Where are they now? The Participants of the 2006 Women’s Summer Outreach Program

As the GNOME Project gears up to kick off a new Outreach Program for Women (OPW), Marina Zhurakhinskaya and Hanna Wallach look back at the Women’s Summer Outreach Program (WSOP) from 2006. Marina follows up with the participants to see what they learned and how OPW can benefit from past experience.

The GNOME community is determined to increase women’s participation in the project. Specifically, the community would like to increase the visibility of existing female contributors and create a support system for encouraging women’s participation.

The first women’s outreach program (WSOP 2006) was run in the summer of 2006 and was motivated by the fact that GNOME received 181 applications for the 2006 Google Summer of Code (GSoC) program, yet .none were from women.

Hanna Wallach and Chris Ball, who organized the outreach program, found that the following steps resulted in around 100 qualified applicants:

  • Creating a program specifically targeted at women
  • Changing the language advertising the program from more Google’s more competitive “prove you are the best” style to a more collaborative “gain experience developing Linux desktop applications in collaboration with open source developers” style
  • Making use of wide-spread, word-of-mouth advertising via supporters at various colleges and universities

They also noted that the success of the program was highly dependent on finding mentors committed to following through with their mentorship responsibilities.

Federico Mena-Quintero, who was one of the participating mentors, created a guide about how to be a good mentor based on his experience with the women’s outreach program and GSoC. This guide contains important advice for anyone interested in being a mentor in one of these programs, including introducing your student to other people in the GNOME community and taking time every week to test your student’s code or otherwise evaluate their work and provide feedback.

The GNOME community would like to ensure a consistent, on-going effort to engage more women with the project and is therefore organizing a new Outreach Program for Women that will encourage women’s participation throughout the year and will create internship opportunities in the summer. Creating better resources for all newcomers will be an integral part of this program. However, having materials specifically targetted at women will result in a wider spread of information about how exciting, varied and valuable work on GNOME can be. Ultimately, the goal of the program is not only to recruit female applicants for the OPW internships, but to recruit them for the GSoC GNOME projects as well.

We are currently raising money for the OPW internships to make this part of the program possible. The GNOME women mailing list is the main communication channel for updates about the program, so feel free to sign up for it if you are interested in participating or helping with the program in any way.

We asked the six WSOP 2006 participants to share their experiences with the program and their advice for the program organizers, mentors, and participants. In doing this, we learned that they all stayed in technical professions, are big users and proponents of FOSS, and have great things to say about their mentors and the GNOME community. Most of them keep technical blogs. Unfortunately, many of them did not have their work during WSOP incorporated into GNOME (which is common in GSoC as well) and did not have time to continue contributing to FOSS due to busy school and work schedules.

WSOP 2006 was organized in about a month, after the 2006 GSoC applications were received. In contrast, the new program has allocated more time for resource preparation and the selection process. We are already looking for mentors for the program and would like to have online bootcamps for the participating projects before the application period. This will enable applicants to familiarize themselves with the projects and will also provide the mentors with applicant contributions to evaluate during the selection process. Unlike WSOP 2006, the new program will also include non-programming projects such as graphics design, interaction design, documentation, and marketing. We are also considering letting participants work as part of the team starting with smaller contributions, progressing to larger ones, rather than working on stand-alone projects. This is more similar to the way companies run their internship programs and will ensure that contributions get incorporated into GNOME throughout the summer. Finally, we will offer support for the participants in the #gnome-women IRC channel on irc.gnome.org and will include the participants’ blogs on Planet GNOME with a special logo, as is already done for the GSoC participants.

Here are the responses from the WSOP 2006 participants. They all share some great insights!

Who are you?

(Introduce yourself.)

Fernanda Foertter: I was born in Brazil, moved to the US 20 years ago. I have a BS in Physics and an MS in Materials  Engineering. I started learning to program on an Apple ][ e back in Middle school, and later using Pascal!! Then more  seriously for scientific purposes when I was working in the High Energy Physics Lab. Later moved onto HPC working in  computational chemistry during my MS.



Monia Ghobadi: Currently, I’m a third year PhD student at University of Toronto. At the time of WSOP I was doing my masters at University of Victoria.

 Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: I am a 25 year-old girl from the Canary Islands, living for 7 years in Barcelona. I’ve studied  Computer Engineering at the Technical University of Catalonia and now I’m enrolled on a PhD program at the same university.




Ümran Kamar: I am working as Computer engineer and study Aeronautical Engineering as Master degree.






