For Ada Lovelace Day this year, we decided to profile some of the women who have helped us organize and run our Open Source Comes to Campus events. The five women below are just a few of the dozens of amazing hosts and mentors we’ve had the honor of working with.
Kristian invited OpenHatch to Wellesley College after hearing about us from Sumana Harihareswara, who gave a talk at Wellesley about women in open source last year. She understood that open source sometimes has a steep learning curve and hoped that OpenHatch could help guide her and her fellow students through the first steps of that process. Kristian, who also revived the Computer Science Club on her campus, is a great organizer and helped us get the event smoothly before settling down to take everything in as a student. By the end of the day she had submitted a patch to the official Python documentation, which was accepted a few days later.
Kristian began programming during an introductory class her freshman year, and fell in love with it immediately. According to Kristian, “Open source came into the picture after realizing that I’m utilizing all these languages and technologies for free and wanted to give back.” She adds that it’s a great way to exercise computer science skills in a real world setting.
Kristian graduated from Wellesley last spring and joined Carbonite, Inc as an associate software engineer. She hopes to eventually co-found her own technology company and to help inspire women to support each other when navigating careers in technology.
Molly was one of the main hosts/organizers for our event at Northeastern University this summer. Because the event was open to all students, Molly helped bring open source not just to NEU but to people from a dozen different schools. In addition to organizing the event, Molly helped as a mentor during the event and joined our career panel to talk about her experiences doing Google Summer of Code.
Molly first got involved with open source at the age of 13, when she began editing Wikipedia. She started programming in late high school, and taking classes at NEU confirmed her interest in computer science. Naturally, her first open source contributions were to MediaWiki, the backend of Wikipedia, with whom she did Google Summer of Code. Her advice to women getting started with open source? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I was really shy about this when I first started programming and contributing patches, but I’ve had almost entirely positive experiences when I ask for help. I usually get really useful answers, and very rarely feel like people are judging me negatively for not knowing exactly how to do something.”
Molly continues as a student at Northeastern and as a volunteer contributor to MediaWiki. She’s also a research assistant with the Lazer Lab at Northeastern on a project to use data from Wikipedia and other sources for election prediction.
Mel was one of the mentors for our recent Open Source Comes to Campus event at Purdue University. This was hardly Mel’s first open source rodeo: she’s a PhD student in Engineering Education at Purdue, a two-time resident at Hacker School, and used to teach professors how to help their students get involved in open source. That experience made her an excellent mentor not just to the students at the event, but to us. Mel provided great feedback after the event, and helped us think through our goals and teaching methods. We put her advice – and a new activity which she brainstormed with us – into action immediately.
She describes her own start in open source: “I started by staring at my computer going ‘wow, Open Source is so cool. I wish I could contribute to it. But I’m not Good Enough yet. I’d better go study more… then I might be Good Enough to help out.’ 6 years and an engineering degree later, I realized this was an endless loop; there was no breakpoint criteria for ‘good enough’, so it would always be ‘better than I am right now, I’d better go and study more.’ At some point, there had to be a beginning, as messy and/or awkward as it might be.”
Mel recommends finding a mentor to help you get started in open source – someone who’s willing to “meet you where you’re at and get you to the point where you feel comfortable contributing independently.” She believes that for most people, the community around a project is more important than the project itself, when you’re getting started.
Devina was one of the lead organizers for our women-only event in Chicago last month. Along with several other members of the University of Illinois-Chicago Women in Computer Science (our hosts), student leaders at other schools, and women active in the Chicago open source community, she helped us pull off an amazing two-night event. An experienced open source programmer, she helped out as a mentor and helped students from across the Chicago area feel welcome at the UIC event.
Devina was introduced to open source when she was 12 and her father brought home a Linux machine. “It was amazing, the machine ran way faster than my emachines, so I used that all the time. Obviously all my teachers scolded me for not turning in a MS Word formatted document (so what else is new). The big push I had in my life for technology was my dad, he really guided me into a field he knew I would be perfect for.”
Devina continues to organize with WiCS. For Ada Lovelace Day, she helped organize and is on a panel about about the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (an event where we had the pleasure of seeing her again.) She’s also planning her first steps towards a longtime dream of hers: building her own operating system. We suspect she’ll be a success at whatever she puts her mind to, whether that’s putting together operating systems – or communities.
Elena is perhaps the single biggest reason for our recent whirlwind tour, in which we visited three states, held five events, and reached over a hundred students from dozens of different schools. Elena first heard about us at a Clojure meetup in Boston, and immediately contacted us, asking us to come to the small, public liberal arts college in Morris, Minnesota where she is a professor of Computer Science. Over a year later, we finally made it out (stopping in Indiana and Illinois along the way.) Thanks to the enthusiasm of Elena and other faculty and students, the Morris event was one of the smoothest, friendliest, most productive events we’ve had.
Elena has three pieces of advice for students entering open source: “Build upon what you are good at and what you are interested in, and don’t be shy about contributing what you are good at. Don’t avoid tasks that look scary or confusing, try them. If it doesn’t work at first, ask someone for help. Don’t get frustrated, new skills take time to develop. And keep on learning: from sources, courses, mentors, etc. This field is developing incredibly fast, and it’s fascinating!”
Elena and her fellow faculty at Morris plan on keeping open source a part of their students’ education, both by running Open Source Comes to Campus-style events in the future and by incorporating open source into their curriculum. Elena also incorporates open source into her poetry – such as this poem written in Clojure.
Thanks so much to Kristian, Molly, Mel, Devina and Elena for agreeing to be profiled in this post. Thanks also to the many other women who have participated in Open Source Comes to Campus over the last year as volunteers, organizers, mentors, and attendees. One of the best things about working with OpenHatch has been getting to know so many brilliant, friendly, giving women in tech, and I hope to keep meeting you all, online and off.
Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!