Grokking OpenStack

OpenStack - little pieces

Working Together

A strong part of the open source community is working with others. I have had the good fortune to be in a position to work closely with another applicant over the last week.

Shruti (who blogs here) lives in India and is currently a student. She found out about the GNOME Outreach Program for Women through her love of OpenStack (via Facebook) and had contacted the same mentor as myself, Iccha. Iccha introduced us via email and we have been working together as a team since that introduction.

It was funny the way it worked out, we met each other the day prior to American Thanksgiving, which Iccha being in the US celebrates and neither Shruti or I do (I’m in Canada). So there we were, neither Shruti or I really knowing what we were doing, trying to get devstack working. Off to IRC we go.

I had previously met jpich on IRC and introduced her and Shruti. We had a lively interaction understanding various error messages and reading documentation trying to get operational environments on our respective systems.

Now had Shruti or I approached a different mentor or had Iccha not introduced us, I may have spent my time flailing away by myself waiting for Iccha to resurface after her holidays. By introducing us to each other and leaving us to figure it out on our own, we filled in the gaps ourselves and continued to work away, asking questions, having doubts, making mistakes, reading documentation and having success. Success is nicer when you have someone to share it with.

I’m not sure if this is quite the way the GNOME Outreach Program for Women is supposed to work, but this is how it is working for us. We have a daily email thread where Shruti and I share with Iccha our initial topic for the day with intended next steps. This allows for feedback and suggestions from the other two. When one of us is unavailable perhaps the other can offer something supportive if only an ascii smile.

We have good conversations with other OpenStack mentors and OpenStackers not involved in the program at all. Turns out they are genuinely nice even if they don’t know we are applicants.

I also think we encourage each other. Having another applicant to work with is a better gauge of accomplishment than comparing ones work with the mentor. I think it heartens me to work with another applicant and I am glad it is Shruti. She is friendly and intelligent and a hard worker.

I really like the energy we have created between and amongst us during the application process and I hope we can continue to grow and expand it during the execution of the program.

Thanks for reading,
Anita Kuno.

My First Commit

It may not sound like much, but having a successful first commit makes me feel very proud. The commit? It was a bug fix. The bug? It was a typo. Silly, yeah, I know but the point is less the code and more the process. It is a process which I had attempted and failed at previously.

About a year ago, I wandered into the Mozilla channel and received a lot of support when I identified myself as someone wanting to learn how to contribute. I had at least two people in the channel giving me their full attention and support. And yet I failed. I wasn’t able to navigate the process and I couldn’t put any more energy into trying. Life intervened and the necessity to feed dependants and take care of daily activities eliminated the brief burst of energy I had. I never made it back into the Mozilla channel after that first visit.

I am a big open source software consumer and I love to make useful contributions to products I believe are worthy. It wasn’t for lack of desire on my part or lack of welcome on the behalf of those in the Mozilla channel. It was all the other stuff that had to be dealt with to get to the point of committing a patch.

So what is different now? How was I able to commit a patch to OpenStack when I couldn’t figure it out with Mozilla? Well there are a couple differences, let me discuss them.

Money. Yeah, I don’t want to be crass, but money makes a difference. The GNOME Outreach Program for Women provides a stipend which when I devote my 40 hours per week to the project, I can buy groceries. I don’t have to do the work and figure out to buy groceries, I can focus on the work knowing I can also eat at the same time. Might sound not worth discussing to some, but to me it is a mainstay in any kind of learning/internship/apprenticeship program in which I have participated and I have participated in a few. So money isn’t the reason but it does make a contribution possible, for me at least.

Identified mentors available via IRC, email and Google Hangout (I think other venues are possible but these are the ones suggested and implemented thus far). Also the mentors checked in with me. Iccha knew I was considering applying and followed up with me, asking me questions about what I would like, offering me links and information, setting up times to meet with me. So for the brief time I was sitting on the fence, a mentor knew my status and helped me to make up my mind. That too counts for a lot.

The duration of the interaction also helps, I didn’t need to get everything done in one day. Many of the projects require specialized environments for executing and testing code and these environments don’t get installed by a n00b in one sitting. Having someone come to me and purposefully decide to help me as I tried and made mistakes and reinstalled and tried again made the difference for me to persist through multiple failures to ensure that I had an environment to edit code and successfully submit a patch.

Open source software is all about code but it also has a very large framework consisting of individuals who have a very specific way of working. By working together over several days, certainly at least a week if not two, I am starting to learn the people and the process. The edit itself took less than 5 seconds. Setting up the environment and learning the culture in order to enable me to edit the code and submit the patch with confidence? At least a week. Creating an environment filled with great people allowing me to take the week I needed is the difference between this successful commit and my prior failed attempt.