 Clare So: I am a software developer now living in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. I completed my BSc and MSc in Computer  Science at The University of Western Ontario, Canada. I attempted PhD in Computer Science at McMaster University but  left without finishing the degree. Other than computers, I am also interested in classical music. I have been singing in  various local choirs for the last 10 years.


 Maria Soler: I come from Barcelona but I’m currently living in Denmark. I’ve been in Maths university (not the whole  thing but enough to get some interesting ideas), in Electronic engineering school and now studying further into distributed  and real time systems.

What did you accomplish as part of your WSOP project. Who was your mentor? Did your work get incorporated into the module you worked on?

Fernanda Foertter: I started graduate school that very summer so WSOP did more for me learning than I was able to finish. I learned a lot about GUI programming and helped me land a job after grad school! Chris Ball was my mentor and he was a great mentor! Unfortunately I couldn’t finish my work in time, so it did not get incorporated into the module.

Monia Ghobadi: The project that I worked on was called Gnome-Screen: Integration of Gnome Terminal and GNU screen. Behdad Esfahbod and Chris Ball were my two incredibly cool mentors. Unfortunately my work did not get incorporated into the module yet. I keep giving people my patch here and there and I had a chat with Behdad on resuming my work.

Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: My project was the optimization of the switch of components (mail, contacts, calendar, tasks, memos) in Evolution. The time of switching increased exponentially with the number of switches done (almost 2 seconds after 200 switches). I profiled the application, analyzed the code and detected and solved the bug responsible of that behavior. My mentor was Federico Mena-Quintero. I think my work got incorporated into the module… Federico did the update on the CVS.

Ümran Kamar: I worked at developing Mozilla plug-in for Evince pdf reader project. My mentor was Ronald S. Bultje. I don’t know if my work got incorporated into the module.

Clare So: I helped my mentor designing a cut/paste/selection mechanism in his existing math expression viewer. My mentor was Luca Padovani from Italy. Unfortunately, my work did not get incorporated into the module.

Maria Soler: In my WSOP project I was supposed to enable synchronization in Tomboy. I didn’t get that far, but I touched some Mono libraries on the way, although I’m not sure if the changes got into the modules. My mentor was Alex Graveley.

What were your experiences with your mentor and the community?

Fernanda Foertter: Really positive! My mentor was very knowledgeable and patient and the community is really great.

Monia Ghobadi: Overall, it was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity of attending OLS and meeting my mentors as well as members of the community which I find amazing. From the IRC chat helps to the comments on my blog, I find the community one of the most interesting parts of GNOME.

Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: My mentor was great, well organized and always willing to help me if I got stuck, specially in the first part of the project, the building and configuration of the working environment.

Ümran Kamar: Community was pretty good, especially Chris Ball helped me so much.

Clare So: I was surprised that no one told me to “RTFM” when I did not understand something. My mentor was patient. In addition, I enjoyed hanging out with some local GNOME users and developers in the Toronto area.

Maria Soler: I didn’t have enough contact with my mentor during the project. I was too proud to ask for help and approval, and he didn’t press me much. The time zone difference didn’t help either. I got to talk to some other developers by mail and IRC and I got a very good impression about working in this community.

What did you learn about GNOME and FOSS from your participation in the program?

Fernanda Foertter: The great way the community keeps bringing great open-sourced project. I became a much bigger advocate for open source and not just a user.

Monia Ghobadi: I learnt a lot. WSOP had a big impact on my vision towards open source.

Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: I found a big community of people that really appreciate new helping hands.

Ümran Kamar: I learned GTK programming.

Clare So: Developing for GNOME is a great way to play with your ideas and get constructive feedback. It is a good way to see how a real piece of software can be designed, written and maintained.

Maria Soler: I was at GUADEC just before starting the WSOP, and already there I could see how many great and enthusiastic people this community has. And that makes a great GNOME desktop. And FOSS… I became a bigger enthusiast myself!

Did you contribute to GNOME or any other FOSS project since 2006?

Fernanda Foertter: Mostly as a alpha/beta tester. I’m hoping to get back to coding now that I left grad school and started a job.

Monia Ghobadi: Unfortunately no as I have been busy with school.

Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to participate in more projects.

Ümran Kamar: Yes, I was contributing to Pardus Linux distribution before and after the program by testing, reporting bugs, and writing HOWTOs.

Clare So: My involvement in GNOME has been limited since working in a full-time job. Sometimes I browse the Ubuntu questions posted in Launchpad and see if I can answer any. It’s a great way to encourage others to use free software.

