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Pavithra Eswaramoorthy
Pavithra Eswaramoorthy

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Part 1: Season of Docs Application

  • Persistence is sometimes more important than skill.
  • Jumping into the deep end is probably not a good idea?
  • We regret the shots we don’t take.
  • There are opportunities out there! For women, for everyone, we just need to reach out.
  • Some tips on writing good proposals.

I was introduced to open source software and Outreachy in early December of 2018. For those unfamiliar with Outreachy, it is an open-source initiative that provides internships in FOSS for under-represented folks in tech. It's pretty cool, you should check it out. :)

I was thrilled to be eligible and decided to apply. The projects were announced in January and boy were they intimidating! I went through each of them and shortlisted a few that I felt were: interesting, difficult and rewarding. Then, jumped right in.

I chose a project, took some time to read about the technologies, understand the contribution process and set up the development environment. With a lot of courage, I made my first PR -- a stupid mistake. The mentors were kind and encouraging but I felt horrible. As a college student, I was finding it difficult to manage my time, I was going through a mental burn-out at the time and I had chosen something way too difficult. I gave up. I tried looking into some GSoC projects, (there were sooooooooooo many!), but I didn’t bother applying, there were people who had started much earlier and I didn't feel qualified enough.

Thinking of it now, I think I gave up too soon.

I'm not sure how I discovered Season of Docs, it is an initiative to involve technical writers in open source. It seemed interesting. The application period was during my Summer break and I was familiar with the application process this time, so I decided to give it a shot. But this time, I'd take it easy.

We learn from our mistakes, I chose a project that I was confident in, but it also required me to step a little outside my comfort zone -- at The Wikimedia Foundation. I reached out to my mentors and started exploring. I read article and books about technical writing, listened to talks and podcasts, and also joined some community forums. It took me nearly a month to learn enough about technical writing, navigate MediaWiki effectively, understand the documentation structure and find the right resources.

In open-source initiatives like GSoD, GSoC and Outreachy, the applicant community is a major part of the learning process. Participants working on the same project can share their experiences and help each other. At Wikimedia, communications related to outreach programs take place on Zulip chat. Many interested GSoD applicants reached out, but not many seemed to continue. Looked like they were having trouble getting started, so we worked on creating a 'New technical writer guide'. I had documented my exploration phase, so creating this guide was fun. After which, I also worked on a couple of other documentation tasks. I have to mention here that the Wikimedia community was super supportive at every step. Special thanks to Sarah R. Rodlund, Srishti Sethi, Nick Wilson and Andre Klapper. =D

The final, most important step is drafting the proposal. Here's a link to my final GSoD proposal. Some tips on writing a good proposal:

  • Start early. I can't stress this enough. It takes time to write a good proposal.
  • Refer to previous year proposals accepted by your organization and other organizations.
  • Have a clear structure in mind before beginning. Map out the different sections and what they should include.
  • Be mindful about your time-line. We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in one week.
  • Finalize a draft early (1-2 weeks before the deadline) to incorporate feedback from your mentors.

The application process served as my gateway into the open-source world. I enjoyed working on the tasks and continued doing so after submitting my proposal.

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