Contributor Blog #2: Interview with Priyanka Pandey
A journey from being a passive listener to an active contributor
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 Mozilla and how a new contributor can get started with their first contributions, with Priyanka Pandey.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, your experience at Red Hat, and what you do now?
I was introduced to the world of Open Source back in my college days. My first Open Source contribution was translating Firefox strings from English to my native language, Bengali. During the span of my college life, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a few different communities and meet some very interesting and inspiring people from the Open Source world. It was during a few of these interactions that I happened to meet some Red Hatters, who were extremely passionate about Open Source.
Red Hat, a for-profit organization, was generating revenue year-on-year and still contained the soul of Open Source at its heart; it was rare and impressive. Red Hat became my dream from that moment forward!The tiny adult that I was back then, started aspiring to be a Red Hatter. The dream turned into reality soon when I noticed an opening for a Technical Writer position at the Red Hat Pune office, back in 2015. I joined Red Hat as an Associate Technical Writer.
Before joining Red Hat as an employee, I had visited the Red Hat office a couple of times for different community events. Whenever a visitor accesses any of the Red Hat office premises, they are given a temporary visitor pass. My friends still tease me, saying that I was using so many of those temporary passes that the organization got tired and decided to give me a permanent employee ID card. Well, I am definitely not complaining! :P
Achieving the dream was only the start of a beautiful journey, a journey that is still ongoing. For the initial four years at Red Hat, I did write technical documents for the middleware product line of Red Hat, mainly EAP. As a writer, we were seated along with the technical support engineers of the product and would be collaborating with them very closely to understand customer requirements. During these collaborations, I realized that the opportunity to directly interact with customers everyday, to be able to help resolve their technical issues, had a different level of work satisfaction.
When I shared my thoughts with my writing team’s manager, I was surprised to see the level of support and mentoring that he provided which helped me land an internal opening within the Technical Support team of Red Hat. In 2019, I took up the role of a Technical Lead (aka, Support Operations Lead) within the RHEL support team. From there began another phase of the journey. Being on our toes for all days, 24x7; handling customer escalation; firefighting difficult customer crisis situations, the more challenges that came in, the more my enthusiasm and energy grew. In July of 2020, I became an Associate Manager within the RHEL support team and exactly 2 years later and around 15 days back, I got promoted to be a Manager for the same team now.
Well, congratulations on your promotion in that case. While visiting the Red Hat office for community events, I am sure you wouldn’t have ever thought of becoming a manager at Red Hat. On that note, could you tell me about the product(s) you’ve contributed to so far?
- When it comes to open source contributions, I was primarily involved with the Mozilla community. From translating Firefox strings to fixing simpler coding bugs; from evangelizing Mozilla products at different forums to writing documents for the Mozilla Developer Network; I have done a lot of different things.
- Other than Mozilla, I have contributed slightly to the Wikimedia Foundation. I have even done an internship with Wikimedia under OPW (what is now known as Outreachy).
- I have worked a little with the Drupal community and the Fedora community as well.
- I was a keynote speaker at the Joomla World Conference 2015, in Bengaluru.
How did your contribution journey start?
I was in my final year of graduation at Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research when one day, I noticed a poster for a Mozilla meetup that was happening at our college the coming Saturday. Well, I had no clue what Mozilla was back then. I just identified the Firefox logo on the poster, and that piqued my curiosity. Who comes to college on Saturday or to a meetup? Why would anyone want to work over the weekend, that too, when they are not getting paid? With all these thoughts, I moved to my class. When Saturday arrived, I couldn’t hold myself from wanting to learn more about what meetups were.I won’t lie and say that I became convinced of all the ideologies discussed in that room in a single day and immediately became an open source contributor.. Of Course not. But one thing that definitely happened was the energy that was present in that room during that meet, the passion that everyone in the room held, that influenced me enough that I got convinced to attend the followup meetups. In no time, from being a passive listener, I became an active contributor. It has been a decade since then, and the core value of Open Source is still my driving energy today.
