Applying for Outreachy

Who am I?

Once upon a time, I was a software engineer.  I had jobs in a variety of industries from paper machine controls to hotel reservation systems.  I started programming in proprietary languages, then moved to C, C++ and finally Java. 

When I had my second child, I chose to stay home to raise my children.  It was a great experience – challenging in new ways.  I spent lots of time volunteering at schools and learned a whole new set of skills.  As my children got older it was time for me to return to my own goals.  But how do you return to technology after a decade away?

I decided to refresh my Java skills with some online classes.  Through this process, I figured out that this whole new field of data science had been created.  It sounded like all the things I enjoy – math, programming, and making meaning out of data.  So I signed up for a series of online classes to learn data science.

Why Apply to Outreachy?

Outreachy offers three-month internships to work in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).  This was a great opportunity to gain real-world experience on a project, refresh my technical skills, and have something recent to add to my resume.  With any luck, it would give me some actual experience in data science!

A friend had told me about the Outreachy internships a year ago.  I’d missed the window for applying for last winter.  I checked the dates for the spring/summer internship but that wasn’t a good time for my schedule.  I signed up for the Outreachy email notifications so I could apply for the next round this winter.

How to Apply

Although the internship starts in December, the application process begins in September.  Since there are several steps and a project contribution required, I suggest starting as early as possible.

 The first step was filling out an application with a couple of short answer questions.  Although the questions were not hard, they did require some reflection and I wanted to answer them “perfectly” because I really wanted an internship.  It was a bit scary to submit my answers, and then I had to wait for an email response to find out if I was approved.  Success, I was on to the next step!

Now I had access to all the project information.  You have to make a contribution to a project in order to be considered as an intern.  There were a lot of projects listed so it was a bit overwhelming to pick 1 or 2 that I thought would be a good fit.  To be honest, I wasn’t even sure who all of the open source communities were.  There were no data science projects listed, but there were several Python projects, so I chose one of those.

The process of getting that software downloaded, installed and running was an experience.  I needed to create a GitHub account, learn to chat on IRC and remember some Unix.  It was often frustrating and overwhelming, but it was a huge sense of accomplishment when it finally worked.

After submitting my contribution for this project, I was feeling very satisfied.  Even if I did not receive the internship I felt like I had learned a lot and it had been a very good experience.

Then, shortly before the application period closed, Mozilla created 2 data science internships.  Within a matter of hours, 14 people had chosen to work on the 10 projects that were offered.  I spent several days focusing on my contribution and really put my best effort into it. 

After recording my contribution, there is an application with a few more short answer questions.  This was another opportunity to reflect on myself and why this would be a good project for me.  It was a bit intimidating because I felt like I didn’t have enough experience in Python, data science or open source, but I’d come this far so I submitted it.

Results

I was thrilled when I got the email saying I’d been chosen as a data science intern at Mozilla.  I’m very grateful to get the opportunity to get professional experience with supportive mentors.

This process has been a great experience even when it’s been scary – like writing this blog.  If you have an interest in technology or open source software I suggest that you apply for an Outreachy internship.  You may discover a new community, gain interesting experience and learn some things about yourself.

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