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Win-win for all: How to run a non-engineering Outreachy internship

This year, I am mentoring again with the Outreachy internship program. It is my third time mentoring for Outreachy and my second time with the Fedora Project. However, it is my first time mentoring as a Red Hat associate. What also makes this time different from before is that I am mentoring a non-engineering project with Outreachy. Or in other words, my project does not require an applicant to write any code. Evidently, the internship description was a hook. We received an extremely large wave of applicants literally overnight. Between 40-50 new contributors arrived to the Fedora Marketing Team in the first week. Planning tasks and contributions for beginners already took effort. Scaling that planning work overnight for up to 50 people simultaneously is extraordinarily difficult.

During this round, my co-mentor Joseph Gayoso and I experimented with new approaches at handling the tsunami wave. There are two competing forces at play. One, you need to provide engagement to top performers so they remain motivated to continue. Two, you need to provide new opportunities for emerging contributors to distinguish themselves. It is easier to do one of these but hard to do both simultaneously. However, Joseph and I agreed on something important. We agreed that all applicants should end the contribution phase with something practically useful. As mentors, we asked ourselves how to prepare applicants to be successful open source contributors beyond this one month.

In this article, you will get some practical takeaways for mentoring with Outreachy. First, I will share our practical approach for structuring and planning an open source project during the Outreachy contribution phase. Second, I will detail the guiding philosophy Joseph and I follow for how we planned the contribution phase.

About Outreachy

This article assumes you already know a thing or two about the Outreachy internship program. If not, Outreachy provides internships in open source and open science. Outreachy provides internships to people subject to systemic bias and impacted by underrepresentation in the technical industry where they live. You can read more on the Outreachy website.

What makes Outreachy unique is that the internships are remote and often open without geographic or nationality constraints. Applicants from nearly every continent of the world have participated in Outreachy. Also, Outreachy is distinguished by the contribution phase. For a one-month period, approved Outreachy applicants are encouraged to participate in the project community as a contributor. Applicants spend the month learning about the project, the community, the mentors, and the work involved for the internship. This provides applicants an opportunity to grow their open source identity. It also gives mentors an opportunity to assess applicants on their skills and communication abilities.

However, this contribution phase can be intimidating as a mentor, especially if you are new to mentoring with Outreachy. A wave of people eager to contribute could suddenly appear overnight at your project’s door steps. If you are not prepared, you will have to adapt quickly!

Pre-Requisite Tasks: Raising the Outreachy bar

My co-mentor and I knew that a wave of applicants was coming. However, we didn’t expect the wave to be as big as it was. After the first week of the contribution phase, we knew we needed a better way to scale ourselves. We were limited in our person-power. The approach we took to addressing the mental overload was defining pre-requisite tasks.

We defined pre-requisite tasks as tasks that any applicant MUST complete in order to be considered eligible for our internship. Without completing these tasks, we explained that final applications would not be accepted by mentors. The defining characteristics of these pre-requisite tasks were that they were personalized, repeatable, and measurable. We came up with five pre-requisite tasks that all applicants were required to complete beyond the initial qualification for Outreachy:

  1. Set up your Fedora Account System (FAS) account
  2. Set up a personal blog
  3. Write a blog post that introduces the Fedora community to your audience
  4. Promote your intro blog post on social media
  5. Write an onboarding guide for Outreachy 2025 applicants

How were initial contributions personalized?

Each of these tasks were personalized to each applicant. They each have a unique account profile, with their pictures, time zones, and chat system usernames. The personal blog is a personal space on the Internet for each applicant to start writing new posts. The blog post prompts encouraged applicants to start filling up their blogs with Fedora content. The social media post helped applicants promote themselves as budding open source enthusiasts in their existing web spaces.

This approach had two benefits. First, it provided clear guidance to all newcomers and early-stage applicants on how to get started with contributing to Fedora for the Outreachy internship. This took a burden off of mentors answering the same questions about getting started. It also gave new applicants something to start on right away. Joseph and I were able to put more time into reviewing incoming contributions and brainstorming new tasks.

Portfolio-driven submissions for Outreachy

Toward the third week, many applicants had completed the pre-requisite tasks and were ready for more advanced tasks. Many had already taken on advanced projects already, beyond the pre-requisite tasks. Although the pre-requisite tasks did reduce the applicant pool, there were still between 20-30 people who completed them all. Again, the approach had to adapt as our ability to keep up with new contributions slowed down.

From here, we encouraged applicants to build personal portfolio pages that described their contributions with Fedora. This encouraged applicants to use the blog they built in the previous tasks, although they are not required to use their blog to host their portfolio. The only requirement we added was that it should be publicly visible on the Internet without a paywall. So, no Google Docs. Most applicants have ended up using their blog for this purpose though.

How did a portfolio help?

Building a portfolio solved multiple challenges for our Outreachy project at once. First, the portfolios will simplify how the project mentors review final applications after the deadline on April 2nd, 2024. It will be streamlined because we will have a single place we can refer to that describes the applicant’s achievements. It gives us a quick, easily shareable place to review and share with other stakeholders.

Second, it ends up being something useful to the applicant as well. The portfolio page captures a month’s worth of contributions to open source. For many applicants, this is their first time ever interacting with an open source community online. So, it is a big deal to block out a month of time to volunteer on a project in a competitive environment for a paid, remote internship opportunity. Writing a portfolio page gives applicants the confidence to represent their contributions to Fedora, regardless of whether they are selected for the Fedora internship. It becomes a milestone marker for themselves and for their professional careers.

Our philosophy: You win, we win.

This idea of applicants building something that is useful for themselves underpins the approach that Joseph and I took on structuring our non-engineering Outreachy internship. If I had to summarize the philosophy in one sentence, it might be like this:

Everyone who participants as an Outreachy applicant to Fedora should finish the contribution phase with more than they had at the start of the contribution phase.


Our philosophy can be applied to engineering and non-engineering internships. However, applying the philosophy to our non-engineering project required improvisation as we went. There are examples of design-centered Outreachy internships, but I have not seen a marketing or community manager internship before. This was a challenge because there were not great models to follow. But it also left us room to innovate and try ideas that we have never tried before.

Adopting this philosophy served as helpful guidance on planning what we directed applicants to do during the contribution phase. It allowed us to think through ways that applicants could make real, recognizable contributions to Fedora. It also enables applicants to achieve a few important outcomes:

  1. Get real experience in a real project.
  2. Build their own brand as open source contributors.
  3. Gain confidence at collaborating in a community.

The contribution phase is not yet over. So, we will continue to follow this philosophy and see where it guides us into the end of this phase!

Share your Outreachy mentoring experience!

Have you experienced or seen a marketing or community manager internship in Outreachy before? Know a project or a person who has done this? Or is this totally new to you? Drop a comment below with your thoughts. Don’t forget to share with someone else if you found this advice useful.

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