Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

17 Dec 2014, 0:04 a.m.

My Next Few Months

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Last week I got back from AdaCamp Bangalore, some family visits, the community-builders' meeting within Mozilla's workweek, and some volunteering with Stumptown Syndicate to support Open Source Bridge 2015. I set off on those travels basically right after I spent six weeks improving my webdev skills at Hacker School, which I started a few days after I finished up my four-year stint at the Wikimedia Foundation. So it's been intense!

I'm concentrating on a bunch of errands and backlogged volunteer work in the next few weeks, and then in the new year, for several months, I want to do activist and maker work. (I can go without getting paid right now, and I'm fine with doing this as a volunteer. It's not emotionally sustainable for activists and open source contributors to put in huge gobs of volunteer work over and above full-time jobs. And it's not financially sustainable for most people to work as activists for money (not to mention argh the nonprofit-industrial complex). But Leonard and I are very fortunate in that we can switch; sometimes he supports the household and sometimes I do.)

My plan:

Spend about 20 hours/week writing open source code that ships and that others directly depend on. I have worked on open source projects that hundreds of millions of people depend on, e.g., MediaWiki, but I wasn't a code contributor. I've written open source code that shipped, e.g., my MC Masala site, but my projects were toys or I was the main customer (one exception being "Missing From Wikipedia"). In 2015 I aim to meld these skills.

Right now I'm planning on contributing to GNU Mailman as a volunteer. I know Terri Oda, one of the maintainers, and talked with her in Portland. The Mailman 3 refactor looks like a promising field, fresh code with work tasks of about the right size and shape for me. My Python's good enough. The codebase has comments, docs, and tests. I hear the community is friendly, and I know Terri, and I live close enough to another key contributor that I can probably arrange some in-person hackdays. I'll get to munge stuff dealing with underlying protocols like SMTP, and it's a project lots of other open source projects depend on, so I'll have an impact.

Ideally, by the end of the PyCon sprints, I'll be contributing to code review and comaintaining something. I'll be better at making the systems I want to make. And I'll be confident and seasoned enough that I could plausibly go find a full-time Python web development job, should I wish. That's really more of a self-assessment heuristic than a goal. More importantly, I'll have the experience necessary to give good and credible advice for marginalized people in tech who want to follow that path, and I'll have better wisdom that I can share with allies and imbue into systems to help those people.

Spend about 20 hours/week working to make open stuff friendlier and more diverse. This is time to volunteer on Stumptown, to continue my volunteer duties on the Ada Initiative Board of Directors, to teach Ally Skills workshops, and do miscellaneous other outreach and writing. I'm also open to a little bit of consulting, but will be redirecting some requests to Ashe Dryden or Julia Rios or other experts.

My goal with these activities isn't so much to grow as an activist; rather, I want to give back to these communities that have given me so much, and to help them in ways I'm uniquely positioned to do well. But I'm building on my strengths as a project manager, communicator, and leader, and I'm learning how to be an effective board member and influencer.

Ideally, by late April (after PyCon): Open Source Bridge and Stumptown Syndicate will have better documentation and more vigorous processes that help attract, retain, and grow volunteers; dozens or even hundreds of motivated open stuff participants, especially Wikimedians, will be better feminist allies; and the Ada Initiative will remain swimming along happily and effectively. The infrastructure of our movement will be in even better shape, and I'll have no qualms about changing my commitments to suit my abilities, my interests, and the movement's needs.

As I said when I announced that I'd be leaving WMF, I'm open to new opportunities, especially New York City-based work in empowering marginalized groups via open technology. But if nothing new comes up, internally or externally, I have a reasonable plan for the next four months. Which is nice.