My Outreachy Internship

Zareen Farooqui
Dec 5, 2016 · 4 min read

Since I’ve started coding, I’ve released all my completed projects under the GNU General Public License (open source) on Github. I hadn’t heard of the term open source until I started getting technical and since then I’ve been intrigued by this idea. Lots of people are incredibly passionate about open source software. One major advantage of open source software is the flexibility to easily manipulate the source code for different use cases. Established open source projects often provide high quality software since anyone can add features, fix bugs, report issues and test the code.

Often, people who contribute to open source projects do so in their spare time and for no pay. This is a stark contrast to the way most of the world works.

I first learned about Outreachy internships in September and was immediately interested, even though I was just starting a serious job search. Outreachy connects people from underrepresented groups in technology with free and open source software projects for 3 month paid internships. The goal is to “create a positive feedback loop” by getting more women involved in open source projects. While there are many great organizations which offer Outreachy internships, I was drawn to the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the organization behind Wikipedia. This was partly because of past projects with some of their open data, but mainly because their goal is to help create a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. I mean… who wouldn’t be excited to help with that?

This blog post is about my application process with Outreachy and WMF (spoiler: I got the internship!!!!!).

The Outreachy process is different than anything I’ve ever applied to. There’s no formal interview and I never had to submit my resume. Instead, the process requires applicants to be proactive and get in touch with possible mentors in the organizations they’re interested in to discuss microtasks to complete. This serves to show an applicant’s technical capabilities and communication style while helping the organization since these are real tasks which need to be completed. Most of the proposed projects are around software development, so these are typically bug fixes, but this wasn’t relevant for me as I’m more interested in data analytics.

I had a few email conversations with different contacts at WMF and eventually got connected with Jon Katz and Tilman Bayer from the Reading Department. I explained to them what/how I’ve been learning all year, the projects I’ve worked on, and the type of work I’m interested in. I quickly learned that although they were interested in bringing on an intern, they were also very hesitant because it’s a huge time commitment. WMF is a non-profit charitable organization, not a massive corporate America company where interns can spend months working on projects which are discarded at the end of the internship. If the Reading Team took on an intern, they had to make sure there were projects to work on that would be useful to the community and could be completed in a short amount of time by a remote junior analyst.

Luckily, Jon and Tilman decided to continue with the process and came up with 2 microtasks. These were designed to let me explore Wikipedia content and answer a question which had been discussed during the Reading team’s product development about the number of articles in which the “See also” heading appeared. Here are my results and code for the microtasks.

At this point in the application process, I was talking to my mentors (Tilman and Jon) multiple times a week through email and IRC chat. This is really important because mentors select which applicants to accept based on communication style and quality of the microtask completed. I also started creating various accounts/profiles I would need for the internship and was discussing possible project work.

My mentors decided it would be most beneficial for me to work on 5 smaller projects throughout the internship instead of 1 large project. My application to WMF includes an overview of the 5 subprojects I’ll be working in the coming months. The first subproject is actually an extension of the microtasks completed for the application. The entire schedule is planned out, but it’s expected to be adjusted as the projects become more well-defined.

Since I was available immediately, I actually started working full time with WMF a few weeks ago as a volunteer intern (before I got an official acceptance from Outreachy)! So far, I’ve reviewed a research paper on Wikipedia traffic data and election predictions, read The Wikipedia Revolution, been remotely attending meetings, having daily check ins with my mentor and am currently wrapping up the first 2 subprojects which I’ll blog about soon.

I’m ridiculously excited about the next couple months and the opportunity to work with such an incredible organization!

By the way, did you know that the Wikimedia Foundation relies on donations from users and offers all of its projects to the public for free? If you use Wikipedia or any of its sister projects, consider donating to protect and sustain this organization.

Becoming a Data Analyst

My journey learning coding + data analytics

Zareen Farooqui

Written by

Becoming a Data Analyst

My journey learning coding + data analytics

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