I completely resonate with you on the meetup part. I myself have been actively involved in meetups for over 5+ years now, and after almost every meetup, there will be at least one person asking why I am doing all this. What do I get by hosting meetups? I used to try to educate them on the importance of sharing knowledge, but I think now I have a better way to deal with that question. I am going to simply redirect them to read this article and help them learn how merely attending a meetup can do wonders at times. Having said that, can you talk about some of the challenges you might have faced?
No journey can always be scenic and smooth. There will always be some bumps on the road. When I started back in 2012, there weren’t many female contributors in Open Source. Walking into a conference where you are the only representative of your gender wasn’t always super comfortable. We used to get both extreme reactions - people wondering why there is a woman in a tech conference; did she choose the wrong door while coming in; and so on. And then there were times when people would suddenly start applauding you for just walking into the room, saying that you are very brave to come to a tech conference. Both of these reactions were, of course, not desirable and took some time and effort to overcome. In a world which had very few women, when I started climbing the community leadership ladder in the Mozilla community, of course some people did oppose the idea of needing to follow a woman. Today, when I look back, I think all of these experiences added a lot to my personal growth.
Share your experience in becoming a contributor.
At college, rarely do we get the opportunity to work on live projects, working with people who are established names in the industry, working with people from across the globe. All of these and more become possible through open source contributions. It was because of my Mozilla contributions that I got the opportunity to attend a lot of meetups and conferences globally. Getting the exposure and experience of working with people of different cultures, visiting different countries in our twenties helps mold our character and personality in big ways. I still believe that I landed my technical writing role at Red Hat because of my community contributions. Otherwise, Red Hat doesn’t really hire a lot of freshers directly into full-time roles.
Mozilla has played a great role in helping you become the contributor you are today. Tell us why one should contribute to the Mozilla community.
Not talking about any specific project or product, but if anyone ever asks me why they should contribute to open source and communities in general, the answer is pretty simple. If no one writes those Wikipedia articles which we all use every day for our work, education, and other purposes, those contents will not exist. The world wide web can’t only be consumed; we need to give back our share as well. As a Red Hatter, I do believe that open makes the world better.
Open does make the world better. How do I get started with contributing your way?
The open source community has been working towards making it easy for any new contributor to get started with their first contributions. There are a lot of sites like:
- Mozilla | https://whatcanidoformozilla.org/
- Fedora | https://whatcanidoforfedora.org/
- First Timers Only | https://www.firsttimersonly.com/
- Open Source Friday | https://opensourcefriday.com/
- 24 P[ULL] R[EQUEST]S | https://24pullrequests.com/
These are just some of the many, many options available online for any new contributor to begin their open source journey.
The sites you shared should help our readers start with their contributions. Allow me to digress a bit, since you have been a writer for a long time now, do you pen down your experiences somewhere?
Yes, along with technical writing, I also document a rough draft of all my thoughts in a scrapbook. You can read some of my work here.
Moving on to the last question, recommend one unconventional contributor whom you admire and tell us more about them.
Oh, I have always been a huge fan of Christian Heilmann. I had the fortune of meeting Christian a couple of times when he was working with Mozilla. Rarely do we get to see orators and presenters like Christian, who when on stage can mesmerize the entire audience with their presence. Whenever someone compliments my presentation skills today, I silently pass on a thank you to Christian. I am the Eklavya(student) who has been silently following my Dronacharya(guru) Christian for years ;)
Thank you so much, Priyanka, for taking the time and sharing your journey and perspective on contributions. I have learned so much through our conversation, and I hope this helps our readers and I, along with them, hope to follow your words of advice and contribute to the communities we like as we all progress in our own careers.
I will leave you all with my favorite takeaway from this interview..
The world wide web can’t only be consumed; we need to give back our share as well.
…which is exactly what I plan to do.
Priyanka Pandey is a manager with the Support Delivery team at Red Hat, currently working on RHEL. She has been an Open Source contributor for more than a decade. Her entire career span has been such that open source is the only way she has learnt to work, it’s the only philosophy that has been her driving force always.
This blog post is part of the July edition of UnconventionalContributors, our monthly interview series about different ways to contribute to opensource. Don’t forget to check out the next one featuring Harish Pillay, Principal Community Architect at Red Hat Singapore.
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!👋🏻