by Toni Shortsleeve

How I beat the odds and became an Outreachy intern


At 9:00 pm on April 22nd, I was crying in my husband’s arms. I was so certain that I would not be chosen, even after all of my hard work, because there were so many other qualified candidates. Also, I thought I knew who would probably be accepted instead.

Twelve hours later, I received the email from Outreachy saying that I was the new Outreachy May 2018 to August 2018 intern at LibreHealth!

Shortly after that, I received a congratulatory email from the person that I expected they would choose as the intern. It had been great to work with her, and I am hoping we will stay in touch in the future.

This article is about the journey that I took to become an Outreachy Intern.

It started with freeCodeCamp

I am proud to be a Camper at freeCodeCamp. We have a very active community. Our forums have some of the best mediators, and other campers often step in to help when we’re stuck on our challenges. I am in many of the chat rooms and have learned a lot from each of them.

One room is dedicated solely to women. Late last year, one of the ladies in that room shared the link to Outreachy, which sponsors paid internships for women and gender-biased individuals in the tech industry.

I was too late, as the latest round had just closed. So I signed up to receive announcements from Outreachy in the future. Then I continued with my struggles on my last two front-end projects and forgot about it.

The application process

On February 12th, I received the announcement that Outreachy had opened the new internship candidacy round. I had to commit to 40 hours per week for the entire project. I couldn’t be committed to anything else for more than 10 hours per week during that time. My work on the freeCodeCamp Medium publication is voluntary, and so I thought I could handle it.

But then I reached the education portion of the application. It forced me to choose GPA, credits, and course hours. It would not let me choose zero. Based on the fact that I plan to have my Data Visualization and Back-End certificates by end of this year, I was not qualified. Working towards my certifications would take too much time away from the internship project. Wow — I was devastated.

I immediately sent an email to the organizer of Outreachy and explained that the application would not let me apply honestly. freeCodeCamp is a recognized educational institution on LinkedIn, and it has an online and self-paced curriculum. So I could delay working on my projects during the time of my internship, and follow the rules. As a female in the United States attempting to enter the tech industry — and a student of the freeCodeCamp curriculum who has already received the first certificate — I do believe that I qualify for the internship candidacy.

Imagine my amazement when I received an email stating that they had updated their process to include questions about online courses. I got to be a tester for their open source site. This time I was accepted!

As an Internship Candidate

The Outreachy site has a lot of organizations with projects to choose from. Some of them were very daunting. You can see the various projects that were available here.

I’m not ready to work on Android yet, my back-end skills are barely beyond the tutorials phase, and I don’t know a few of the languages they were asking for. Then I found the one I needed — and that needed me: help with documentation for LibreHealth.

I would need to host my work on GitLab, contribute to the documentations in a markdown format, and I would need to understand the actual workflow process so my contributions would be accurate.

My editing experience with Medium would come in handy for this. I am comfortable with GitHub, but now I would also learn to work with GitLab. I was familiar with the files, but that was as far as it went.

I would be learning about an open source software system, using GitLab and creating markdown files while contributing to the project.

Between February 12th and March 22nd, I needed to provide links to Outreachy for the work I wanted to present as a contribution, and complete the final application once I had a game plan from the mentors.

I was guided to the LibreHealth forums and the LibreHealth — Outreachy chat room.

I forked (copied) the materials from GitLab and checked out the Demo for the electronic health records (EHR) system.

Then I viewed the YouTube videos to see how the process worked while I checked out the EHR Demo for comparison.

I began working on a couple of documents in the repository that I saw could use some help with typos. This would be my first contribution.

Great Medium Articles

From the forums, I knew that Dr. Judy Gichoya was on the steering committee of LibreHealth. I saw the submission for her article, Mentorship and Networking — My strategy based on open source involvement come through to freeCodeCamp’s Medium publication during the first week of the application process. I got to edit it, and I think it helped me to have a better understanding of what she was looking for.

