Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was a 19th-century English mathematician who many consider the first programmer, because she published the most complete and in-depth description of the Analytical Engine, an early computer conceived of -- but never built -- by Charles Babbage. This year, to honor Ada Lovelace's legacy, we want to tell you more about Marina Zhurakhinskaya and Outreachy.
Outreachy coordinators Karen Sandler and Marina Zhurakhinskaya, with Outreachy alums Cindy Pallares (now also a coordinator) and Karen Tang at LibrePlanet 2014.
Marina is an engineer -- she has worked at Red Hat for nearly a
decade, and her work currently focuses on community diversity and
inclusion. She also works with
Outreachy, an internship program that aims to bring
underrepresented groups into the free software community, which
received the Free Software Foundation's Award for Free Software
Projects of Social Benefit in 2014, under its previous name, the
Outreach Program for Women.
Outreachy offers mentored, remote internships in free
software. Participating projects include GNOME, Wikimedia, and
Mozilla. Since 2010, the program has had nearly 250 participants, many
of whom have moved on to jobs in tech, conference presentations, and
giving back to the program by becoming mentors. We conducted an
email interview with Marina to tell us a bit more.
Talk about your new role as senior outreach specialist of community diversity and inclusion at Red Hat. How did your own experience in the tech industry influence your career track at Red Hat? And how did you become involved with Outreachy (formerly the Outreach Program for Women)?
Working as a senior software engineer at Red Hat on the GNOME Project,
I was very impressed by the talent of the project contributors, by how
rewarding it is to work on free software, and by the feeling of
connectedness one gets when collaborating with people all over the
world. Yet, at GUADEC 2009, of approximately 170 attendees, I believe
I was one of only eight women. Of the software developers working on
the entire GNOME project at the time, I was one of only three.
Shortly after that GUADEC, the GNOME Foundation board of directors
asked if I would be willing to lead an outreach effort for GNOME aimed
at bringing women into the community and mentoring participants. I
also got an invitation to participate in the Free Software
Foundation's Women's Caucus and later attended the Women in Free
Software track at LibrePlanet 2010. These events allowed me to learn
about the efforts that already had taken place in free software to
increase participation by women and allowed me to make connections
with other people passionate about this topic. I created the Outreach
Program for Women with the help and support of Stormy Peters – then
GNOME Foundation executive director. Later, the next GNOME Foundation
executive director, Karen Sandler, helped expand the program beyond
GNOME to include many free software communities.
As the Outreach Program for Women grew, I switched to a role of
community engagement lead at Red Hat, combining GNOME community
management and coordination of the program. At the same time, I was
gaining more experience in diversity by following the resources
created by the Ada Initiative and others who wrote about diversity
issues, attending AdaCamps, and later joining the board of advisors
and board of directors for the Ada Initiative. In 2015, as
coordinators of Outreach Program for Women, Karen Sandler and I have
led the work to rename it to Outreachy, move it to Software Freedom
Conservancy as its new organizational home, and, with the help of four
new coordinators, expand it to be open to people of color
underrepresented in tech in the U.S., while continuing to be open to
cis and trans women, trans men, and genderqueer people worldwide.
The vast potential to empower more people from diverse backgrounds
through participation in free software and to make our community
stronger with more contributors motivated me to seek a full-time
position focused on free software community diversity and
inclusion. My senior outreach specialist role at Red Hat involves
co-organizing Outreachy and providing support for Red Hatters who are
looking to make their communities and teams more diverse and
inclusive. At the core of this role is a recognition that while we
need participation from all engineers as mentors and allies for
diversity efforts, we should not primarily rely on minority engineers
to take on the work of organizing these efforts or developing
expertise on the issue, as this is an excessive burden. A major
component of the role is organizing structured and meaningful
opportunities to be mentors for all engineers, that draw on people's
specialized skills, help them grow professionally, and only require a
manageable time commitment from them.
Outreachy alums and mentors at GNU 30th celebration in September 2013.
How has winning a Free Software Award for Projects of Social Benefit in 2014 impacted Outreachy?
