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Lalitha’s story: an Outreachy intern shares her experience

In this post, Lalitha, an Outreachy intern from 2020, shares her experience with the program.

By Lalitha, Outreachy Intern and Srishti Sethi and Sarah R. Rodlund, Wikimedia Developer Advocacy

In partnership with Wikimedia and other technical organizations, Outreachy provides several rounds of paid internships each year with the aim of supporting diversity in the Open Source and free software movement.

Outreachy invites and encourages anyone “who faces under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country” to apply to its programs. Outreachy interns hail from around the globe and often work remotely with experienced mentors on Open Source technical projects. 

As an Outreachy coordinator for Wikimedia, one of my duties is to ensure that interns submit their bi-weekly reports on time. I also try to read these reports often to learn about their progress on the projects, how the internship is going, if there are any challenges that I should be aware of, etc. Sometimes in these posts, interns share personal stories that make me feel connected with interns, even more, understand where they are coming from, their backgrounds, and their motivations for joining our organization. 

This piece of the program is the key for me and is truly uplifting! During the last round of Outreachy, I read this weekly report shared by Lalitha, one of our interns. Reading her post, brought me “aha!” moments. I immediately went on to Twitter to document what I captured and found another intern echoed my sentiments! As an immigrant myself from India, as is Lalitha, it was an eye-opener for me to learn about her struggle as an ESL parent and immigrant in the US and how she spent significant years learning and becoming comfortable in English. 

Lalitha is almost my mother’s age with the desire to learn something new, and she is interested in picking up software development skills! It brought me so much joy reading this in the post! I remember after reading her report, getting up from my chair to walk around in the office, and share this story with my colleagues.

At the end of the Outreachy program, we interviewed Lalitha about her experience.

Here is Lalitha in her own words:

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I am a 54-year-old immigrant mother of two–one in his thirties and another daughter in high school. I love to cook new healthy recipes, especially with the produce I grow in my garden. Though I came to this country 20 years ago, it took me 10 years to motivate myself to join the local community college to begin my ESL classes. Since I had completed a 3-year college degree in Math but in Telugu medium, I had to start with the basics of the English language.

I used to attribute my childrens’ obsession with their smartphones to our generational gap and was quite content remaining oblivious to technology. However, I began to notice many of my friends were also active on social media and accustomed to using the latest tech products. Realizing that I could no longer remain a bystander, or keep to societal expectations of me I decided to not only become a part of the tech space but to contribute to it as well.

My journey in software engineering began with ESL classes to help with my English ten years ago. I then took some math classes to refresh my Math skills. Core computer science classes followed soon after. After taking several Python courses in the fall of 2017, I started preparing for a Bootcamp to accelerate my learning. I took a Hackbright prep course in the summer of 2018, which led me to get accepted into the Fall 2018 Hackbright Software Engineering Bootcamp. 

How did you get to hear about Outreachy? 

Even though I was using many Open Source platforms and products including Github, Atom, React, Wikipedia, and others as part of my software education, I wasn’t aware of the open-source projects until my son introduced me to the Outreachy program a few months before applying for the internship. 

My situation was unique with no prior work experience, no peers of my age, or background around me to learn and practice programming with. While searching for ways to enter into the IT industry, Outreachy opportunity seemed exactly suitable for my needs.

Can you tell us about the project you participated in?    

When I was searching for the projects to choose from the list, I came across the Wiki Education Dashboard. My familiarity with Wikipedia, its open-source nature attracted me and on top of it, this project was looking for React programmers which happened to be my interest and area that I was already learning and familiar with.

My project scope was about converting the campaign view of an instructor from Ruby and Haml implementation to a React implementation. This was part of the larger project to update all of their code to React in order to not re-render the whole page when navigating the dashboard.

My specific assignment was to convert Haml pages that relate to a campaign into React. Campaigns are collections of courses that an instructor is teaching. I broke up the code into components such as campaign, campaign navbar, campaign stats, and campaign home to account for the various parts of the campaign page. 

One of my challenges was to get the data from the server-side for the campaign.jsx component using the Redux data flow. Redux is another area that I was initially very confused about. Boilerplate for Redux seemed very complex to understand. There were many terms in Redux interlinked such as reducers, actions, constants, thunk, selectors, mapStateToProps, dispatch,  mapStateToProps and connect. It took me a while to get to know all the terms and how Redux sends data as props.

Working remotely, initially, it was challenging for me to articulate my problem or question about what I was going through in the right way to my mentors in Slack.  

What was it like working with Outreachy mentors?

Both of my mentors have been very supportive of me throughout this internship. Initially, I did have a hard time understanding Sage Ross. The technical jargon he used and the quick pace at which he spoke were challenging. But when I mentioned this to him, he immediately made adjustments to make me feel more comfortable. Whenever I was having a hard time solving, Sage always pair-programmed with me and taught me so much in the process.    

Although my other mentor, Khayati Soneji, lives in India, which is on the other side of the world, she always found time to respond to my questions. Once I had a great time talking to her for almost the whole day. She worked with me on Zoom from 11 AM to 3 PM even though it was very late at night for her. We often pair programmed but also found time to connect on a personal level. 

I miss my mentors, especially Sage who always was smiling and talking to us standing next to his desk while we were all sitting.

What are you working on now?

After my Outreachy internship, I have been attending career fairs, applying for jobs, practicing coding problems, whiteboarding, and volunteering at Organiz (https://organiz.org) as a software developer. 

Do you have advice for future Outreachy interns?

I think three months is a very short period of time. My advice would be to ask questions and ask for help without any inhibition including about any language barrier that you may have. Speak up and share the difficulties that you are going through with mentors so that they are aware of your requirements and can help you suitably. 

The next round of Outreachy internships will open in late August 2020. 

To learn more about the program, visit the program page here: https://www.outreachy.org/. Once you clear an initial application phase, you will able to browse projects available for all mentoring organizations, including Wikimedia on the Outreachy’s program website. You might also want to check out Outreachy’s response to Covid-19, and the policies they revised for students in the previous round. Keep an eye on this page for new information for the upcoming round. 

If you are a potential intern or a mentor interested in participating in the program, we look forward to your participation! For questions, come and join the Wikimedia’s Zulip chat: https://wikimedia.zulipchat.com/

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Featured image credit: Two-brown-trees, Johannes Plenio, CC BY-SA 4.0

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