remote participants in a career panel, and the second time it’s gone off pretty flawlessly. Previously we’ve invited remote participants only as a backup when our mentors haven’t been interested in doing the career panel, but there’s something to be said for the diversity of experiences you get when you can draw from anywhere. We tried to record the career panel, and got as far as setting up a Google Hangouts On Air, but forgot to hit the record button!
- Thanks to WiCS/UIC’s generosity in opening up the event to all women students, we had sign ups from thirteen different area schools, including Chicago State, University of Chicago, Loyola, Robert Morris, DePaul, DeVry, Dominican University, Northeastern Illinois University, and of course, UIC.
- This was our first explicitly women only event. (Although one previous event, held at Wellesley College, had all women attendees due to the student body.) This created an interesting and enjoyable dynamic. Several times during the two evenings spontaneous discussions emerged about the obstacles involved in being a woman in technology.
As always, our Open Source Comes to Campus events are possible thanks to our sponsors. Special thanks to Puppet Labs for their Bronze sponsorship, and to GitHub for funding food.
This is a guest post by OpenHatch volunteer marktraceur (Mark Holmquist).
I spend some of my free time practicing and thinking about a form of acrobatics called parkour. In parkour, one tries to find the most efficient path from one point to another, often with various obstacles in the path. After practicing for a few days, you may find yourself with “traceur goggles” – seeing walls and rails differently, seeing moves in the landscape before even approaching the obstacles themselves, even when outside of training. This effect wears off over time, but it’s exhilarating.
As a software engineer, I feel like I see something similar to “traceur goggles” when I use computers. I often find myself interacting with software, not only hoping to do something useful like write a blog post or send an email, but also aware of how the interface might be better, how it could be faster, or how to fix one bug or another in the program. The untrained eye might look at a wall as just something to walk around, or to signify a forbidden area, where a traceur might see something to climb up. Where someone without software development experience sees a tool for sending emails, a programmer might see an opportunity to build something cool.
This is an important aspect of how we build excitement in new contributors to free software projects, too. When new programmers, or even experienced programmers who are new to free software, enter the scene, they often start seeing lots of projects they could contribute to and help with. They see a lot of ways they could make Firefox better, or Ubuntu easier to use, or emacs a little faster. Maybe they catch bugs in OpenHatch, or GNU MediaGoblin, and report them to the bug tracker. They might even build their own project to fill a need in the community. The excitement of finding bugs, helping projects, and building your own projects that people will actually use, is a power that is hard to match.
But when you’re wearing “traceur goggles”, you realize that private property, or public property with posted signs, is not ideal for practicing parkour. “No parkour” and “no trespassing” signs restrict creative expression, causing frustration when you see you won’t be able to overcome a cool-looking obstacle. I also get that feeling when I use non-free programs, where source code is not available, or source code is visible but not legally modifiable by third parties. It’s a private property sign that’s often implemented as hard protections in software. Working in free software is like something the parkour scene rarely, if ever, sees – a community building a place where its members can express themselves with fewer restrictions.
But people coming into a free project will often be a bit lost at first, and they may come away with a bad impression. OpenHatch helps avoid that initial confusion by teaching basic skills useful for working on any project. OpenHatch also helps contributors work on their first tasks, such as smaller or easier bugs, which helps them understand the importance of being able to work on the software they use, especially since one way we suggest projects to work on is to ask the prospective contributor which free software programs they use. Helping people change the software they use can also give them new insight into the ideals of the free software movement. Those ideals aren’t essential for starting to work in free software, but they’re important to continuing in the long term even when it gets harder.
I’m excited to see what amazing moves the next generation of programmers bring to the obstacles that have been left for them, and I hope you decide to join us in working on those solutions in the free software world, so everyone else can benefit! You can also support OpenHatch with a donation.
Hi. I’m Asheesh Laroia, OpenHatch’s executive director over the last two years. If you’re reading this, open source software and outreach are important to you. You care about enabling a future where everyone participates in creating the technology we all use; you see diversity as a part of that. You know that creating welcoming communities is
essential to getting more contributors, and you know we need to train the next generation with skills to participate.
Today you can make twice as much difference. An anonymous donor will match your donation to our Open Source Comes to Campus program, for people who donate through Tuesday, December 24 (formerly December 10), up to $5,000. Give here.
OpenHatch’s Open Source Comes to Campus program visits universities, identifies people excited about open source but not sure how to start, and helps them submit their first patch. We’ve been doing that since 2010, and diversity has always been on our mind. Our first event was attended by 33% women.
I try to stay humble, but I’m proud that we organized almost twice as many events in 2013 as we planned! We aimed for 7; we hit 13. More than half were with women in computing groups. We pulled it off through Shauna Gordon-McKeon’s focus on documenting and polishing our curriculum; through 13 amazing campus groups that invited us; and through donations and sponsorships that made it all possible.