Maria Soler: I didn’t keep contributing. I both work and study, with programming, and I have not much free time. I hope I can start again when I’m done with my studies.

Do you use any FOSS technologies now?

Fernanda Foertter: YES! I use FOSS at home and encourage my newest employer to use OSS at work. I definitely evangelize more since WSOP because I understand the model better. At work I use Ubuntu, Scite, Mono, all sorts of compilers… you name it at work for coding. My netbook runs Moblin, my home computer runs Ubuntu. Only my work laptop is a Mac, and filled with open source goodness there too.

Monia Ghobadi: I use Ubuntu/Google Chrome/Mozilla Thunderbird and of course GNU screen and lot and lots of other things at home and school.

Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: Always. I’m a 100% Linux supporter and try to spread FOSS. I use Arch Linux with GNOME desktop at home and OpenSuse with GNOME desktop at work. I also have an Android phone.

Ümran Kamar: I use Pardus operating system and open-office, multimedia and gaming tools.

Clare So: I am an Ubuntu user.

Maria Soler: I use only Ubuntu in my personal computer and I try to use as many FOSS application as I can at work; Pidgin as IM application, Dia for diagrams, etc.

What do you work on now?

Fernanda Foertter: I’m a scientific programmer for a genetic company. I code anything from FORTRAN to C/C++/VB/C# (which I started to learn during WSOP).

Monia Ghobadi: Right now, I’m doing an internship at Google. At school I’m working on router buffer sizing and transport protocols in the Internet.

Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: Trying to deal with my PhD thesis… something about the automatic generation of hardware accelerators for bioinformatics applications. Also in my work I use FOSS technologies, like the LLVM compiler, GCC, all running on Linux.

Ümran Kamar: I am studying on aeronautics.

Clare So: Nothing particular to FOSS technologies. I am working as a software developer at Maplesoft, maker of Maple computer algebra system.

Maria Soler: I work on finishing my Master’s Degree and in the meanwhile I get paid for working on smart metering systems (electricity, heat, water, etc.).

What advice do you have for the new program organizers, mentors, and participants?

Fernanda Foertter: To create a project plan and timeline, with perhaps a way for the participants to regularly communicate throughout their learning experience. The mentoring is great, so change nothing!

Monia Ghobadi: I think as interesting as a remote program is, it is not the most effective way to get people involved. I would suggest planning a summer school or even better on-site internships instead of two month remote work.

Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: It would be great if there were more continuity with the program (it has been a while from 2006).

Ümran Kamar: The objective of the program should be getting new people into the community. Mentors can keep being awesome.

Clare So: For the organizers and mentors, I would like to say that one advertising campaign would not fix the gender imbalance in FOSS community. Every FOSS member must promote a welcoming atmosphere to all people who may be interested in FOSS. For potential participants, you may be surprised in what you can do in a real piece of software. The GNOME community is more friendly than you think.

Maria Soler: I would advice the mentors to keep an eye on their project participants, and the students to not be shy, not too proud, not afraid of what the mentor would say… ask and talk!

Your WSOP project blog or write-up, and your current blog or web page?

Fernanda Foertter: My current blog project is http://hpcprogrammer.com

Monia Ghobadi: http://monia.wordpress.com

Cecilia Gonzalez-Alvarez: Here is the project blog: http://m3gumi.wordpress.com and here is the project report that contains the main points of what I did. Currently I don’t maintain any personal webpage or blog.

Ümran Kamar: My blog is http://www.handlet.blogspot.com and it has one entry about the WSOP project: http://handlet.blogspot.com/2006/07/wsop-first-screen-shot-of-evince_20.html

Clare So: My blog is found in http://lacampanella.wordpress.com. It contains some progress reports on the WSOP project.

Maria Soler: I don’t have the blog I had when I was doing the WSOP… the server was shut down long time ago and I didn’t recover my data. Here is my current one: http://mariadelsrinxols.blogspot.com

About the Authors

Hanna Wallach is a senior postdoctoral research associate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, working on Bayesian inference for machine learning problems. In her not-so-spare time, Hanna has contributed to both GNOME and Debian, and is involved in several projects that encourage women to participate in free software development. Her favourite food is kale.

Marina Zhurakhinskaya is a Senior Software Engineer working on the new shiny GNOME Shell code on the desktop team at Red Hat. She is particularly interested in making sure that GNOME desktop is intuitive for the users and well-documented for the contributors. Outside of work, she likes to hang out with friends and family, travel, listen to audio books, and read reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Amazon.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.


Posted on November 13, 2009, in November 2009. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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