Contributor Blog #10: Interview with Divya Mohan

A Tale of Curiosity, Contributions, and Community in Kubernetes

We have many diverse contributors in opensource that help upstream communities in unconventional ways, which doesn’t require any coding or development skills. Starting with a non-code contribution can help anyone overcome the sense of failure and not being good enough, and it can also serve as a springboard for our open source adventure. This interview series aims to highlight some non-code open source contributions that anyone can make right now to get started contributing.

For this month’s edition, we talked about creating a career out of opensource contributions and becoming a CNCF Ambassador with Divya Mohan.

Can you introduce yourself and share your journey so far?

Hi there, my name is Divya Mohan. I work as a Senior Technical Evangelist with SUSE and an advisor to Avesha. I graduated in electronics engineering and started working in an IT company as a systems engineer. I gained a lot of knowledge about Linux and how everything works in an application, holistically, because of my formative years in systems engineering. Then I moved from IGate Global Solutions Pvt Ltd (now acquired by Capgemini) to HSBC and eventually transitioned to a people manager role where I managed a team of 11 people.

When the pandemic hit, I was still transitioning to the aforementioned management role and became interested in Kubernetes because it was being onboarded into the remit of work that my team supported. I started reading the documentation and realized that I could understand the rationale behind the inclusion of specific features in a product’s release. As someone who had worked on proprietary products for most of my career, this was what interested me the most when it came to open source and I immediately started finding ways to contribute to Kubernetes documentation, which eventually led me to become one of the maintainers of the project.

In the same timeframe, I also happened to apply for the CNCF Ambassadors program because it seemed like an interesting opportunity to understand the cloud native ecosystem further. Looking back, it was very instrumental in the cementing of my foundational cloud native knowledge because I worked alongside and interacted with some of the smartest & kindest people in tech. As of today, I’m one of the documentation maintainers for the Kubernetes & LitmusChaos projects and a CNCF ambassador.

Were all of your contributions focused on a single project within the CNCF landscape?

Not all of my projects were related to CNCF, although most of them were. I was heavily involved with both LitmusChaos and Kubernetes, and eventually became one of the documentation maintainers for LitmusChaos in 2020. Additionally, I worked with the Kubernetes release team and did documentation edits on the side. This was also the year when I participated in Google Season of Docs with CERN as my mentoring organization. During the program, I worked on the documentation overhaul for their large hadron collider’s data management system, Rucio. While I’m sure CNCF did not take this into consideration during my application to become an ambassador, it did help me learn a lot more about technical writing in general.

Did you contribute to any other projects along with Kubernetes and LitmusChaos?

The projects I am currently heavily involved with are Kubernetes and SUSE’s entire cloud native suite. Since SUSE is an opensource company, the list of projects I am involved with is quite long. I am also an advisor to Avesha, which has an open-source project called Kubeslice. In Kubernetes and LitmusChaos, I continue to serve as a documentation maintainer. With Kubeslice, I am not a maintainer, but provide assistance with improving contributor experience & building an open source community from scratch around the project.

How did your contribution journey start?

I started my journey with a minor edit that involved fixing the date field for the Kubernetes documentation so that it could be parsed by crawlers & search engines. To be honest, I did not know a lot about version control or static site generators before I stepped into open source. In my job as a systems engineer, we didn’t use either of these things. However, I realized that I needed to learn more about Git and the static site generator that Kubernetes used in order to start contributing to its documentation. I faced many stumbling blocks, but Tim Bannister, who was a tech lead then, advised me and helped me out. I am extremely grateful to all the community members who also stepped up to help by clarifying the process, identifying more areas to contribute, and being extremely patient with me. Eventually I gained confidence and started contributing to more areas of the project and didn’t limit myself to just the documentation.

I understand and can totally relate to your experience. I assume that you have your own website, so the fact that you were not aware of what a static site generator is and then went on to create your own website is a full circle in terms of your learning.

The first time I learned about GitHub Pages was when I started learning about all of this. I did not know that there was a thing called GitHub Pages where you could actually host your website. Then, I learned about static site generators and documentation systems. My mind was blown for a really long time because all the documentation I had encountered before were in the form of Word documents on SharePoint sites or Confluence. Typically, enterprises don’t have documentation management systems, we just either have SharePoint or Confluence. So this blew my mind, and I guess the rest is history.

In what ways have you contributed?

As aforementioned, I started my journey by helping with the Kubernetes documentation. One fun fact is that I actually landed my current job & the subsequent transition because of my open source contributions. But over and above that, till last year I was heavily involved with the Kubernetes releases and led the Communications vertical for one cycle. As a CNCF ambassador, I also get the opportunity to interact with communities via events & help make cloud native & open source better. So that’s another cool way. Code is a great way to get involved too but given my background, it’s just something I started getting into, professionally, fairly recently.

