by Joannah Nanjekye

Get the most out of your Outreachy Intern application process

Outreachy gives three-month paid internships for persons that are underrepresented in tech. Interns are paid a stipend of $5,500 and have a $500 travel stipend available to them.

Outreachy interns work remotely with mentors from Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) communities on projects for programming, user experience, documentation, illustration and graphical design, and data science tasks.

I participated in Outreachy round 14 from May through August 2017 with Ceph. I was working on expanding S3 testing for Ceph’s Rados Gateway. This opportunity changed my career for the good. From starting me working with open source to making me a confident engineer — and giving me the platform to many job opportunities.

Image from Planet Outreachy

The Outreachy internship applications open twice a year — in February for the May through August — in September for the December through March cohorts.

Well, like me during my application process, you are probably wondering “How do I ace this?” if you are an applicant. From some direct messages and pings I have gotten on this in the past, I will share some thoughts.

The process

Before I share my thoughts on how to go through this process, I will point out a disclaimer. These thoughts are not a guarantee that you will get in, they are just guidelines that could help you in my opinion.

Before you get lost in the so many details in this article, applying for an Outreachy internship is a very engaging process. It requires you to make many decisions and to commit the effort of making contributions as part of the requirements to be accepted.

To get the most of your application process, you need to ensure:

  • You Start Early
  • Narrow down your project choices to two at the most
  • Set your goals
  • Engage with the community and project Mentors frequently
  • Focus on progress not perfection
  • Remember the process is much more important than the outcome

Let me elaborate on these.

Start Early

One of the things you need to do is not procrastinate till like a week before the deadline. The application process is engaging. You need to start the process early so that the project mentors and community get to know and interact with you and the magic you can do early in the process.

If the mentors get to know you early and longer, then their decisions to choose you will be more informed than if you come in days before the deadline.

Narrow down your project choices

Outreachy usually has a list of organizations and most of them have interesting projects you would love to work on. In fact, when I was applying for my Outreachy internship I wanted to be everywhere. But you can’t be. That is the fact and if you do try to be everywhere, your chances of getting accepted become few.

The reason you need to focus on a few projects is that this will enable you to concentrate on being a great candidate for that project. It means you will spend more time understanding the project, communicating with the mentors, and in turn making significant contributions to the project — as opposed to being everywhere and achieving half-baked progress on many projects.

Set some goals

After you have selected what projects you want to apply to, you will reach out to the mentors for guidance on first time tasks to work on — or you can look at the project’s issue list for potential tasks. Set some goals for what you want to work on and what kind of candidate you want to be known for.

For example you could say “I want to make 5 contributions for my application process and have a good proposal”. With your own goals, you won’t fall prey to unnecessary pressure. This shouldn't be a competition with other applicants. With your set goals, you are competing with your own goals and no one else.

Engage the community and project Mentors frequently

One of the ways you will get to understand the project and get more help on the task you are doing is by talking to the project mentors and community frequently.

This makes you get used to working with the mentors and community early because during your internship you will need to do this. Discuss what you are about to work on, what you are working on and even discuss the patch. This gives the impression that you know what you are doing but also helps you get feedback early enough.

Ask questions when you are stuck, open source projects are worked on as a community. There is no need to die with a blocker.

Tasks are not meant to kill people but there should be a balance between you finding a way of solving some problems independently as well.

Do some homework before asking, do some research on the subject before asking. If you fail to get a solution, then engage your mentors as soon as possible. Challenges keep us motivated to work on a daily basis, so try that challenge and then ask your mentor. Do not spend 2 hours on a blocker, just reach out.

Progress not perfection

When you are given a task, you may get tempted to go hide yourself in the basement so that you come up with a solution a week later with all its glory, unit tested and whatever you think in your head is the best solution to the task.

The focus is to commit early, and get feedback as early as possible so that you get a patch merged in the shortest time possible. Patches become perfect only after being committed. It is the feedback that we get from reviewers and community that makes patches perfect. Therefore, quit the basement and work with the community.

Discuss the internship project with mentors

There is usually a project you will be working on that you won’t start until you are accepted to be an Outreachy intern. As you make contributions, create some time to discuss the milestones of the project that you will be working on, if you are accepted, with your mentors. Let your mentor advise you on scope and time lines.

This will inform you on how to create a time line when you are filling in the Outreachy application form. You will fill out this form with an informed mind on the project tasks and this is a plus when they are assessing you.

Also, ask for feedback on the proposal/application form contents before the deadline. Feedback will always make anything you work on better.

The process is much more important than the outcome

The tough truth to your Outreachy application is either you were accepted or you were not accepted to this round of Outreachy. I have had the chance of knowing how both decisions feel.

Now let me tell you something, the real beauty about Outreachy is the process.The first time I applied to Outreachy I didn’t get in.

But I learned Golang. I used that skill on my next project. I was accepted the second time and now I work on a couple of Go projects. Maybe this is not convincing enough.

I applied to an organization that did not accept me. But from the tasks I worked on with Python compatibility, I got inspired to write my first book about Python 2 and 3 Compatibility. Due to the scarcity of material on the subject, Apress gladly accepted it for publishing.

The application process should be attempted by everyone. Whether you get in or not, it is always a win. You will have made contributions to a project that will act as your project references for your next opportunity.

You will have started yourself in open source if you are a beginner to FOSS. The FOSS mentors are always willing to guide you should you want to continue with contributing.

You will have been introduced to and learned from the best and most welcoming people in this tech industry to prepare for your future opportunities.

If you forget anything here, don't forget the fact that applying to Outreachy is always a win, accepted or not. And do not forget to apply again in the next round. If you fail — keep trying till you get in.

Good luck to everyone applying!!! May the force be with you. As always ping me if you have any questions.