Starting today, your donation will go twice as far, as long as it’s still Tuesday December 24 (formerly Dec 10) or earlier anywhere in the world. So — check out 2013 in review on our donate page!
Also, it’s easy to volunteer at Open Source Comes to Campus events; email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
As alluded to in the latest newsletter, today we are kicking off OpenHatch’s end-of-year fundraising drive to continue making free, open source software communities more vibrant, friendly, and diverse. You can help!
This year, your donation will primarily support OpenHatch’s Open Source Comes to Campus program. OpenHatch expanded the Open Source Comes to Campus program and refined its curriculum heavily in 2013, running workshops on 13 different campuses–more than all previous years combined!
Open Source Comes to Campus is a series of workshops held on college campuses for introducing students to free software ideals, concepts, and tools, and walking them through making their first contributions to a free software project of their choice. For each event, we bring local free software project leaders to campus to help students get started in their project and meet real people who improve free software for work and for fun.
“Today has been very empowering for me regarding my computer and the ways I can manipulate it.”
— Attendee at Harvard’s Open Source Comes to Campus event
For the 2014 fundraising drive, we have a variety of donation tiers, with corresponding thank-you gifts at each tier:
- Fan: ≥ $5/month or $20: Stickers and our sincere thanks!
- Supporter: ≥ $10/month or $150: Thanks, stickers, and an OpenHatch t-shirt!
- Aficionado: ≥ $20/month or $300: All of the above, plus an original, custom sketch of Sufjan the baby penguin!
- Impresario: ≥ $60/month or $1000: All of the above, and an OpenHatch soccer-style knit scarf!
- Patron: ≥ $120/month or $2000: All of the above, plus we will send you a delicious pie.
Large or small, monthly or lump-sum, we at OpenHatch value everyone’s contributions. Donations from individuals and corporations who believe in OpenHatch’s mission are the only way that our work gets funded, so this end-of-year fundraising drive is incredibly important. I hope you will join me in donating this year!
Welcome to OpenHatch newsletter number 16.
We’re soon to launch a fundraising campaign to support Open Source Comes to Campus through 2014. Take a peek! We’ll provide compelling stories and reasons during the campaign, but if you’re reading this newsletter you probably already “get it”. Donate early and often. ;-)
Open Source Comes to Campus: Princeton was held November 24.
As part of our activites funded by a Python Software Foundation grant, Asheesh Laroia remotely coached Python Dominican Republic through holding its first project night (Spanish). Exciting to see this welcoming community building methodology spread!
We’ve been continuing our efforts to thoroughly document how we run our events. One part of that is creating screencasts of our curriculum. You can see our Open Source communications tools lecture, as well as a transcript, source slides, and walkthrough on the OpenHatch wiki. We welcome feedback!
A very practical thread on the OpenHatch events list: Strategies for getting information from venue hosts.
New projects in the OpenHatch volunteer opportunity finder
- Adaptive Image Deconvolution Algorithm (AIDA), a way to clean up photos, especially for scientific applications such as astronomy and microscope images.
- OpenSpending, which “aims to build and use open source tools and datasets to gather and analyse the financial transactions of governments around the world”, supported by the wonderful Open Knowledge Foundation.
- Stratagus, “a free cross-platform real-time strategy gaming engine”, with several games that run on this engine (and a long history!).
- Zero-K Multiplatform RTS, another real-time strategy gaming project, aiming to be “full of clever strategies and constantly moving combat with games lasting an average 20-30 minutes”.
OpenHatchy but not OpenHatch things around the web
David Revoy’s illustrated Building Krita for Cats is fun to look at, and a great example of the kind of friendly and leave-nothing-to-guessing documentation that helps newcomers be successful in making their first contribution. For context, Krita is an open source paint program, with an emphasis on artistic illustration, and Revoy was art director for Blender’s third open move, Sintel.
The Ada Initiative has a great interview with Karen Sandler on the impact of the Outreach Program for Women:
One of the things that I love about the program is that many of the women who come through it wind up being our best advocates. Some of our former participants have gone on to speak about the program at conferences and in their communities. Some other participants become mentors in future rounds. One participant now serves on GNOME’s board of directors and is our treasurer. So as the program progresses more people become active in shaping it. We’ve been growing it organically within GNOME infrastructure so as the program expands beyond GNOME it benefits from the influence of new mentors and advocates.
John Mark on the social responsibility of open source communities:
If we really want to rid the world or proprietary software, I don’t see how we can do that without adding in people who currently do not actively participate in open source communities.
This holiday season, let’s think about the social responsibility of open source communities and its participants. Let’s think about ways we can bring the under-represented into the fold.
