How I landed up interning in Outreachy 2020 with InterMine?

Sakshi Srivastava
May 11, 2020 · 10 min read

Last year in 2019, at women’s day I was reading an article on opportunities available for women who want to grow themselves in the field of technology. There I found Outreachy. I signed up for its newsletter, the applications for the previous summers were about to close that time. I decided to apply in this programme with my whole heart next time. So, this summer, being fully focused to get the Outreachy Internship I decided to work hard and stopped looking for any other summer internship. And here I’m sharing my experience with you to guide you. To one who wants to start their journey into open source, who is ready to survive in this tech world, who is dreaming of a fruitful remote job. This is for you. Outreachy is for you. 🤗

What is Outreachy?

Outreachy is an open-source program that seeks to promote participation of people who are underrepresented in technology. The program provides an opportunity to collaborate and work remotely on a project under the guidance of experienced mentors. Interns are highly paid a stipend of $5500 for the 3 months internship programme and $500 as travel sponsorship to participate in any tech event, summits, or conference. Outreachy internships are not limited to programming only. They also include UI/UX, documentation, data science, graphic design, video documentation, and illustration projects. The best part of this programme is that it is offered twice a year and you do not have to be a student to apply for it. 👌🏼

The rationale behind outreachy programmes is to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in open source, and the technology sector in general. Anyone who faces under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country is invited to apply. Outreachy encourages people to apply, even if they have no experience contributing to free and open source software.

Process

Here is the Outreachy application process and how I went through it. You can check the Outreachy schedule here.

1) Initial Application

In the initial application, you have to provide your basic information, your time commitment and 4 essay questions. Outreachy requires interns to be available full time during the internship, which is 40 hours per week. A few university applicants mailed me that they couldn’t make it to the next step because their university exams were clashing with the program. Outreachy coordinators verify the applications and filter those applicants who qualify through the criteria. Also, I would suggest to start working on the application as soon as possible because this year coordinators couldn’t review the applications submitted in the end, tweet here. I qualified for the next step which is selecting a project and starting contributions. 😇

2) Project selection

Project selection is an important and effortful part of the process. A wrong project choice can cause you to drop the idea of continuing at some point of time or the right choice can open doors of learning and exposure for you. After clearing step one, interns now can see the list of all organisations and their projects in detail. The application process is long and time consuming, and you can’t make it in one or two weeks, so to jump to the next step you need to finish this as early as possible.

❎Misconception: It can be overwhelming to go through a list that big. Going through every single organisation and their projects + reading details and then being not sure with anything, thus ending up getting all confused. Switching from one to another will just burn your time and energy. This will become a burden on you and you will no more enjoy working on it.

✅My Perceptions: Brainstorm a list of skills you have, or skills you want to learn. Although the Outreachy project list doesn’t have a search function yet you can use your browser’s ‘Find’ functionality to search within the project list for those skills. Select a project if you really feel that you can do well there. Narrow down your project choices to two at the most.

In my case, I know that I am good at JavaScript. It was easy for me to choose a project and stop wasting time on other projects because I was clear in my head that I wanted to further polish my javascript skills under the guidance of an experienced mentor to know myself better. I filtered data visualisation projects and there I found InterMine, an open source data warehouse intended to be used for the integration and analysis of complex biological data.

I researched about the org’s past projects, participations, feedbacks and then decided to get more familiar with them. Basically with InterMine, you can explore organisms and other research data provided by different organisations, moving between databases using criteria such as homology. The goal of the project that I chose is to develop BlueGenes compatible visualisation tools. Bluegenes is InterMine viewer interface which is designed to make searching and analyzing genomic data easy. I would like to explain the project in detail in my next blog. This can be helpful for biologists and explorers can get better insights of data particularly that of genes and proteins. Pretty cool !! 😁

3) Getting into organisation’s arena and starting contributions

This stage is full of different kinds of emotions. You are going to feel dumb, self-doubt, fear of asking silly questions, fear of getting ignored, fear of rejection of pull request, fear of not writing suitable code and much more. It is likely we will all succumb to the effects of impostor syndrome at some time in our life. We know that it can be triggered by new and daunting experiences, but just throw it out of the window. 😎

This is what I felt after getting into the discord channel of InterMine. The community was super supportive in every aspect. They cordially welcomed each and every participant with enthusiasm. They made each of them so comfortable that there was no space of hesitation. They responded to all our questions rapidly. They were even always open for a friendly chat. Also, a very interesting and joyful part of the community was that they started a trend that everyday one person will ask an open-ended question like — favourite pastime, lockdown days, music suggestion etc. This made us familiar with the environment, more engaging and knew about the diverse practices happening worldwide.

Now was the time to fork the repo, make it run on the local machine with the help of available documentation, and start finding good first issues. It is preferable to start with good first issues as they get solved pretty easily and you gain a lot of confidence and motivation to continue. In case your project doesn’t have more issues, try finding the bugs or some feature addition you will definitely get something or other if given sufficient amount of time else ask your mentor to refer to a few issues which can help you to get started. Also remember, Outreachy requires at least one contribution to become eligible for the final application and internship.

