Internships shift gender boundaries in open source communities
Women interns rocking open source at Xen Project
With mid-term evaluations just around the corner for many technology-focused summer internship programs, here's a closer look at how the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) and Outreach Program for Women (OPW) are helping mentors as well as interns.
Xen Project virtualization is one of 40 open source projects involved in the OPW program run by the GNOME Foundation. This open source software is a Linux Foundation collaborative project that develops the Xen Hypervisor (for x86 and ARM), the XAPI toolstack, and the Mirage OS Cloud Operating system.
We've participated in both programs in the past with great success. In fact, some of our regular contributors are former GSoC students. While 2013 was our first time participating in OPW, four of our seven 2014 interns are women (read related blog). By teaming with OPW for the past several years, the number of women participating in GSoC is steadily on the rise. In fact, every year since 2006, the percentage of women involved in the GSoC has increased, with women representing nearly 10% of last year's GSoC participants.
We had a large number of applicants and could only take the best seven (5 GSoC students, 2 OPW interns). We certainly credit this year's great response to our past success. For more insights on the growing affiliation and shared goals between each program, check out these recent blogs:
- What's new for Google Summer of Code 2014
- Why We Need the Outreach Program for Women and More Outreach
Growing the open source pool of talent
For growing projects like ours, interns are a great way to expand your engineering talent pool. While more vendors are involved and sponsoring Xen Project software than ever before, a shortage of Linux and virtualization expertise is still a challenge. Our experience so far proves that the next generation of hackers is quickly filling gaps within open source communities.
Mindy Preston, a '11 computer science University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate, is improving our own Cloud Operating System called MirageOS. This unikernel is used to construct secure, high-performance network applications across a variety of cloud computing and mobile platforms. Her work will deliver support for booting Mirage OS unikernels easily on EC2, Rackspace Cloud, and OpenStack clouds, protocol bisimulations against existing Mirage OS protocol implementations, and new IPv6 support into mirage-net and a few others.
"I expect that the overwhelming majority, if not all, applications written for Mirage will make extensive use of the network stack, which was purpose-built from the ground up just for Mirage," says Preston. "I want to help make the networking stack rock-solid, so cloud developers can get on with making fantastic things without too many hurdles and complications."
While somewhat new to Xen Project software, she discovered Linux in 1999 and has been using it ever since. Despite brief stints as a professional C programmer, systems administrator, and proprietary software developer for embedded network devices, she believes open source coding might be her true calling. Hacker School in New York City paved the way for her with an introduction to functional programming languages like Haskell, Elm, and OCaml. A former Xen user, her OPW internship is her first real code contribution aimed at improving a bigger open source project.
"I heard about the internship through another Hacker School participant and was excited about contributing to Xen, and the Mirage project in particular," says Preston. "Mirage is also written in OCaml, a language with many features I'm excited about. It's great to be able to do systems and network programming, which I really enjoy, in a language other than C.
"Without getting too soapbox-y, I believe that eliminating the unnecessary complexity involved in running our software is an extremely important venture. Mirage and Xen together have the potential to accomplish this. Mirage aside, Xen is very widely-deployed and I believe will only become more so in the future," she says.
Tülin İzer is currently a senior computer engineering student at Galatasaray University in Istanbul, Turkey. She plans to apply for a master's degree and seems to be forging great relationships in the Linux community. As a OPW intern last year, she worked on the Linux kernel, parallelizing x86 boot process project.
"OPW was a great opportunity for me," Izer said. "I got to work on the Linux kernel and, at the end, I joined LinuxCon Europe, met lots of Linux developers and even gave a lightning talk."
As one of approximately 1,300 GSoC interns this summer, Izer is rewriting xenwatch locking to improve scalability when a large number of guests are running and producing upstream patches.
Mentors teach, explain, demonstrate and inspire
Izer's advice is particularly well-suited to first-timers, especially since this is her first involvement with Xen Project software.
"Try to get the best out of the bonding period," she says. "This period is really important, especially for students who don't have any experience with the organization they've joined."
Preston echoes this saying: "Communicate a lot. More than you think you need to. Ask a lot of questions. Mentors are our mentors because they are willing to put extra time into teaching us. It's okay to avail yourself of that resource."
Just as Preston and Izer are proud to be contributing to an open source project, Konrad Rzeszutek Wilk, a Xen Project mentor and software development manager at Oracle, sees mentoring as his way of giving back.
"I've been a mentor since 2012. It's an awesome experience to be able to chaperone students and help them become the best software engineers possible. Seeing them develop patches, steering them through this process, and then eventually seeing the patches posted and accepted into the kernel or hypervisor is the moment I strive for as a mentor."
This symbiotic process is off to a great start, according to Wilk. Several interns have already posted Request for Comments (RFC) patches that outline the work and serve as a base for future work.
Xen Project Developer Summit, held August 18-19 in Chicago, will feature a panel of select GSoC and OPW participants and mentors. We plan to explore what it's like to join the programs and what we can do better in the future.