I think that’s basically the long and short of it. I haven’t contributed a lot of code, and most of my contributions have been in documentation and program management. The release team that we see on social media is actually doing a lot of program/project management work, and it requires a lot of coordination, as opposed to coding skills. That’s what I did, and it helped me learn skills for my job, as I was a newly minted manager at that time.

Can you talk about some of the challenges you might have faced?

Unlike a lot of the contributors who start with open source pretty early on in their careers, I began my journey as a fairly experienced person. It’s a double-edged sword because on the one hand while I had a solid foundation on account of the experience, it was difficult for me to switch contexts initially because I was steeped & comfortable in my ways. So one of the challenges was, of course, the getting-used-to phase initially since open source was very different from anything I had experienced thus far. Although my previous employer was supportive of my involvement, the work was only to be done outside of office hours. That was a challenging phase and quickly spiraled into burnout because I didn’t pace myself well. Infact, I even spoke about that experience earlier this year in my talk at KubeCon EU.

Share your experience in becoming a contributor.

One of the real reasons behind me becoming a contributor was to understand Kubernetes better. It wasn’t a straight road and I’m still learning new things everyday, but I can confirm that it really does take a whole village! Whether it be my mentors, official and unofficial, or friends I made along the way, every single person I’ve interacted with has been instrumental in shaping the experience I’ve had so far. Especially when I was new to the ecosystem, the warm welcome I was given helped me gain confidence & steer my course. For me, open source opened up a lot of horizons. It opened up an entire new ecosystem for me to learn from, and I did not have that opportunity before. When I started out, I was working on proprietary software, and all of the work I was doing was behind closed doors. I could say on my resume that I have worked on XYZ stuff and helped cost savings, but I didn’t have actual proof. With open source, I feel like it’s easier for me to learn because there’s a constant feedback loop.

Being in the ecosystem itself is huge because I get to learn from people I probably would not have interacted with before. Right now, I can at least say that I’m a little more knowledgeable, if not on top of things or on top of the developments in our industry, than when I started out in the industry. It helps to work alongside people who are extremely smart or extremely talented, and it pushes you to be better. For that I’ll be ever thankful.

How do I get started with contributing your way?

Like I said, it all started because I was curious and wanted to do my job better. Those were my motivations. Having an open mind gave me the opportunity to diversify and try out as many things as I wanted along the way. If you’re looking to start, that’s where I’d recommend you begin.

There is no specific path or set way to approach open source. Open source is a vast ecosystem with numerous avenues to explore. Even if you start with documentation, you may end up in a completely different area. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend following my way. Open source provides a unique opportunity to learn and explore. Unlike a traditional nine-to-five job, it allows you to learn beyond specific topics. Open source is not only limited to cloud-native; there are numerous other areas where you can get involved. Anyone who knows GitHub or any version control can explore and check out the source code. Initially, there may be some barriers, but the information is available on the internet, and with some effort, one can figure it out. That’s the beauty of open source.

Recommend one unconventional contributor whom you admire and tell us more about them.

That’s very difficult because no two journeys are the same, right? But if it had to be just one, I’d go with Savitha Raghunathan who was the one to pick me to shadow her on the documentation for a Kubernetes release. Unconventional because even though she had a traditional CS background, the way she found herself in the Kubernetes community was by means of the work she did at her previous employer, Mathworks. She got interested & started participating outside of her work hours because open source work wasn’t really supported as a part of her day job. Following her lead (very literally) was what helped me because I was in a similar situation at my previous day job. Even though we gave a talk about burning out & overcommitting, I genuinely think she is the one amongst the both of us who is able to set boundaries more efficiently.

Divya, I want to express my sincere gratitude for generously sharing your experiences and insights on open source contributions. Our conversation has been incredibly informative, and I am confident that our readers will greatly benefit from it.

## Resources

Divya is a Senior Technical Evangelist at SUSE, where she contributes to Rancher’s cloud native open source projects. She co-chairs the documentation for the Kubernetes & LitmusChaos projects & has previously worked extensively in the systems engineering space during her tenure with HSBC & IGate Global Solutions Pvt Ltd. A co-creator of the KCNA exam & a CNCF ambassador, she is invested in making technical communities & technologies more accessible & inclusive. She can be reached out on LinkedIn or on Twitter

This blog post is part of the April edition of UnconventionalContributors, our monthly interview series about different ways to contribute to opensource. If you like this article, check out the stories of our other contributors and stay tuned for our upcoming editions.

Have a story to share? We’d be delighted to get in touch and discuss sharing your story. We are also open to suggestions for new content that will foster the community’s growth.

We’ll see you all in the next one. Till then, Happy contributing!👋🏻