Core Values: Outreachy Blog Post #1

One of the neat things about the Outreachy Project is that they encourage the interns to make blog posts about selected topics on a schedule, which of course increases the sense of community!

The first post is an introductory one, which includes an about me, some core values, and motivation for applying–so that’s what you’ll be getting here today!

Who Am I?

My name is Maria Violante. I’m from the USA (southwest Michigan in the house!) and am a career-changer, having a previous background in healthcare (specifically outpatient rehabilitation) and also, briefly, property management.

I’m fairly new to Python and Django, although I’ve got previous experience in making websites (primarily WordPress websites for authors, although I’ve been hacking away at it in some form or another since CSS was new–whatup, 1994–and I distinctly remember writing html in notepad to put on … angelfire? … so that I could have a cool landing page that auto-played a MIDI of “The House of the Rising Sun.”)

I love: puzzle games, reading (especially literary-leaning speculative/SFFH), mysteries in almost any format, craft beer, and I’m a new vegan, which means I’m learning how to cook all over again. (I also have a dog that looks almost exactly like of one of the cute pre-transformation gremlins from the Gremlins movie and a potato had a baby.)

I dislike: really noisy environments with lots of people (which is probably one reason I live in an area that was designated by the USDA as a rural development zone), lax environmental and labor regulations, and corporate invasion of privacy.

Core Values

1.) Open, mutually respectful communication:

I honestly don’t understand why we can’t just treat everybody like a person worthy of respect and have give-and-take in all of our communication endeavors. I firmly believe that no matter what your level of skill or status relative to another human being, there is probably something you could learn from them, so it makes no sense to treat communication with your peers as zero-sum interactions.

2.) Curiosity:

Human beings are hard-wired for curiosity. We find investigation into things we don’t know or understand to be intrinsically pleasing, and when we embrace curiosity as a world-view, we open ourselves up to new aspects of the human experience, including a greater understanding of the world we live in, which is pretty affirming!

3.) Diversity, particularly with an eye toward collaboration:

I also firmly believe that most of our institutions (at least in the US) have retained a level of structural inequality from a history of colonialism, sexism, and otherwise taking advantage of large swathes of the population for primarily financial gain, which has resulted in sectors that are much less diverse than the population as a whole. Although I feel that this is personally morally/ethically wrong, it’s also bad for these industries; collaboration between a diverse group of individuals leads to stronger, more creative problem solving and healthier workplace cultures.

What Motivated You to Apply to Outreachy?

Besides the fact that it’s an amazing organization, with a great mission statement (Increasing diversity in tech! Connecting interns with mentors! Creating stronger open-source communities!), I’m really motivated to grow as a programmer. Although I’ve really enjoyed making my personal projects and solving problems in my own way, I really feel like my next step to becoming a better programmer is working on team projects– which includes hands-on practice with the tools of software collaboration, reading and exchanging tickets and documentation, getting a better grasp on some of the auxiliary tools used in a joint workflow (I have learned a bunch of new ones just today, including kanban boards!) and understanding better the life-cycle of bringing a software project to fruition. (December 1st, 2020, the day Maria learned the acronym MVP for minimum viable product.)

Additionally, I was really excited about this specific project in particular–both because of the organization (internet privacy is one of the battlegrounds that more people need to take a stance on; how’s that saying go? If the app is free, you’re the product?) and the fact that the anonymous ticket project being submitted for the Outreachy internship seemed at just the right level for me–a challenge, but one that is building on the knowledge of I’ve already acquired (she said hopefully!)

Wish me luck! I’ll be posting here from time to time with further Outreachy blog updates!

In Which I Find Out I Will Be an Outreachy Intern

At heart, I’m probably what you’d call a pessimist. I’m sure some of that comes from my mom, an immigrant from a country that has a long history of being torn apart by colonialism and civil war. That kind of circumstance often creates a kind of level-headedness about aspirations of success.

Image from Kim's Convenience, in which Mr. Kim says, "You work hard, I work hard. We all work hard by taking out the garbage."

While I definitely would put forth that I work hard toward achieving my goals, and I certainly have dreams, I generally don’t allow myself to get caught up in big hopes as I go about my day to day. I also don’t linger on things–as soon as one thing is done, I think about the next, and the next, and the next. I always have 3-5 projects in various states of completion up in the air at all times that I’m actively working on. If something doesn’t pan out in one arena, I do my best to forget it and move on.

And while there are things about this approach that probably need changing–I really have to learn to enjoy my successes more, for one, and give myself more credit–one of the most comical effects is that as I generally don’t assume I’ll be successful in an endeavor, I’m often really surprised when I am–and often not even around to find out I actually managed to do something!