The covid lockdown season gave enough time to get into something completely. I took the advantage of surplus time and was committed to contribute as much as I could because in some way or other I was enjoying it. I would recommend not to feel accomplished after contributing once as competition is tough, people contribute more than once usually to increase their chances of selection. So make sure to contribute more and really good contributions (aligned to your project) increase the prospect of selection.
Contribution not only involves making pull requests, but suggestions, finding issues in any project is also a part of contributing. Truly, InterMine is so energetic that within 2–3 days they ensure to have a look at the PRs and take actions. I made my first easy PR and to my surprise it got accepted. Hurrraah!! The mail of getting PR accepted plus a little appraisal comment from the mentors, I don’t think you can feel that happiness without actually experiencing the same. I felt like flying but I had to come down and solve more issues. This gave me confidence to contribute more and outshine in the eyes of mentors. 🥰

I would say keep an eye on your competitors. I used to visit the project repos and Discord channel daily to check how many new applicants were trying to solve the issues. This helped me to analyse how I can surpass all (being selfish 😝). Other applicants also observed me and asked their doubts directly to me. I was really glad to help the applicants in the best possible manner. The appreciation you get from others boost the inner strength to work harder.

Your focus should be to commit early, and get feedback as early as possible so that you get a patch merged in the shortest time possible. Iterations become perfect only after being committed and reviewed. I remember that after adding each PR and doing few iterations over it as mentioned by the mentors — Akshat & Herald, I wrote an excerpt in the doc file featuring my experience while working on that issue — challenges, how I reached to the correct solution and the time given to it which later helped me a lot to quickly add the contribution in the section provided at the Outreachy dashboard.

The contribution phase is so engaging that you won’t believe that more than half of the period is passed and the deadline of submitting the final application is coming soon. 😨

4) Final Application

In the middle of this phase I got to know that InterMine is also participating in Google Summer of Code under OBF (a programme open to university student developers from around the world to contribute to open source projects) with the same project that I was targeting on. I was in a dilemma whether to participate in GSoC also or leave that opportunity and focus on Outreachy application only. Yo Yehudi, awesome mentor of InterMine guided me to participate in both and this will increase the chances of selection because nobody knows how many seats an organisation is going to get in the programme. So, it may happen that the project you are targeting may not get selected because of the seats constraint but this should not become your barrier while applying to any programme. You should give your best and forget about the end result, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the process, the most. 😉

I added 8 contributions which involved a few majors, fortunately all got merged. 😁 I halted the contribution phase and started jotting down the important points regarding the visualisations that are needed to be developed during the internship period before actually starting writing the proposal. This was one of the most vital times of my journey where I laboriously gave my days to research the different relations between genes and proteins, how I am going to actually develop them, from where will I get the data, how I am going to use it, what all technology and libraries are going to help me, how to publish them and after all this how to delineate them to make the mentors believe that I am understanding the project and I’m one of the suitable candidate for this project. The genomic data is very huge. Being a non-medical student I was not familiar with many of the keywords and importance of them. But I studied the terms related to the requirements which were necessary. Yo played the role of god here who cleared my each doubt beautifully, she even never contemplated me for asking the repetitive and silly questions. She is a gem. 💎

After a week of delving, I started layouting the headlines keeping in mind GSoC proposal structure which I later used for Outreachy. The difficult and the crucial part of the programme is to decide the timeline where to add promises that you will deliver by the end of the internship programme. The distribution should be as fair as possible and even if in future something happens which unfortunately delays the project’s task, it should not affect the final delivery. I presented the proposal elegantly and at the end when I scrolled the draft doc, I couldn’t believe that all was written by me. I’ve never written such a long proposal before and always been escaping from such tasks. I felt splendid by my hardwork and that gave me motivation to write this blog down. 😎

The mistake I made was that I took a lot of time in understanding and finishing up the proposal. Till the last 2 days of submission I was left with few parts of the proposal. In between I didn’t realise to submit the draft to the mentors for the reviewal which left me with not much intense feedback from them. I recommend you to complete the proposal beforehand to stay at the safer side and free from anxiety that happens at the last moment.

The application process is a one-month rigorous process. Don’t give up. Just try it out. Even if you think the competitors are strong. DO IT — don’t leave the final application part at this stage — I noticed few applicants became inactive as the submission deadline was coming closer. Do your best and forget about the outcome. The amount of knowledge you will gain during the process is significant as compared to not trying in the programme.✌🏼

Result Announcement

Hah! Finally, the application submission is done. Great work! After patting myself and getting it from my well wisher, I questioned myself did I enjoy the journey — Yes definitely. 😍 A sense of accomplishment you feel after submitting the satisfactory application is pleasant.

It was hard to wait for the results. There was confidence and hope plus dreadness too as there were chances that my project didn’t get selected.

And here’s the good news — “Congratulations on being accepted as an Outreachy intern”. 🤩 It was nothing more than a cool breeze in the weather of hot summers. I still took a few minutes believing it. 🥺 Wuhuu!! I did it. 🥳

In the end, a big shout out to Outreachy organizers, InterMine and everyone who gives outreach to people to learn and grow in open source. A big to thanks to my friends and family, this wouldn’t be possible without their moral support. ❤️

It would be totally unjust if I don’t mention the support and motivation given by my mentors Yo Yehudi, Herald and Akshat. Needless to say, their unwavering support was always there to sort out all kinds of issues I faced. Thanks a bunch for being so kind and helpful. ❤️

Ahh! I can’t wait to start 😈

InterMine

Open source data warehouse system for the integration and…

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