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News — 19 March, 2024

HOT’s Outreachy journey

Follow Petya Kangalova, HOT's Networks and Engagement Lead, as she talks about the importance of mentorship in the open-source tech space and how our partnership with Outreachy promotes inclusivity.

Hello everyone,

My name is Petya Kangalova, and I have been working at the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) for just over two years, first as a Tech Collective Facilitator and now as the Networks and Engagement Lead. I would describe myself as an open tech advocate, community facilitator, and a passionate proponent for more diversity and inclusion in the tech industry… which leads me to this blog! As an Outreachy mentor, I wanted to share here why HOT has participated in Outreachy, what Outreachy is and why it is important to get involved in such programs!

What is Outreachy?

Outreachy is a program that organizes and supports internships in open source and open science, focusing on people subject to systemic bias and impacted by underrepresentation in the technical industry where they are living. These three-month internships are paid and remote, with the support of the Software Freedom Conservancy. Many different organizations apply to participate in Outreachy, and HOT is one of them. These organizations suggest an open-source project, assign a project coordinator alongside one or two mentors who review applications during a contribution period, and mentor the intern during their three-month involvement.

HOT’s Outreachy journey

Open source is at the heart of the HOT tech community. At HOT, we collectively create and build open-source tools and run our projects with an open-source ethos, ensuring anyone can contribute and collaborate. A strong part of that is also creating an inclusive space for our contributors where people feel welcome, and Outreachy’s core ethos aligns with our values/mission. That is what led us to partner with Outreachy in different instances until this day:

2020: Our first encounter with Outreachy

HOT’s very first involvement with Outreachy was back in 2020, before I joined the HOT team. The team proposed four project ideas covering programming, design, and product management. Here you can read an overview of what we learned after that first involvement. Speaking to the HOT staff involved then, I know that dedicating enough time to mentorship alongside their day jobs was a challenge, in addition to not having a community facilitator, which was the role I performed when I joined HOT in 2022. That year, the team grew and was going through a period of planning/direction setting, and while I wanted to jump in straight and add some projects for Outreachy, we agreed that it wasn’t the right timing to really dedicate sufficient time for the future interns.

May - August 2023: Technical documentation

HOT joined Outreachy again in 2023! We identified a key gap in our process: the need for improved technical documentation for people to contribute to and support the development of HOT products. This area is often overlooked when talking about open-source contributions, so the project we proposed focused on this. Rob Savoye, HOT’s senior tech lead, was the best person to provide mentorship in this project, as not only does he have a wealth of developer experience but if you speak to him “the importance of documentation” will definitely come at some point in the discussion. My role was both a coordinator and a co-mentor with Rob.

The contribution period was overwhelming at the start due to the high number of applications, but it was all worth it, especially hearing the feedback from those unsuccessful applicants who were so appreciative of the work and felt passionate to continue contributing to HOT! In the end, Neelima Mohanty, based in India and studying computer science and engineering, was the successful intern who worked with us for three months. Neelima went above and beyond during the contribution period, working on several issues simultaneously and showcasing her close attention to detail, dedication, and strong work ethic, which were such a motivation for me to see! During the internship, she improved the documentation on tools currently being developed at HOT, such as the Field Mapping Tasking Manager (FMTM) and fAIr.

You can read more details about Neelima’s experience in her blogs. As her mentor, some of the biggest highlights were when Neelima stepped out of her comfort zone and presented at the Code for All Summit and also when she took part in her very first podcast about the role of internships and mentorship. Seeing her grow in her technical skills and confidence in speaking with external audiences has made me extremely proud of her.

OutreachyOpenCodeForAllPoster.jpeg Part of the poster for the Code for All Summit 2023, where HOT’s Outreachy intern Neelima Mohanty presented part of her work developing the technical documentation for HOT’s FMTM

December 2023 - March 2024: Tech community engagement

After the success of the previous round and seeing Neelima’s journey as an intern, I was committed to HOT participating in the next round of Outreachy internships. The experience with Neelima really showed me why dedicating time to mentorships matters: because it impacts people…and people are at the core of what we do! This time around, I faced another challenge: identifying mentors due to time and capacity. Not being a developer myself, I thought, “What project can I propose that I have the right skills to mentor on?”. That’s how I came up with the idea of having an intern who can highlight the important role that community managers/enablers play in the tech space! Therefore, the project we proposed to Outreachy focused purely on tech community engagement. This time, I acted as the project coordinator and sole mentor for this project.

The contribution period was another really busy month, receiving a lot of excitement from potential applicants tasked with producing engaging videos. Competing with many strong applications, Eden Oluigbo became the successful applicant. He went above and beyond during the contribution period, engaging and supporting fellow applicants. Joining us from Abuja, Nigeria, Eden was a true star - he shined from day 1. He had already set a process for us to collaborate as mentor and mentee, was not afraid to ask questions in sessions he joined, and what I really valued was that he brought ideas and creativity to the work. He had to juggle multiple tasks, which is part of engaging people in communities. During his internship, Eden played a critical role in facilitating sessions, leading skillshares, and producing amazing and creative video content. You can read Eden’s journey in his diaries here. If, after reading them, you are inspired and want to contribute to HOT’s open-source project, I would encourage you to watch this step-by-step video produced by Eden and hear some advice from existing contributors.

What’s next and how to get involved?

If you are wondering what is happening NOW, well, I am happy to say that we are taking part in the next round of Outreachy (May - August 2024) - this time even bigger and better! For this round, I will only act as the project coordinator, and my role will be to support the mentors on the two projects we proposed to Outreachy. The first project will focus on creating a Python-based mobile application to collect OpenStreetMap data in the field. This project will be led by mentor Sam Woodcock, who is a full stack developer at HOT for FMTM, bringing plenty of experience in open source and geospatial tech. The second project will focus on creating backed tests and API documentation for some of the HOT tech staff. Kshitij Raj Sharma, an open-source geospatial developer at HOT and a dedicated mapper, will lead this project.

What’s even more exciting for this round of internships is that we will have Eden and Olushola Ogunkelu (Shola) (another past Outreachy intern) as co-mentors with Sam and Kshitij. Both Eden and Shola are based in Nigeria, and I am so happy to see them on this journey of growing and becoming mentors themselves, sharing the lessons learned for the next generation of interns!

If you are wondering how to get involved, here are a few suggestions:

  • If you are an Outreachy applicant, we would encourage you to choose our projects with Outreachy and contribute by April 2nd (note: only accepted Outreachy applicants can join the contributor phase)
  • If you are an organization thinking about joining Outreachy with a potential project, then I hope this blog has inspired you
  • If you are thinking about becoming a mentor, whether via Outreachy or not, I hope we have inspired you. At HOT, the Community Working Group also runs a mentorship initiative you can apply for (more details for the 2024 round coming soon)

Last but not least, the main thing I say to all Outreachy applicants is the following: open-source contributions do not start or end with Outreachy or a specific program! You can contribute at any time! Go to our Github page or join the HOT Tech and Innovation Working Group.

Keep an eye for my next blog where I will be sharing stories from existing open-source tech contributors to HOT tools.

Until next time!