Embracing ‘Open Culture’ and Hacking the Learning Process

This is my story: how I’ve made most of Mozfest, and how I’m giving back

This year will be my third Mozfest. From being a volunteer at Mozfest to running a space and now doing a talk — this is my story of how I’ve made most of Mozfest, and how I’m going to give back.

2013

Two years ago, I was 23, just over a year out of university and trying to figure out how to combine my passion for technology with a desire to do good in the world. At university, I started freelancing for tech startups as a digital marketing and events consultant and also got involved with MakeSense, a global network of change makers volunteering to propagate social enterprises. I was starting to discover the concept of tech for good and was instantly fascinated by open source.

I had wanted to volunteer for Mozfest the year before but I missed the deadline and my thesis was looming closer so I missed out but the regret of missing out was brutal. To be honest, I also felt I would be out of place in a conference which, as an outsider, seemed to be full of accomplished open source developers. I had never written a line of code.

But my life kind of changed in 2013. A lot happened. I started a charity project, Chayn, which crowdsourced information to empower women fighting violence. I joined the Core Team for Wikimania 2014 (annual conference of Wikipedians) which was being held in London. Let’s just say I was fully appreciating the power of open source.

So in 2013, I applied to volunteer at Mozfest and I got in. I was beyond excited.

Volunteer Training, Mozilla Offices 2013

At Mozfest, I was given the responsibility of checking people in. I was hoping to do social media as that’s what I was really good at but I couldn’t figure out whether it was appropriate for me to ask or not. I just continued tweeting as usual while checking people in and then, Amira walked up to me and said, “you’re being wasted here. Here, just tell *****(name) who has the twitter password to give that to you and create a buzz!”. Imagine my face.

So, after an hour of locating the person (people have a tendency to disappear at Ravensbourne), I had the twitter password and I was tweeting! It was a big deal for someone who felt awkward asking the twitter password for the company who produces Firefox.

I went back and found a few tweets I did that day:

Also sneaked in a cheeky retweet (hey! you would too)!

I had been thinking about learning how to code and I was so excited to see that Makers Academy had scholarships for women in tech. They were holding tests for the 3 month course at Mozfest. I applied and as part of the interview, they helped us write a few lines of code. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was. While I didn’t get it, it pushed me to start learning HTML and CSS on codecademy. At this time, I was working as a marketing and business development freelancer for a new startup. Being inspired by the tech for good projects at Mozfest inspired me to leave that job a few months later.

One year forward and my life had changed more.

2014

By this time, I was working as a Community & Partnerships Manager at OpenCorporates, the world’s largest open database of company information — a real pioneer in the transparency space. By this time, Chayn had grown into four projects, and 70 volunteers from 11 countries reaching 40 000 people. And I had helped put together the biggest Wikipedia conference ever (at that time).

I applied to run a session for OpenCorporates which sadly didn’t get accepted but I was invited to be a Space Wrangler for the Privacy stream. So, I had the immense pleasure of helping run the Privacy stream over the two days that saw so many high quality sessions.

2015 — now

This year I’m facilitating a session on “Building resources for women at risk” in the “Voices of Diverse Leaders” stream. This stream is an important change at Mozfest as we, as an industry, realise that just because we’re working in the “Tech for good” space does not mean we should neglect accounting for diversity because not only is that fair, but it’s good for all.

Mozfest and my life seem to be in sync.

As I’ve grown professionally, I’ve been able to participate more and more in Mozfest. There is something for everyone to do and learn at Mozfest. Here’s what I’ve learnt and here are my 2 parting lessons for you:

  • Meet people. There are people from all over the world who are experts on a variety of interesting subjects and industries. I’ve used this as a way to learn but also to test project ideas off them. My favourite place to talk to people: in the coffee line and outside the venue entrance.
  • Hack the learning process. I treat Mozfest as a short bootcamp to learn things I wouldn’t get a chance to learn otherwise. Open medicine, data based journalism, anti-surveillance tactics and making literacy matrix are just a few examples of what I learned in 3 years. Take the plunge!

Over the course of 3 years, I went from being a volunteer to running a space and now leading a session. The network I developed through Mozfest inspired me to change my career and helped me grow the impact of Chayn and OpenCorporates. I’ve learnt things over the space of a weekend that I would never get time to submerge myself in like open hardware and data journalism. There are not many spaces like Mozfest that allow you to pick something up completely new and dive in fully.

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