GNOME Revamps and Renews Outreach Program for Women

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 22, 2010

Let's face it. Even though open source conferences, conventions, and projects have seen an increase in the number of female participants, there's a strikingly male majority in the world of free software. While the greater free software community, media outlets, conferences and projects are finding diverse ways to draw women to open source, the GNOME Foundation's Outreach is built on a familiar framework.

The approach? Think Google Summer of Code -- complete with internships, mentors, and sponsors -- with an emphasis on team contributions rather than stand-alone projects.

GNOME ran a similar outreach program in 2006, and received one hundred applications within two weeks. Because funds are (always) limited, great projects (and talent) had to be turned away -- but Google was so was impressed by the proposals, it funded three additional projects. The 2006 Women's Outreach Program had six participants, but organizers are tentatively planning on five participants this season.

I'm a big fan of the thought process behind GNOME's Outreach Program. The weight placed on collaborating within a project (with participants making progressively larger contributions within an existing team enviroment) will integrate participants quickly. This strengthens the commitment of the participants to the team, and vice versa. It also allows women with an interest in open source (but not programming, per se) to play an active role in the projects they care about.

Why is this valuable -- to everyone? As Chris Ball said in relation to the 2006 Women's Outreach, "We're not trying to artificially raise the percentage of female GNOME developers up to 50%; we're trying to start a bootstrapping process that gets some female developers involved with GNOME in a way that will create a positive feedback loop." More eyes and more minds make software stronger and more innovative. That isn't gender specific, of course.

It's also a chance for women desiring work in the free software industry to gain vital experience -- and pass their knowledge on to others.

A number of projects have expressed in interest in mentoring Outreach applicants, including GNOME Shell, Empathy, GnomeGames, Anjuta and the marketing and documentation teams. As the GNOME Project prepares for its GNOME 3 release, it's a great time to learn -- or foster members with fresh, new outlooks.

Plans and schedules are still being finalized, but the GNOME Women's Outreach Program will take place in spring or summer 2010. The Outreach Program is actively seeking corporate sponsors, contributions (for participants' stipends), and mentors.