A few days later, Joannah Nanjekye submitted the article Get the most out of your Outreachy Intern application process. She offered some good advice based on her internship a year ago, and I was glad to have the opportunity to edit it as well. It helped me to have a better grasp on what I wanted to accomplish.

Carmen Chung wrote What I learned during my software engineering internship which has great suggestions for the internship itself. I have bookmarked that article, and I will return to it during my internship for specific reminders.

LibreHealth Mentors

I spent a lot of time in LibreHealth’s Outreachy chat room. During the first three weeks of the application process, over 45 potential candidates had entered the room. I knew it would take everything I had to stay the course and become noticed. So there was only one thing I could do — give it my best.

It took a couple of weeks for the steering committee to get the mentors and candidates on the same page. I liked the fact that they tried to keep us informed on what was wanted and needed, and make us aware of any changes in the process.

They decided to put our work into the mediawiki format. This was something else that was new for me to learn. I felt that I had just become familiar with markdown. It was a little scary, but I looked forward to the challenge.

Making the Documents

I used Google Docs for my writing, and Snagit with Photoshop for my images. Then I was able to turn the document into text for markdown, code it for the mediawiki, and create the .pdf format of the document.

My main mentor on this project was Harley Tuck. He created the YouTube Video that I referred to for my project, and was awesome with me. He guided me in the right direction without holding my hand, encouraged me when I was on track, and gently reminded me when I wasn’t. I totally enjoyed working with him.

Google Summer of Code

By the time Mid-March came around, the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) candidacy had begun.

Dr. Judy Gichoya submitted another article to freeCodeCamp, Hacking #GSoC : How to gain real life experience and support open source. Again I was able to be the editor.

This was an interesting article for me to edit, because she shared her experience as a GSoC candidate and the role it played in her becoming a mentor.

She also shared her advice on how to be chosen as an intern. I tried to use that information wisely.

Now that the LibreHealth GSoC had begun, we began to see fewer candidates in the LibreHealth Outreachy chat room. I think many of the candidates switched over to GSoC. In fact, Outreachy strongly suggests applying for both.

One of my mentors suggested that I also try for the GSoC. But only university students — and not online self-paced students — are acceptable for them. So I didn’t qualify for GSoC, and Outreachy remained my best opportunity.

Besides, I was too excited about this project already and didn’t want to let it go.

The Final Round

During the last two weeks of the candidacy, a few of us candidates began sharing tips and answering each other’s questions. It felt good to be a part of that small group.

Our mentor asked us to place our documents on the mediawiki sandbox, and from there he would upload them to the LibreHealth wiki. We found out so much about how the wiki community worked.

We could see each other’s work if we made the mistake of clicking on “Publish Page” instead of “Show Preview.” A lot of chatting happened among us before we realized what we were doing wrong.

Also, loading images was difficult if someone had chosen the same name for a previously loaded image. For example, the image for “login-1” and “calendar-1” had already been taken, and so it would not accept my images.

My mentor made a suggestion and I tried to follow it. But then I was blocked by wiki! It seems I was in the wrong room and the subject was improper for that room. I told the mediator where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing, but I didn’t get a response. I’m still not too sure what exactly happened, but they eventually unblocked me.

Meanwhile, I was in a panic. My document was the User’s Guide, and I was proud of it. I finally had it formatted to the mediawiki codes and my images were looking good. But I couldn’t get it uploaded!

Harley Tuck and I used TeamViewer to download my document and images. He then placed them in the LibreHealth wiki for me. I am so thankful that I wasn’t penalized.

The Real Deadline

The candidate must submit at least one contribution — even if it has not been approved by the mentors yet. And the candidate must complete the application before the deadline.

The deadline was March 22nd at 4:00 pm UTC. This meant that for me at Pacific Standard Time, it was due before 9:00 am.

I had to have everything in place and online by midnight on March 21st. Why? Because I knew there was no way that I could do it first thing in the morning — especially if I had any last minute issues to resolve. I was able to turn off my computer thirty minutes before my self-imposed deadline!