Thanks for reading,
Anita Kuno.

Asking for Help

One of the consistent feelings that I have when working with any technical project is that I don’t know enough. There is always more information, a better perspective, another layer, something I hadn’t thought about to come to bear on the work that I am attempting to do.

One of the skills I do recognize that I have is the ability to ask for help, and the technique for doing so.

I didn’t always recognize this as a skill, indeed for a long time I was trained to believe that asking for helping was indicative of failure.

I have been working on this skill for quite a while without even recognizing it as a skill. Just today I was able to perceive the behaviours I am about to list and describe as a valuable grouping of actions which can be considered a skill.

The hardest part of asking for help is knowing when to ask for help. This is the part with which I still have the most difficulty, but I am getting better. I used to “fall down the rabbit hole” without recognizing the situation and spend hours if not days wandering around in the dark convinced that the answer was down here somewhere (which it often was) and was up to me to find it (that was the error in my thinking). I guess you have to make the mistake several times before you recognize it when it is happening, so now I have a clearer sense of when I have fallen into the rabbit hole. I have several timers around my workspace and when everything starts to feel surreal, I set a time limit and a timer. If I can’t locate the solution I think will work during the time allotted, I have to retreat, come back up for air and re-think it. Re-thinking it includes asking for help.

One of the other qualities about asking for help is the assumption about what form that help will take and what it will mean. I used to think that asking for help implied a commitment, that it was a de facto agreement. That once I described my status as background to asking for help that I couldn’t change my status until “help” arrived. I have now realized that creating a situation and describing it as a work in progress allows me to continue to work on finding a solution while maintaining a landing area for the “help” when it does arrive to be included. So asking for help is less waiting at the alter looking expectantly at the doors of the church and more setting an extra place at the table in case the invited guest arrives and allowing the meal to proceed should the guest’s timing be asynchronous with the meal. I guess it is just a change in mindset.

Another thing that I notice I am doing is that I am doing less directly asking for help and more presenting status updates with my current status (new direction, obstacle) and my intended direction to locate a solution or meet a goal. This enables me to set my own agenda, incorporate direction, guidance, feedback and support if and when any is offered and continue to make progress on a goal or task while allowing for course correction consistently should more efficient methods arrive. For me it provides a better flow of energy and less stop and start that comes from hitting a wall and asking for and perhaps waiting for help.

Sometimes help can come in the form of encouragement and support perhaps not in receiving an exact or expected answer. Maybe my peers are encountering the exact same issue and a good solution hasn’t been located. In this case, support and encouragement is the help in and of itself. This can be a very useful and beneficial offering.

There is always more to know and more to learn, but the more I recognize the useful skills I already have the more confidence I have in what I do bring when I apply to the GNOME Outreach Program for Women.

Thanks for reading,
Anita Kuno.

First Contact

I learned about the GNOME Outreach Program for Women while on Twitter. I saw a tweet from the RailsBridge account linking to the GNOME OPW homepage.

There is a lot of information on the page and I found it a bit overwhelming. I located the information for the IRC channel (#opw on the irc.gnome.org server - GIMP server on my X-chat) and joined the channel. I soon found myself in conversation with one of the program administrators, marina, and she welcomed me and helped me navigate the qualifying information. I self identify as a woman and it doesn’t matter where in the world I reside, all work is done remotely.

I soon met others in the channel, and started to narrow down what I was looking for and what was available. Sumana from Wikimedia spoke up as did reed from OpenStack. We had a good conversation and I was very happy to meet so many people who were welcoming and supportive of my concerns and questions. I followed a lot of links and read a lot of web pages that day.

I let my experience filter through me during the night and the next day I joined the #opw channel again. This time I met a different person from OpenStack, iccha, and we started talking. I have forgotten the exact flow, a week seems so long ago, but we exchanged emails and I was given some links to help me understand what OpenStack was all about.

Iccha encouraged me to meet other OpenStackers, which I did both on IRC and Google Hangout and I started realizing that I was really enjoying the OpenStack energy.

It is funny because there are so many great projects available through GNOME Outreach Program for Women but what made up my mind was the people. Every time I had a question, someone was there to either answer me or help me find an answer and over the course of several days I realized that it was OpenStack people who were most consistent and available.

I’m a quick learner and tend to be rather flexible in the work that I do so I am most drawn to a work environment than a certain flavour of task. I was impressed by the environment of OpenStack as conveyed by the people. Thank you OpenStack, you helped me select what environment I most prefer.

Thank you as well to everyone involved with GNOME Outreach Program for Women, it is a solid project that I am really happy to know about. Thank you for creating the structure that makes this kind of discovery and interaction possible.

Thanks for reading,
Anita Kuno.