In 1960, 94 percent of doctors and lawyers were white men. By 2008, the fraction was just 62 percent. Similar changes in other highly-skilled occupations have occurred throughout the U.S. economy during the last fifty years. Given that innate talent for these professions is unlikely to differ across groups, the occupational distribution in 1960 suggests that a substantial pool of innately talented black men, black women, and white women were not pursuing their comparative advantage. This paper measures the macroeconomic consequences of the remarkable convergence in the occupational distribution between 1960 and 2008 through the prism of a Roy model. We find that 15 to 20 percent of growth in aggregate output per worker over this period may be explained by the improved allocation of talent.
Perhaps this gives an indication, purely in labor maket/productivity terms, of how huge the costs are of lack of diversity in IT, and its cutting edge, open source. In addition to primary concerns of fairness and justice.
Also check out links submitted to /r/openhatch, and add your finds!
Thanks to Britta Gustafson and Shauna Gordon-McKeon for contributing to this edition!
OSCTC Chicago / CC-BY-SA
Welcome to OpenHatch newsletter number 15.
Reports on two recent OSCTC events: Indiana University and Purdue University, and another excellent Infrequently Asked Questions about open source post based on actual discussion with students at the Indiana University event.
Photos from several OSCTC events.
New projects in the OpenHatch volunteer opportunity finder
- arkOS, “a project to help users self-host their websites, email, files and more”.
- Navit, “a crossplatform and modular opensource navigation system, using OpenStreetMap for offline routing”.
Behind the scenes
We held a release planning meeting on October 8 on IRC, and we followed that up with a new idea: holding “office hours”, a scheduled informal check-in on IRC once a week so that multiple contributors are likely to be online at the same time. This was fun, and it turned out to be a good chance for potential new contributors to talk about their ideas and ask questions. We’ll keep announcing these meetings on the devel mailing list for anyone interested.
OpenHatchy but not OpenHatch things around the web
Thoughtful post by Kaia Dekker on the XOXO conference and diversity, including a “wishlist of eleven men of color and women that I would love to see at XOXO next year, or really, see at any tech/arts/maker conference I go to.” We’re tickled to read the first name on that list:
Asheesh Laroia is a coder and co-founder of Open Hatch, an organization that helps people learn to create and contribute to open source and collaborative software projects.
Dale Harvey on problems getting started in open source.
Also check out links submitted to /r/openhatch, and add your finds!
Thanks to Britta Gustafson for contributing to this edition!
- A pair of students were interested in tackling bugs in Octave, a language for data manipulation, computation and visualization. Setting up a development environment in Windows, which both of the students were using, proved difficult – so they focused instead on setting up linux virtual machines on their computers.
- One advanced attendee, who had previously worked on BioPython, dived into the project and looked at two different bugs. She improved project documentation and contributed to a discussion about how to implement a new feature. She also contributed to MediaGoblin by creating a patch for a configuration error.
- When people picture themselves contributing to open source projects, they don’t usually see themselves testing other people’s patches, but it’s a very useful contribution. One student confirmed that a patch worked and contributed to an ongoing discussion about what the final fix should be.
- Another attendee found that a bug in svg-edit had been fixed but not released, so that users were still having trouble. He left a comment to this effect.
- One student worked remotely with a maintainer of PsychoPy to set up the development environment and become more familiar with the project.
- A group of students tried to fix what seemed like a straightforward bug in Privly but had a lot of difficulty getting the development environment set up. See the ‘Errata’ section for more on this.
- You can see the group who worked on the Privly bug in the photo at the top of the page. Their description of the issues they encountered: “lots of downloads, need an approved account to have access… had to create own database on localhost… tears clouding vision”. While they still had a great time, this experience made it clear to us that we need to do a much better job of picking projects to work on, and make sure that we’ve vetted the development environment setup process thoroughly. Since the Purdue event we’ve focused on having a smaller number of high quality/highly prepped projects, and we think it’s showing major benefits.
- We had 25 attendees at the event, many of whom were non-CS majors thanks to our efforts to improve outreach to science majors. Part of that effort involves identifying and publicizing to potential attendees the many amazing open source science projects out there. You can help us with that.
- We introduced two major changes to our curriculum at this event:
- A ‘Bug Comprehension’ activity where students pair up and read the issue tracker threads for two delightfully strange bugs: a problem with the Android calendar where the month of December was missing and a bug where Open Office doesn’t print on Tuesdays.
- ‘Practicing Git’, a hands-on group activity where students practice forking and cloning repositories, making changes, and submitting pull requests by changing a toy project. You can see our student handout for the project and one of the repositories students worked on.
We hope to have longer posts up soon which will elaborate on these curriculum changes and why we made them.
- To continue the trend of ‘recommended reading lists’ a few mentors and students got into a discussion on good readings for women in technology and science:
- And to continue another trend: the phrase of this event was “rubber ducking” – the practice of asking your questions to a rubber duck or other inanimate object in the hopes that the process of clearly defining your question will help you answer it.