Contributor Blog #5: Interview with Gláucia Esppenchutz

A self-taught developer to now a self-driven 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 mentoring, translating articles and volunteering at freeCodeCamp with Gláucia Esppenchutz.

Thank you for taking some time out and interacting with us, Glaucia. Can you introduce yourself and share your journey so far?

Hi, my name is Gláucia, I am a Brazilian and living in Porto, Portugal. I have been working as a software engineer for almost 10 years and being working as a data engineer for 6 years. I have not graduated in Computer Science or any other tech school, actually I have a biomedical degree but the feeling of belonging in this profession started to fall apart in the second year of the graduation. I decided to shift my career after I met my husband at the end of my graduation. He worked already as a software engineer and I found the profession really amazing. He also gave me a lot of support in transitioning my career.

To enter the tech area I started studying by myself watching videos on Coursera, Udemy, Youtube and so on. The development community helped me a lot by mentoring me and guiding me. Python Brasil, a community for Brazilian developers who wants to code python, mentored me. When I was in the beginning of my career I had no idea where to start looking or where to begin studying from, so people from python Brasil helped me to get started. I started by studying the python principles, the best practices, what documentation should I start looking for some practical examples, some sites where I could practice code like codility, hacker rank.

Another community that mentored me was Data boot camp. It’s like a small company that teaches data fields. This community helped me to understand where to start in the data world. Until this point I already learned python but now I needed to learn a bit more about SQL and then I needed to know a little bit more about statistics if I want to work as a data scientist. If not, I want to work as a data engineer. So I started looking for Hadoop and Spark and how to use it and they gave me very practical examples on that and that’s how the mentoring happened. They were guiding me on what should be the next steps.

I can’t say the path to become a data engineer was easy, but a lot of people supported me directly and indirectly, like making docs and free courses available, promoting live talks and events to tell more about their careers, and making community tech events like meetups. There were a few particular live talks that helped, for example Jeferson Fernando conducts a live talk almost every week and some of his talks helped me alot. There was another speaker, Gomez who helped a lot, however, he’s not doing any live talks anymore.

What communities have you contributed to?

After I got my first job in 2014 as a Python developer, I decided to help other women get into the tech field. That decision was primarily based on the experiences I already had at my first job; no women at the office working as a developer, and the invalidation I had from some other colleagues for being a woman working on a “men” job.

With another woman named Amanda, who is now currently living in Ireland, we spoke with the PyLadies organization and founded Brazil’s first dedicated core in Rio de Janeiro. The first core in PyLadies was in San Francisco. We contacted the girls there and asked what was expected in the meetings and is there any content available there for girls in Brazil. They suggested we start with a small group in Rio de Janeiro and call it PyLadies Rio. We then promoted talks, mentoring and classes.

This project was so successful that another community called Django Girls was founded in the following year. Both communities still exist but I am not involved anymore due to other personal projects.

For some years I contributed to github open-source projects, volunteered for mentorship and teaching people. Today I am a volunteer at freeCodeCamp, which is one of the non profit organizations that helped me in the career transition, and at MentorColor.

You could have contributed online to the San Francisco PyLadies chapter, so what inspired you to start a PyLadies chapter in Rio and how was your experience in leading it?

We started with the in-person meetings in Rio because we thought this could be easier to teach and to understand the struggles and to just solve it. After that I think now they are doing some meetings online. They are an open meeting for which you can go to Eventbrite, and register to any of their meetups and enjoy.

At the beginning it was very challenging to understand because PyLadies is very organized in the way of their logo and their concepts of the rules. So we needed to understand first what was what and how we should implement and since we were a very small group at first glance we didn’t need to make many arrangements regarding finances for supporting events and so on. We started very small like let’s go to Starbucks and make an event there. If anyone wants to join, come here. So we started like this and what the struggle of this was to coordinate with people like this event is going to be in this Starbucks and on this weekend or this afternoon. To promote it on social media was very hard for me but I was lucky to have Amanda who was with me and helping me on that process. So it was nice. I learned how to manage time, how to manage people and how to manage events even if it is on a small scale.

Were you involved as one of the founding members in the Django Girls community as well?

No, some girls that wanted to work more in the web part of python decided to found Django Girls. It is the same concept as that of Python but it’s more involved for web development. When they started building the community, they asked us for some mentoring about how to start it and whom to contact because Django Girls was an initiative that was already ongoing but was in the States. They wanted to know how this could be brought to Brazil. So we helped them to contact the people there in San Francisco and bring this to make it official in Brazil.

You mean to say that you helped in bringing these two communities not in Rio but in the whole entire country for the first time?

Yes, that’s very amazing. However, I didn’t participate in any of the boards for the decisions because I got a lot of things coming into my personal life and professional life and I had to put this aside. The same thing happened to Amanda who is now working on her PhD in Ireland. She’s very very smart and amazing and we had to stop participating, so we put another girls to take care of the events, of the mentoring and other related things. We are still in the group, we know what’s going on, we receive the emails but we are not involved anymore. We did our part which was to bring the initiative and that’s it.

That is truly impressive! And it’s big. Moving on, you began your work in the biomedical field before deciding to change to IT in your second year. As a self-taught programmer, you have made contributions to PyLadies and other initiatives. Why do you intend to keep making contributions to open source communities?