Case in point:

Earlier this year, I found out about the Outreachy internship–a really awesome non-profit project designed to increase diversity in tech by connecting potential interns with mentors from (primarily open source) software communities. In addition to being a paid opportunity, the internship is remote, which is amazing for people like me that live in communities that don’t have a strong tech presence. (We have … uh … *peeks out window*)

Image of a cow

As a mostly front-end website creator that has been moving into Python programming and Django, this looked like a really cool opportunity–and I had the benefit of a friend in tech, who not only believe in me strongly, but would start all of our conversations/texts/emails with some variant of So when you apply for this internship that I’m not going to let you talk yourself out of …..

(Hi, Rachell!)

So I did it! I applied for the project, actually learned to use the command line and git (yes, I was previously using VSCode in Windows; I can feel your judgmental stares), and made my very first open-source contribution, to the Tor Project Gitlab Lobby. Along the way, I got to meet some cool people, chat with mentors, and make my very FIRST APPROVED PULL REQUEST.

And I’ll be honest–I needed that.

For me, like it was for many, 2020 was a rough year. I used to work in healthcare, until I got sick with presumptive COVID in March. This was early enough that (at least in my area) testing was almost impossible if you didn’t have contact with a known case or a recent travel history. It took me months to recover–during which time I was unable to work in my field or do pretty much anything. I was laid up and needed something to do (and also to make money), so I went back to making websites (mostly WordPress.) And my super awesome tech friend was like, yeah, those are nice, but you should learn to program–which she had been telling me for, um, four years, now?

And one day, I opened my mail to find a package from her, with a little yellow book called Crash Course Python, and I figured, hey, why not, and cracked it open–

A picture of a textbook called "Crash Course Python", with a picture of a snake riding a plane engine on the cover.
Exhibit A

And just like that, I was hooked. I’d had this idea in my head that programming was math–and while sure, there’s math, the key factor I was missing was the second part of the phrase: programming language.

And boy, do I love me some languages. Learning foreign languages was my hobby for most of my late teens and twenties–including languages without a base in Latin. I love that lightbulb moment of breaking down something that feels familiar into a new classification system and figuring out how to navigate or communicate in it.

You know what my other favorite thing is? Solving puzzles.

(Yeah, I should have put this together earlier. I’m dumb like that sometimes.)

I spent the next few months programming obsessively. My partner would come home from work to find me hunched in front of the computer, only to discover that I had not eaten or showered yet. I stayed up really late most nights trying to get just one more thing to work. I finished the book and found Dr. Chuck’s python course on Coursera and did that entire thing, started the Django for everyone course, and then just as I was thinking, man, where do I go from here, Outreachy showed up in my newsfeed and I had a new thing to obssess about.

So you can understand, now, how it felt getting my first pull request approved to the Gitlab Lobby for Tor Project. It felt like redemption. It felt like, wow, maybe I can do this.

A gif of a guy standing with his

Once the contribution period closed and all the applications were in, I promptly assumed I would not be chosen as an intern and forgot ALL about it. (Okay, I didn’t actually forget. I shoved this internship into the quiet place in my head where all my secret dreams are.) But I felt way smarter than I had before, and I spent some time learning some new skills, including playing with class-based views in Django so that I could roll out my website portfolio in Django Bakery (static site generation for the WIN), as well as working on a text-based adventure game I’m putting together that doesn’t rely on maps or cardinal directions, because I’m terrible at that. I also put in for other jobs, and lined up some more contracting work.

When the announcement came in for the Outreachy interns, get this: I didn’t even check it. I was so sure that I had not, in fact, gotten in, that I swiped away the notification and went back to typing … something.

A few hours later, I got a weird feeling in the back of my head, the hey, you forgot something important kind of feeling, so I went back into my email, and there was the Outreachy notification again, and I thought, hey, why not? At least, there will be some cool people to follow in Twitter, and–

A gif of a wrestler looking extremely stunned
(Live footage of me checking that email.)

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?!?!?! Tor Project wants to accept me as an intern???

(My very first thought was, Did they make a mistake sending out these emails?)

So then I hopped on IRC, and yep, one of the project mentors had messaged me almost an entire day earlier, and I had just been going about my business, no idea that I’d already been accepted.

Image of handsome British actor I've forgotten the name of (maybe Hugh Grant?) thunking his head into the desk.

SO YES! I, MARIA VIOLANTE, will be an Outreachy Intern from December to March, working with the Tor Project on an anonymous ticket handling project.