• Sunday , 17 November 2019

How OpenStack mentoring breaks down cultural barriers

Code Canyon

Victoria Martinez de la Cruz is no stranger to OpenStack’s mentorship opportunities. It’s how she got her own start in OpenStack, and now a few years later is helping to coordinate many of these opportunities herself. She is speaking on a panel on mentoring and internships later this week at OpenStack Summit in Barcelona, Spain. In this interview, we catch up with Victoria to learn more about the details of what it’s like to be a part of an open source internship, as well as some helpful advice for people on both sides of the mentoring process.

We’ve talked about the mentoring process before. How do you think mentoring within the OpenStack community has changed over time as the project has matured?

Indeed we have! Yes, fortunately, the mentoring effort within OpenStack has evolved a lot, and now things are clearer for both mentors and mentees. There are now several mentoring opportunities in OpenStack, each for different targets. These include Outreachy, an internship program that aims to bring more people from underrepresented groups to open source, and also Google Summer of Code, which provides students the possibility to spend their summer holidays (in the northern hemisphere) working on an open source project of their choice. Both of these opportunities include mentees being paired with mentors and being asked to complete a task or set of tasks; mentors guiding mentees through the process of getting involved with the community; and sharing their career advice and guidance on the technical side during a three-month long, scheduled timeframe. I’m the volunteer coordinator for both of these programs.

There are also other mentoring efforts, including the mentoring program and speed mentoring organized by the Women of OpenStack. These initiatives also pair mentor and mentees, and tackle both technical and career sides of being a contributor to OpenStack, but they are not constrained on duration and there are no pre-defined objectives as in the previously mentioned programs.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the upstream training project keeps on going for every Summit as another mentoring experience, focused to OpenStack Summit attendees. This effort started a long time ago, if I recall correctly, for the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong. In this program people can learn about how is to contribute to OpenStack, with topics such as how the community works together (covering communication channels and software tracking tools), governance within OpenStack and, of course, how to setup your working environment and get involved.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a mentor within the OpenStack community?

Get to know your mentee. Often people don’t want to get involved in mentoring because they think it’s too time-consuming, but the truth is that it highly depends on what you think is too much time and how much time your mentee requires to continue working on their own. If you get to know your mentee, you can determine if that pairing is good for you and for your mentee. Being clear about your time availability and how you would like the interaction to happen is key for this kind of activity. If you cannot keep with the mentoring for that mentee in particular, point your mentee towards the rest of the community. Make sure they lose the fright of interacting in public community channels.

Mentoring is a great experience. You have the chance to have a huge positive impact on the life of a person and also on the community as a whole. You don’t know if that person you are mentoring today will be the leader of tomorrow. Plus, chances are, this person will give back to the community by also helping with this kind of tasks as well, helping more people to get aboard and to make the community better. So don’t hesitate to mentor because of time. It is well invested time, I guarantee that!

How does Outreachy coordinate with OpenStack to pair interns with projects and mentors that are a good fit?

We are always spreading the word about Outreachy in the community, so we often get people voluntarily contacting us to be a mentor in every Outreachy round. For this purpose, we ask them to identify themselves as mentors on the wiki pages for Outreachy OpenStack, and to add an internship idea so applicants know what kind of tasks they could be doing. Most applicants pick those tasks that are well-defined and that have a clear scope, so we urge mentors to write well-detailed abstracts of what they expect mentees to accomplish. Usually, applicants contact the mentors for each of the projects directly, and start working with them. They have to do a small first contribution as part of the application process, so this is a good chance for mentors to get familiar with their mentees and to start pointing them towards the right direction, for example, advising them to use IRC instead of email, seeing how independent they are, seeing how proactive they are, and seeing how fast they respond to queries.

How can an internship/mentorship pairing help to break down cultural and language barriers in open source projects like OpenStack?

Great question! This is actually very important. The internships are open worldwide, that is, people from all over the world can apply and cultural and language barriers are common.

Often, in open source communities, the only way you can participate in things is if you are able to communicate in a way that others can understand your intentions. This is hard already since our communication channels are not very rich (chat and emails mostly). If English is not your first language and you haven’t practiced it in a while, things can be difficult. In this scenario, a mentor can help with communication, acting as a mediator. I personally went through that. When I started contributing to OpenStack, my English was very rusty. I could read and listen almost perfectly, but I couldn’t write or speak very fast. My mentor helped me out with that, correcting me when she saw I had some spelling or grammar mistakes, and being very patient when having a conversation with me.

With regards to cultural barriers, you need to be open minded and assume the best intentions. I have mentored people who have asked for my email to be able to reach me just in case something happens. In those cases, I’d suggest to them that they reach other people in the community through public communication channels and don’t rely only on me. Again, be clear on what you think is important here.

Aside from this talk, what are you particularly excited about at the Barcelona Summit?

At this Summit there is a lot going on, and I’m really excited to have the chance to attend again.

There is a new Cloud Apps Leaders Lounge organized by the OpenStack Foundation that will gather people working on developing cloud apps who are interested in growing a community dedicated to this purpose. This is the first time for this, and I assure you it will be lots of fun. I started getting involved for EuroPython this year, in which I happened to give a talk about developing applications for OpenStack (it’s an overview of the tools currently available and some tips and tricks), and I also had the chance to participate in the cloud development training that happened at the same conference.

Apart from that, I’m pretty excited to see the results of the Interop Challenge. This was an effort made by the whole community to show that OpenStack cloud is interoperable. I personally participated in making sure RDO is interoperable (spoiler alert, it is!) with the help of my colleague Daniel Mellado. More details on this challenge will be shown during the Summit.


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