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Mentoring in Open Source

This year, I was invited by Sonny Piers to be a co-mentor for the GNOME Foundation, working on platform demos for Workbench. I already contribute a lot of entry-level documentation and help a lot of contributors, so this felt like a good step in a direction I've been heading for a while.

# Internships

Together, Sonny and I mentored three interns; two by way of Google Summer of Code (GSoC) and a third for Outreachy. Both are international programs providing a great opportunity for newcomers, but differ in some important ways.

# Google Summer of Code

Google Summer of Code has been around for a very long time, although I've been around long enough to remember when it started, and how it helped change the public image of open source. Google's program is well developed, while at the same time being mostly hands-off, leaving most of the planning and direction to the mentors.

Something that did influence our choice of applicants was the requirement that interns be open source beginners, which I feel doesn't account for those who could benefit from more advanced mentoring. Of course, we had plenty of applicants and I have no regrets about our selection.

# Outreachy

Outreachy is a newer program and one that actually started as an initiative of the GNOME Foundation. It is focused on those that are underrepresented in the industry, and fostering a positive feedback loop to address this ongoing issue.

In contrast to Google's program, Outreachy is not limited to students or developers, which is important when you consider the barriers to education and lack of opportunity its applicants often face. The program also includes prompts and goals, both for mentors and mentees, that help make these internships more engaging.

The infrastructure for Outreachy is kind of unassuming at first, compared to Google's sleek and streamlined website. Once you're a few weeks into the program though, you realize they really are a lot more focused on genuine mentorship. Nothing about your interaction with the coordinators is impersonal or superficial.

Marina Zhurakhinskaya deserves special mention here, and even if you haven't heard the name before, you have heard the names of those whose lives she touched. Although I never had the honour of working with her myself, it's impossible to ignore how we all continue to benefit from her contributions.

# People

I should first thank Sonny for the opportunity to participate as a mentor for the GNOME Foundation. This is not something I've been able to do in a formal way since high school when I was allowed extra classes to assist younger students in the electronics program.

We've all been in the position where you really just need someone to answer the question, "Okay, but how does it actually work?". Being a part of the "Oh, now I get it!" moments is an unparalleled experience for me. I'm really grateful I had the chance to be involved in this way again.

# Akshay Warrier

Akshay is going to do great things in open source and I think he really gets community-driven software. He's one of those people that renews your excitement for open source.

Aside from the contributions he's made to Workbench as part of his internship, I was really excited to see him appear at our yearly GNOME Shell Extensions workshop. I know he had a fantastic time at GUADEC and the way he talked about it made it obvious how much importance he places on people.

I think we'll see more of Akshay and, one day, I think he could make a really great mentor himself.

# José Hunter

José comes up with some great ideas, and he's quick to jump in and get them implemented. Given the right circumstances, I think we might see him do some really cool things in the community.

He's blogged about privacy and the encroach of corporate interests, and it's hard not to think this encouraged his involvement in open source. I think he has a natural impulse to form his own opinions about the technology he uses and employs, and an honest interest in projects related to his hobbies like libmanette.

I hope José sticks around after his internship is complete, because he has a personality that has served the community well in the past.

# Sriyansh Shivam

Sriyansh displayed an aptitude for development early on, but also a habit of responding to feedback in a really constructive and professional way. That's a hard thing to do sometimes, and he really has the drive for self-improvement.

We spent a fair amount of time working through a series of demos about the model-view-controller pattern together, and I really enjoyed that. These demos covered everything from GListModel and GtkListBox, to the newer view widgets like GtkColumnView. These are very popular in GTK4 applications, and often quite complex, so I'm quite proud to see the results of his hard work.

I'm not sure we really had a chance to see his full potential, and I hope he gets the opportunity to take on a longer more challenging project.

# The Future

I hope to have the time and opportunity to mentor again, and next time I would like to apply myself in a more thoughtful way. I write a lot of entry-level documentation for free software, but the feedback is far more asynchronous and has to be applied more statistically.

Having spent time with several mentees over an extended period of time was a good way to learn a lot. Sonny and I had some good conversations about what seemed to work in retrospect, which was very enlightening. I would really like to try mentoring again, but next time with a more developed strategy.

I will say that co-mentoring is definitely something we should encourage more as a community. It's difficult to be confident of your take on an interpersonal relationship, and having someone to balance that turned out to be invaluable to the mentorship.