Outreachy is a program dedicated to getting underrepresented members of the tech community involved in open source software through paid internships with partner companies. Much to my excitement (and surprise) I was accepted as Cadasta’s Outreachy intern for the winter 2015-2016 session. I had been teaching myself to code for less than a year and had absolutely fallen in love with it. So I quit my job to spend three months at the Recurse Center, a self-directed, educational retreat for programmers, in order to fully immerse myself in the programming world. Armed with enough knowledge to get by, but not enough real experience to be dangerous, Outreachy was an exciting next step towards becoming a full-time developer.
I don’t know that I would have had the confidence to pursue coding as a career without the opportunity that Outreachy provided. Part of me was terrified at the thought of doing another internship. Right out of college, I had two internships back to back that not only showed me (rather quickly) that the field I thought I wanted to get into was not for me, but also proved to be internships that didn’t help me develop any useful skills. I wasn’t fetching coffee, but the work I was given was minimal and intern (i.e. error) proof. Going into Outreachy I expected something similar. I expected to be handed an endless list of bugs to fix, and to be told exactly what to do, when to do it, and how. It made sense. I didn’t have a lot of experience. Why would I expect anything different?
Day one I found out how misguided my expectations were. Everyone at Cadasta was unbelievably welcoming, and I was given responsibility for the entire Field Papers user interface redesign, with the expectation that it would be treated the same as any other project. I was provided with guidance by people who advised me on where to start, pointed me in the right direction when I got stuck, and helped me make the final decisions along the way. I had walked in expecting to be handed a blueprint, but was instead asked to write the blueprint, build the scaffolding, and make the final touches. Admittedly, it was a little nerve-racking, and I kept expecting someone to stop me once they discovered I was sort of winging it.
But that was the point: this was an opportunity to learn how these projects work in a supportive and educational environment. I learned how to work with multiple organizations on a single project, and that the end results of working with a team are often vastly better than when you work alone without feedback. I learned to reach out frequently along the way to make sure I wasn’t getting too attached to any one idea in particular or getting off track. I learned how to work collaboratively and substantially on open source projects that had a real impact beyond bug fixes. Most importantly, I gained confidence in my own ability in a way that feels tangible because I can point to a project that I completed, that got the approval of multiple people along the way. The opportunity that Outreachy and Cadasta provided for me is invaluable, and I can’t thank or recommend them enough.