Interview with winner of the Red Hat Women in Open Source Community Award, Sarah Sharp

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Women in Open Source Award, Red Hat

Last year Red Hat announced its first Women in Open Source Award, created to recognize the contributions that women are making in open source technologies and communities. I was honored to be on one of the committees that reviewed more than 100 nominations and narrowed the list down to 10 finalists divided into two categories: community and academic. Then the open source community voted, and I anxiously awaited the results. I wanted every woman on both lists to win, so I knew that no matter who ended up with most votes, I'd be happy.

Now that the winners have been announced at Red Hat Summit, I can officially congratulate Sarah Sharp, winner of the Community Award, and someone whom I've known and admired for a few years. Sarah is a software developer who has been involved in Linux kernel development since 2006. She's active in the open source community, and she coordinated kernel internships for the Outreach Program for Women (OWP), which was succeed by Outreachy earlier this year. Last October I ran into Sarah at LinuxCon Europe, where she was accompanied by seven of the former interns who were presenting on their projects.

In February 2015, The Linux Foundation released a Linux Development Report, which said that the Outreach Program for Women ranked #13 for Linux kernel contributions in the last cycle, and the interns contributed 1.5 percent of the patches to Linux kernel 3.11. Although Sarah recently stepped down as coordinator for the Linux kernel OPW internships, she's actively involved with Outreachy (along with Karen Sandler, another finalist for our Women in Open Source Award). In this interview, I asked Sarah about her career achievements so far, and her recommendations for inspiring the next generation of women in open source.

Also read our interview with Women in Open Source Academic Award winner, Kesha Shah.

Congratulations on winning Red Hat's first Women in Open Source award. Looking back at the open source projects you've worked on and communities you've worked with, what do you think is one of your biggest achievements?

I'm really proud of two particular occasions. The first was when the USB 3.0 host controller driver I wrote got merged into the Linux kernel, making Linux the first operating system with USB 3.0 support. I spent a lot of time debugging my own code, wrestling with early prototype hardware, and clarifying specification ambiguities with the USB 3.0 specification architects. I was really happy when the driver landed, and every time I see a blue USB port on a Linux laptop, I think, "They're running my code!"

My second proudest moment is the very first round when the Linux kernel participated in the Outreach Program for Women (now called Outreachy). A lot of kernel maintainers complained about how newcomers would send them mangled patches, and grump about how the newcomers should really just RTFM and look at our patch submission guidelines. Of course, it turned out the manual was lacking or out of date, and there were a lot of steps to set up tools for Linux kernel development, so I spent a week and created a step-by-step tutorial.

It was really gratifying to see those first applicants go through my tutorial and send well-formed patches. I've loved watching those interns move onto bigger projects, and even get hired to work on the Linux kernel, and I'm really proud I was able to help people get involved in Linux kernel development.

The Red Hat award site says: "At Red Hat, we believe that open source is the future of technology. It's time to recognize the contributions that women are making and inspire a new generation to join the open source movement." What do you think employers and open source community members could do better to help recognize contributions women are making in open source?

It's important to increase the visibility of minorities in open source, and one of the ways we can do that is to encourage those community members to give talks at conferences. When you speak at a conference, people recognize you as an expert on your subject matter, and it's a really good chance to network.

So how do we increase the number of minority conference speakers? It's not enough to advertise being a welcoming conference with a good code of conduct; you have to also reach out to minorities and encourage them to submit, tweet at @callbackwomen, show up at their user groups, and maybe even host a proposal hackathon.

Open Source Bridge and PyCon have really worked hard to seek out and promote diverse speakers, and it shows in their results. PyCon is currently at 33% women speakers, and Open Source Bridge has 61% women speakers.

What do you think are the low-hanging fruits for inspiring a new generation to join the open source movement?

There are a lot of young people who are interested in Arduino and Raspberry Pi, or other open source hardware projects. They love the endless possibilities, and the fact that they can get help online, or share projects. However, they don't necessarily associate those projects with open source, or know how to get involved with an open source community. Making that connection—through articles, videos, and mentoring people&mdashis important.

Many open source communities have been very good about running beginner's workshops to encourage newcomers to get involved. Many of these people are really excited about open source, but don't quite know where to start. Connecting them with friendly mentors and the local open source communities is key to retaining newcomers. Open Hatch hosts several Open Source comes to campus workshops at universities, and there are several workshops aimed at attracting diverse community members, like RailsBridge and PyLadies. There are a lot of resources to find those workshops and welcoming communities on Days Since Last Tech Incident, and I encourage open source community members to get involved as mentors, organizers, and even just someone to help answer questions on IRC.

Would you like to add any final comments?

I'm really honored to be recognized for both my technical achievements and my efforts to improve open source communities. I believe we should be focusing on diversity and mentorship, which is why I'm donating my Women in Open Source award stipend to Outreachy to support internships and the conference travel fund.

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Rikki Endsley is the Developer Program managing editor at Red Hat, and a former community architect and editor for


It's really cool to hear more from a kernel dev. I love following the activities of people working on kernel code, but I only know of a few. And I always did wonder how and why Linux was first in on the USB3 drivers, and now I know. Thanks, Sarah!

Congrats, I voted for Sarah! But the Raspberry Pi isn't open source hardware!

If others want to donate to Outreachy, it's tax deductible, and any amount helps a great program:

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