The Final Deadline

If we met the March 22nd deadline, we could continue to update our contributions until March 29th.

Harley Tuck sent the final link for the LibreHealth wiki document to me on March 28th. I updated the link to my contribution, and touched up my last thoughts on the application.

Now all I could do was wait…

So I went back to doing some light editing on Medium, and trying to decipher the mysteries of d3.js and React.

… until April 22nd.

Now the Fun Begins!

I was so surprised and thankful to be chosen as one of the two interns. I will be creating the documents in American English.

I was also pleased that one of my favorite chat roommates was chosen for the second internship. Adele will be translating the documents from American English into French. We’re going to have fun together!

The mentors have been very welcoming. Each of them will be guiding me in their specific areas on this journey. I’m excited to be working with all of them.

They can all be found on the LibreHealth Forums.

Harley Tuck is my EHR and Documentation mentor. He worked with me the most through the candidacy process and helped with the mediawiki issues. He will continue to monitor my documentation. His forum handle is _htuck.

Robby O’Connor is my Tech mentor. He is the one I turn to when I have any technical questions or issues. His forum handle is r0bby.

Dr. Judy Gichoya is my Radiology mentor. She will be working closely with me to understand the workflow, authorizations, and actions that occur in the Radiology Information System. With her help, I should be a able to create an easy to understand User Guide for the Radiology module. Her handle in the forums is judywawira.

Saptarshi Purkayastha maintains the project for the software which Radiology depends on. His guidance will be invaluable while I try to understand the backbone of the entire LibreHealth system. His handle in the forums is sunbiz.

We are currently working on our strategy for the next step of the project. I’ll be doing a little more research on the Radiology workflow and how it aligns with EHR. I’m excited to see how they will work together.

A Few Suggestions

Sign Up for Advanced Notices

If you feel you qualify and would like to be an Outreachy Internship Candidate, sign up for the email notices. There’s no spam, and they only contact you when something is happening. And you’ll be among the first to know.

Start Immediately

Once you’re notified that the process has begun, start on the application right away. You need to assure eligibility so that you can begin the search for the internship that’s right for you.

Be Realistic

This is a great opportunity to enhance your skills. But it is not the time to learn something from scratch. If you have never used the language that the company is requesting, then you probably will not be chosen unless you bring something stronger to the table.

The internship should work both ways. You will provide skills to help complete the project, and the project will help enhance the skills you are using.

Go for building on what you already know.

Read Everything

Outreachy has a specific format that needs to be followed. The organizations have their quirks, too. So make certain that you know exactly what is expected from the both groups.

Any documentation and videos about the project will be very helpful as well. The more you understand going in, the better chance you will have of showcasing your skills quickly.

Mark Your Calendar

There should actually be three main events on your calendar:

· Outreachy deadlines
· Project and Mentor deadlines
· Your personal goal dates and times to meet each deadline

Also, you may need to check the local time for those deadlines. As I mentioned earlier, the difference between UTC and PST was like night and day. Don’t forget to figure in Daylight Saving Time if it applies.

So when you set up your calendar, visit here to make sure you are on time.

And give yourself enough room to fix any final issues before any deadline.

Have Fun!

This may seem trite, but it’s not worth it if you can’t enjoy it.

Yes, it is a competition. A lot of other candidates want to be chosen. But it’s also an opportunity to meet others who share a similar interest and may become good friends no matter what the outcome.

Also, you probably chose this project because you liked what you will be creating as well as learning. So for the next six weeks meet the mentors, share and talk about the story with the other candidates, and have fun in making something wonderful.

Now What?

If you missed the opportunity — or were not chosen this time but learned that you enjoy the candidacy process and want to try again — sign up for the notifications.

As for me, after May 23 I will need to write about my experience every two weeks. I hope that you will follow along as I continue my journey as an Outreachy Intern with LibreHealth.

You can see my winning mediawiki document here.

You can catch me on GitHub or join me on Twitter. You can also visit my website.

It’s going to be an awesome and busy summer!