The biomedical field taught me a lot about how one can help the others and I saw a lot of people that were struggling to grow in their lives because they didn’t have any possibility to get the knowledge. When I started with my career transitioning, I had no money to buy courses or to buy anything so I had to do it by myself and the community of python helped me a lot. The community was like you don’t need to buy it, we will teach you or go to this link and study this course for free and if you need any help call us and we will engage in a video call where we will teach you how to do that. When I started to think about giving up because it was somehow a big transition they supported me saying no you’re not going to give up, we are going to do this and because of that I have the feeling that I need to continue with the contributions. I need to keep this value then that’s why I still, until today, have the urge to make contributions. GitHub open source projects are not always related to coding. It’s also related to documentation because I see if there’s something that is not very clear for everybody, I go there and make a pull request to fix that and of course I make myself available to you or anybody who wants help with anything.

How did your contribution journey start?

My journey started by observing people’s needs and based on my own struggles. Why is it so hard for a woman to get a job in tech? Why is it so hard for everyone to have access to knowledge?

Then I started to search online for communities where I could do something to help people. When I started to look for open and free content I saw some sites like freeCodeCamp. By that time Codecademy had some free content along with Coursera and Udacity as well. What I did was to go to their pages like careers or how I can help and similar pages and I saw the open positions and noticed okay they have a position for mentoring people if they have a position to translate articles, to help to improve their content. For example in the United States they had some structures that made the content for the courses like healthcare using AI. If they needed somebody to make the review on their code or review their contents I used to volunteer for that.

In what ways have you contributed?

By sharing links on social media, creating classes to teach, mentoring people about career advice or technologies. Most recently I am working on translating articles and guides to Portuguese, so people who don’t have access to learn english yet (mostly due socio economic matters) can learn about something that can improve their lives. There was this event in a school which focused on technology, so I volunteered and delivered a talk in the school. In my previous company, we had some trainees that needed help and they asked for volunteers to mentor them because the trainees were coming off of college and needed some guidance. So I volunteered there as well and I mentored them. I also get requests on Discord from FreeCodeCamp where somebody needs help with something and they ask me if I can help. So I help them, teach and mentor and share my experiences about transitioning the career.

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

One of the biggest challenges I still face today is how to organize volunteer time with other activities. To try to solve this, I created some time slots in my agenda separating time in every week to dedicate to the community, but to be honest, it doesn’t work all the time. Another big challenge for me was attending meetings and events in person. As an autistic person, social interactions can be very exhausting and I perceived I wasn’t helping others as much as I wanted at those events. Then I decided to do something more in the “backstage”, like helping to organize, donating when possible and helping to create knowledge content.

Share your experience in becoming a contributor.

Contributing to others’ growth is grateful. Of course I don’t expect returns, but I keep my heart warm when I see someone happy with an article I translated, or posting something about a mentoring I made. Some months ago someone tweeted about an article about MongoDB and mentioned my work. Was a simple “thanks!”, but it made my day.

As I said, working as a volunteer I don’t expect to have recognition or my work or to be reimbursed, I am hoping it can be helpful for someone as it previously happened to me when I needed it.

Why should one contribute to the communities like freeCodeCamp?

The first thing that comes to mind to help freeCodeCamp is because it shares knowledge for free, and this kind of mindset needs to be more spreaded. Everyone should be able to learn! Second reason is because they are a very inclusive group, promoting people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and so on, to become their official content writers. Third is because everything they conquered until today was with the help of other people.

How do I get started with contributing your way?

Promoting their causes on social media and doing basic documentation or how-to guides was the starting point. Most non profit organizations need basic help like this. Regarding FreeCodeCamp, there are tons of ways one can help the community, from becoming available to respond to questions on the forums, translating articles or courses, to donating any amount of money to help them to maintain their servers.

On their github page there are some pull requests to be reviewed, and issues to help:

This link to FirstTimers also helped me to enter in the open-source world to contribute with open-source code, libraries and frameworks.

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

Someone that inspires me a lot is Jeferson Fernando. Almost every day he makes live on Twitch to teach about infrastructure (Docker, Kubernetes, Packer, Ansible..). It is because of him that I got a job in Portugal. He made available for free a deep dive into IaC (Infrastructure as Code) and the content was AMAZING.

You can find him mostly on Twitter. The majority of his content is in Portuguese due his target audience, but he is fluent in english.

Glaucia, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences regarding contributions to open source software. Our conversation taught me a lot, and I hope that it will be beneficial to our readers. I greatly appreciate it.

I will leave you all with my favorite takeaway from this interview..

Open source communities shapes you as a person and inculcates values in you, you need to keep this values with you and it will in turn urge you to make more contributions and give back to the communities.

Glaucia is a data engineer working @Cloudera! She’s autistic, a coffee lover, video game addict and tech geek. She can be reached out on LinkedIn, Instagram or via Twitter

This blog post is part of the Oct edition of UnconventionalContributors, our monthly interview series about different ways to contribute to opensource. Don’t forget to check out the next one featuring Manaswini Das, Software Engineer at Red Hat.

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!👋🏻