Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
GSoC/Outreachy Mentoring Orgs: Consider Giving Applicants English Tutoring
Google Summer of Code just announced the 207 mentoring organizations (open source projects seeking participants) for this year's round, and Outreachy's 9 mentoring orgs also announced open internship projects.
This blog post is directed at org admins and mentors for those projects.
Many of your applicants are not fluent English writers. You have probably already experienced this, but stats back me up: Last year, GSoC had 5,199 applicants from 101 countries, many of which are not countries where English is a major medium of instruction. And nearly all the schools in the top ten were engineering schools in India, and Indian engineering schools do not teach students how to write in English at what the open source world considers a professional level. That lack of communication skills hurts your applicants as engineers, and as potential open source contributors in the long run.
I was an org admin for several years and saw, over and over, how many of our applicants had a hard time getting help and getting their ideas across because of poor writing skills. Mentors reviewed code and helped them become better coders, but weren't giving the same kind of systematic feedback about emails, bug reports, and so on, so applicants' writing skills stagnated.
In 2017, to address this, I ran English tutoring sessions for Zulip contributors. You can do this too.
Here's the call for volunteer tutors I used. Note that I explained my request in terms of global diversity and inclusion, reassured them that I'd set them up in the chatroom and be available to backchannel with them, and said "It's fine if you've never done this before and it's fine if you're not a programmer and don't know programming jargon." I circulated this request in scifi fandom, in particular in the fanfic community, which has tens of thousands of people who enjoy volunteering to proofread each other's written work and chatting online. A big source of volunteers was the Radio Free Monday weekly fandom newsletter (6 March 2017). I got 30 volunteers and was able to schedule 15 of them to tutor, and several of those volunteers were willing to do multiple 90-minute sessions.
We ran the tutoring sessions in the "learning" channel of our Zulip chat so it was easy to paste in links, explain proper formatting, and put side conversations in another thread. Here's the Dropbox Paper shared signup sheet where I kept the schedule and instructions for learners and tutors (basically: learners show up with a short written sample and with some thoughts about how they want to improve, and tutors take 30 minutes to critique each sample). The signup sheet format was, for example:
Date & time: Sunday, March 19th, 1:00-2:30 PM ET (10:30 PM-12 AM in India)
If only one person signed up for a session, that person got help for 45-60 minutes. Or, sometimes, we got drop-ins as other contributors got curious and realized they could ask for help on their blog posts or GSoC applications as well. After I got each tutor settled in I didn't have to pay attention for the whole 90 minutes, so I could do other Zulip work and check in occasionally -- and eventually other Zulip contributors helped out by "cohosting" so sessions could happen without me.
We ran about 20 sessions, and about 40 contributors got tutoring. They wrote better internship applications, blog posts, bug reports, code comments, pull requests, and mailing list posts because of what they learned in these sessions -- and they were so grateful for even 30 minutes of in-depth advice, because some of them had never gotten friendly, personal critique of their written English from a fluent speaker before.
So please copy me! And if several people tell me their projects are doing this, I'll help publicize your efforts together. There are a lot of fluent English writers with free time and an internet connection who would love to help the open source community in this way. Like Wikipedia, we can turn "Someone is WRONG on the Internet" into a good thing. :-)