Have you seen that picture of Margaret Hamilton, the NASA engineer who worked on the computer systems for the Apollo 11 launch? She’s standing next to the human-sized pile of listings of the Apollo Guidance Computer source code that she worked on. Do you know about Ada Lovelace, often cited as the very first computer programmer?
From World War II until the 1980s, women engineers and women computer operators were fairly common. There was a steady rise in women entering STEM fields, and young girls had role models and strong women to look up to. We’re well acquainted with the drop in female engineering graduates worldwide after this time period, and the subsequent drop in the percentage of women entering the world of tech. We’re here to help change that, and reverse the trend.
Rails Girls Summer of Code (RGSoC) aims to bring more diversity into the world of tech — specifically, into the world of open source software, where women make up a mere 11% of the community. The global program offers 3-month scholarships to teams of women to allow them to work full-time on an open source project of their choice – aided by local coaches and guided by the project maintainer (or a core contributor). The scholarships are funded through the support of the community as well as our sponsors, via a crowdfunding campaign.
Local vs. Global
We all cherish our local community and understand how strong of a support network it can be, especially for newcomers. The Rails Girls chapters worldwide emphasize that need: most coaches and organisers are local, and many alums go on to create their own study groups, or become coaches or organisers themselves. RGSoC also relies strongly on a global network of user groups — both Rails Girls chapters and similar organisations such as PyLadies or DjangoGirls.
Thanks to our connections with these different groups, we are able to reach people in remote or unlikely locations, and build the most diverse group of applicants possible. This is very important to us. Since the beginning, the program has provided the opportunity to bring together women with different experiences, backgrounds, locales and age groups to come together and be part of the same global initiative.
This year, we received over 90 team applications. When applying, each two-person team chooses from a list of pre-selected projects. These projects are maintained by people we either personally know, or who have reached out to us prior to the application period. We look for projects with patient, open-minded contributors who are active in their community, and projects that provide a lot of learning opportunities for applicants.
Project maintainers (also called mentors) are in touch with students in order to adapt the roadmap throughout the summer to the students’ needs and check up on their progress. On a daily basis, students spend the majority of their time with coaches. The coaches help, support, and teach the students throughout the summer. Each team is also appointed a supervisor, who supports students on the organisational side of things. They are the glue that keeps the whole team together, and a way for the core RGSoC team to keep track of how every team is doing.
Our program started in 2013 with 18 teams, 10 of which were sponsored and 8 of which were volunteer teams. The following year, 16 teams participated with 10 sponsored spots. The real breakthrough came in 2015 when we were able to fund 16 sponsored teams, a substantial increase from the previous years. Not only did this enable us to have more impact — with a potential 12 more women entering the tech world and STEM workforce than the previous years — but it also shows the community’s trust in the program.
In 2016, the Ruby community awarded us with a Ruby Hero Award, and we managed to collect enough money to sponsor 16 teams from five continents with another 4 teams joining as volunteers. This year was also the first time we had teams based in Uganda, Egypt, Singapore and the Czech Republic.
|Our stats from 2016 (Image: Laura Gaetano/RGSoC)|
Last year, we contacted our alums from 2013 and 2014 to find out what they were doing after the program. The responses were impressive: out of 64 graduates, over 90% are now currently working in the tech field. A fair number of graduates have even founded their own startup. Not only that some of these women have found their calling, but we might have made a small difference in the community of open source, and are on the right track to really shake things up.
Where do we go from here
On the first of July, we kicked off our program with over 130 people participating — including coaches, supervisors, designers, helpdesk coaches and project mentors. We were incredibly excited to have 20 teams in 16 cities and 11 different countries, spanning time zones, from UTC+10 to UTC-7.
|Our 2016 sponsored and volunteer teams! (Image: Ana Sofia Pinho/RGSoC)|
We’ve seen in the past just how much of an impact we’ve had in our participants’ lives, and are hoping that this trend will continue to rise. We hope that some of this year’s teams graduated with the skills and confidence to become NASA engineers, web developers, or anything else they want to be. Hopefully someday they will become a young woman’s role model, and realise the important role they served in changing the future of engineering and of open source software.
By Laura Gaetano, Organizer of Rails Girls Summer of Code