Winning a Free Software Award for Projects of Social Benefit was a
very proud moment for Outreachy. It showed that the free software
community valued and supported the effort to bring in more people from
diverse backgrounds. It shone a light on the program and increased its
recognition. Since then, such important communities as the
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and X.Org have joined Outreachy.
I am also thankful to the Free Software Foundation for being a
long-time sponsor of Outreachy.
Outreachy's scope has continued to expand: what's the latest?
The diversity data for the U.S. released by many tech companies
shows that many of them only have 1-3% Black and 2-4% Hispanic
employees in technical roles. The population of the U.S. is 13% Black
and 17% Hispanic. We don't have any data like this for free software
participation, but we can tell there is a lack of racial and ethnic
diversity at conferences we attend.
For the upcoming December round, the program has expanded to be open
to residents and nationals of the U.S. of any gender who are
Black/African American, Hispanic/Latina, American Indian, Alaska
Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. It continues to be open
to cis and trans women, trans men, and genderqueer people worldwide.
Cindy Pallares, Tony Sebro, and Bryan Smith joined Karen Sandler,
Sarah Sharp, and me as Outreachy coordinators. With their experience
as African American and Latina free software professionals and with
the disparity shown by the diversity data, we knew that the targeted
expansion to people of color underrepresented in U.S. tech was an
appropriate next step for Outreachy. We know there are many other
groups of people and parts of the world underrepresented in free
software. While we expect it to take several rounds for us to manage
the growth that will come with this expansion, we welcome input on
what populations we should consider reaching out to next.
People in free software work really hard to make their projects
successful and recognizing them for their work shows the appreciation
we have for it. Nominating a person or a project for a Free
Software Award can help bring more attention to their mission and
share with the world an inspiring free software success
story. Finally, the recipients will enjoy attending LibrePlanet – a
fantastic conference – and receiving their award from Richard Stallman
as hundreds of free software enthusiasts cheer.
Outreachy alums and mentors at LibrePlanet 2015.
What are your hopes for the free software community in the next thirty years?
I hope that more developers and other technology contributors seek out
opportunities to work on free software as their job. I would like to
see more business, entrepreneurial, non-profit, academic, and
government organizational infrastructure for free software
development. In particular, all software developed or purchased with
public funds should be free software. I would like to see free
software in mainstream critical devices, such as medical and
automotive, and in modern consumer products, such as mobile
phones. Free software solutions need to offer a compelling user
experience, so that people opt for them without having to compromise
convenience. These compelling solutions will also help spread the
message of software freedom. I hope that moving to free software as a
default from the developer and consumer perspective, will incentivize
existing companies to open the code of their core services and to
allow verification and decentralization of them. Finally, I hope that
free software contributors and enthusiasts will come from a variety of
diverse backgrounds, and we will either no longer need Outreachy or
will dramatically change who it's targeted toward.
To get us there, it's vital that free software supporters donate to
organizations like the Free Software Foundation, Software
Freedom Conservancy, the GNOME Foundation, and others that
are advocating for free software and providing organizational
structure to free software projects we all know and love.
The application deadline for the upcoming round of Outreachy
internships is November 2, and the internship dates will be from
December 7 to March 7. Now is a great time to learn about the
participating communities, work on the required contribution with
the help of a mentor, and apply. You can encourage others to
apply by using the prepared e-mail message, social network
updates, and the flyer. You can get your company to sponsor
Outreachy or make an individual donation to help it grow and
fund more internships.
Thanks to Marina Zhurakhinskaya for this in-depth
conversation. Please help us recognize standouts in the free software
community: To nominate an individual for the Award for the Advancement
of Free Software or a project for the Award for Projects of Social
Benefit, send your nomination along with a description of the project
or individual to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 1st,
2015. Apply here to present a session at the next LibrePlanet,
which will take place March 19-20, 2016, in the Boston area --
submissions are due November 16, 2015, at 15:00 UTC. To read more about more women in free software, check out our previous
Ada Lovelace Day posts from 2014, 2013, 2012, and
All images courtesy of Marina Zhurakhinskaya/CC BY-SA. You can view this post on the Web at https://www.fsf.org/blogs/community/ada-lovelace-day-2015.