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One Woman's Journey to Becoming an Open Source Contributor

Hello Everyone! My name is Meg and I'm a total computer nerd. Let me be a bit more specific: I have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Virginia Tech and now I'm pursuing a PhD with a focus on HCI (Human Computer Interaction). Besides being a graduate student, I'm also a very social person. I love to hang out with friends, laugh, tell jokes, goof off, etc. I also like to go jogging, swimming, and paste pictures together in scrap books.

My Linux skills...

As an undergrad in CS, we were required to take a UNIX class as sophomores. In this class we were taught basic Linux terminal commands, some simple scripting, and a little about how the operating system works. The class utilized the Mandrake distro, and I got an A in the course. However, I don't think this class did very much for me. Sure, I learned a few things, but when I tried to do stuff on my own nothing seemed to work. Getting it to recognize my printer was an impossible task and whenever I asked my teacher for help he just said, "they have tutorials for that stuff on the Internet, you just need to look it up." Linux just seemed like this big technical monstrosity that would take a decade to master and I never ever managed to get it to recognize my printer.

Throughout the rest of undergrad we used Linux (Mandrake still) as our programming environment, and all of our programming projects were expected to work in Linux. I became a pro at using VIM (text editor) and g++ (a C++ compiler). After I graduated I didn't really have a need to use Linux anymore and so far it hadn't impressed me much.

The man with a crazy tattoo....

I met a boy. A nice boy who liked me, had a similar sense of humor, and also loved computers. But he didn't just love computers, he loved Linux. How much can a man love Linux, you ask? Enough to get Tux the penguin tattooed on his arm. That's right ladies and gentlemen, I fell in love with a crazed, branded, Linux fanatic. Now, I'm married to him.

Whether I liked Linux or not, it was now a part of my life. I married a fanatic and he sure as hell was going to have AT LEAST one Linux box in the house. I'm an open-minded person, and I thought that if my husband loved it so much that Linux couldn't be all that bad. So I installed Gentoo on my computer and played around with it.

I'm not going to lie, having a legitimate Linux guru in the house helps with some of the bugs and trouble shooting that had to be done with Gentoo. Although, I found a certain sense of pride in being able to figure out problems and fixing them myself. ( I'm a smart, independent woman, hear me roar!) But still, I didn't find Gentoo pretty, friendly, or inviting. Working on Gentoo seemed like a task rather than a fun experience. (Yes, I'm a HCI nerd, so I expect my computing experiences to be fun and worth while. Call me picky, okay?) Gentoo just didn't seem like the right choice for me.

Read some articles and got some motivation...

Did I mention I'm a woman in Computer Science? I think I did, and just so you know, there aren't very many of us. If we were a species I think we'd be "at risk". An even rarer breed of women are those that contribute to Free Open Source Software (FOSS). Of all the people who contribute to FOSS only 1.5% are women. Talk about being an endangered species! FOSS women are going the way of the Do-Do bird! When I first found out about this startiling statistic I felt moved to play my part. As much as Linux and I may not have gotten along in the past, I really like the idea and philosophy behind open source. Certainly there was a Linux distro out there that could work for me....

I Installed Ubuntu!

Ubuntu advertises itself as "linux for human beings." This sounded right up my alley, being a total HCI nut and all. Maybe this linux distro would actualy be enjoyable! And maybe, just maybe, it would be able to recognize my damn printer.

Mailing Lists and Their Wonders...

After I had been using Ubuntu for about a week. (The printer works!) I was poking around the ubuntu website and saw that they had a group for women who use ubuntu. I also found the LinuxChix website on the web. I decided to join those mailing lists.

After lurking awhile and reading the emails that came through Ubuntu Women I decided to make my introduction. I told them a bit about me, what programming languages I knew (pretty much just Java and C++ at that point), and I listed out the three barriers I had to participating in an open source project:

I had nothing to be scared of! I was welcomed almost immediately. An undergrad EE major from Boston named Mel contacted me and said that we could be total newbs together. Another Ubuntu user said, "First question you asked - you are MORE than skilled enough. The Community needs all sorts of talents and you have many areas of expertise. Getting involved and finding time are two more challenging questions."

Maybe these kind ladies could help me step in the right direction. More responses came to my introduction and ideas started being discussed. I became more and more motivated, and decided to start hanging out in some of the ubuntu themed IRC chatrooms and the ubuntu forums.

The Wonderful World of Forums and IRC....

I just want to say one thing here : do not be afraid of asking "stupid" questions in the irc chatrooms and the forums. Need further assurance? Just hang out (or lurk, as they would say) in the IRC channels. Look at all the questions other people are asking. Even after a few weeks of experience with linux, you'll be suprised to find yourself saying, "Duh! even I know how to answer that!" to some of the questions brought up. Seriously, go try it.

Lessons in Troubleshooting...

I had originally installed the Dapper Drake version of Ubuntu, and then it became time to upgrade to Edgy Eft. As I found out later, upgrading doesn't always go so smoothly. Everything seemed to upgrade just fine, until I rebooted. It wouldn't load the most recent version of the kernel. This, my friends, was the first real bug I had experienced using Ubuntu.

Oh no! I broke it! What shall I do? Well first I looked around online. The consensus of all sources that I found online said, "upgrading usually doesn't go so well. Sometimes its easier just to do a reinstall." Do a reinstall? I didn't want to do that. Next thing I did was ask my Linux guru of a husband, he said, "Yea there are usually problems with upgrading, you might have to do a reinstall."

Grrr... there was one last thing for me to try. I was going to look through the bug reports on LaunchPad, and see if anyone had the same problem. Lo and behold, someone did! They described the exact same problem that I was having. He also said how to fix it, which was to "do a config of the packages." What the hell does that mean? Config? packages? This required more searching on the internet and more conversations with my husband. Eventually I found that I needed to run the command "dpkg --configure -a" to configure all the packages. (I saved the bug report as a momento. I told you I love scrap books, right? Here's the report :

Next on the list: Find a program that needs some help and spread the Ubuntu love

I've been happily using Ubuntu for six months now and I couldn't be happier. I've been telling all my friends about it and spreading the Ubuntu love around. My next step is to actually contribute something back to the FOSS world. I've been testing some programs off of Source Forge, and I've found some likely candidates that could use some TLC. When I next update this report I'll be telling you all about the fabulous things I've contributed. :)

Links that helped me:

The article that started it all : "Opening doors to open source for women" -

The Ubuntu website:

Ubuntu Women :

Launch Pad:

Source Forge:

MegKurdziolek (last edited 2009-12-02 11:13:22 by localhost)