1. On societal factors that contribute to less Blacks & Latinos in FOSS:

    On the difficulty of establishing networks in the FOSS community:

    "She says that while using open-source might be beneficial to some applicants who don’t have traditional tech backgrounds, requiring that applicants have open-source experience might exacerbate the coding gap. Newcomers to the space might not get onto the "right" projects because they don’t "know" the people working on them. "Participation in the open-source community is a function of comfort in the community before that," Haibel says."

    —From "Why Isn’t Free and Open Source A Gateway for Coders of Color?" by Gene Demby

    I can certainly admit to having faced several of the aforementioned barriers to contributing to the FOSS community.  Prior to Hacker School, time and lack of a network were my biggest issues.  Having a full-time job left me with very little energy in the evenings and on the weekend to pursue side projects, and even when I was able to muster up the energy, I had no idea where to start or how to find projects that would be most interesting and conducive to my learning goals (I also had no idea how to begin figuring out what my learning goals even were).

    Coming to Hacker School was my way of carving out the time I knew I needed to get more involved as a developer.  I was fortunate enough to have enough savings to financially support myself throughout these past 3 months; however, many would find it to be a rather large undertaking to be unemployed, move across the country and live for 3+ months in New York City as I have (though Hacker School does provide a sizable scholarship for women applicants!).  I recognize I am lucky in that way and I think solving the problem of having even more people be in such a position is a very difficult task.

    Through Hacker School, and the launch this batch of their Maintainers Program, I was able to get a lot of exposure to specific projects within the FOSS community.  I got to meet the maintainer of the Julia Language and speak with him directly on the most interesting and pertinent bugs that needed fixing.  Being able to put a face to the project, in a sense, really made it easier for me to connect with the project and want to get more involved in the community.  It also eliminated any intimidation I felt about reaching out to members of the Julia community and making pull requests on Github or seeking code reviews.

    The often most championed benefit of the FOSS community is the ability to just jump in and start, but that can also be what makes it the most intimidating experience as a newcomer.  However, after spending the last few weeks of my time at Hacker School getting more involved with the Julia community, I realized that jumping in feet first gets less scary once you actually push yourself to do it and that the community is usually pretty supportive and willing to catch you once you make the jump.

    As is probably already very obvious, Hacker School has been the ultimate catalyst for my foray into the land of FOSS.  Unfortunately, not everyone can go to Hacker School (though if you think you can make it work, you should *totally* apply!!) so the next best thing would be to make time whenever you can to search sites like Github and OpenHatch and reach out to the maintainers of projects that seem interesting to you.  Consider what your learning goals are (do you want to know a specific language better?  do you want to experiment with a new language or platform? do you want an opportunity for code review?) and use that as your filter for searching through the various projects available.

    I think it’s also important to keep in mind that no fix is ever too small and contributions are always welcome.  Before working with Julia, I would often talk myself out of pursuing bug fixes on other projects because I was afraid it would be considered frivolous or not worth anyone’s time.  After I started contributing, however, I soon realized that any help a contributor provides is always appreciated and that what matters even more is what I get out of the experience.

    One program I would strongly recommend checking out is the Outreach Program for Women, whose entire goal is to help more women get involved and make code contributions in the FOSS community.  The program’s focus is on providing direct and personal mentorship, support and guidance on a whole set of FOSS projects (which include Wikimedia, Mozilla, Gnome, RedHat Linux, Open Stack, Rackspace, etc.).  The program also allows participants to work remotely so they don’t have to relocate, and each applicant gets a stipend of $5500 over the course of the 3 months she will spend working on her project.

    The takeaway message here is to seek out people, whether they be individuals or programs, already involved in the FOSS community who can help you figure out how to get involved, or at least introduce you to other people and projects that you may find interesting.  Hacker School was and still is the best decision I have ever made in that regard (in *several* regards, really) and it has exposed me to a myriad of projects with plenty of opportunities to contribute.  However, there are also a ton of other resources, e.g. the Outreach Program for Women, that also help remove some of the barriers that may often make it more difficult for women and/or minority programmers to get involved.

    Have you contributed to a FOSS project?  What has your experience been like? Respond on Tumblr or shoot me an email at blackfemalecoders@gmail.com.

     
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    Keep in mind that when Unix was being developed (1970s), the rest of the country was in deep turmoil. The academics...
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