IWD 2024: Empower Women Developers in the Open-Source Community

This article was originally published on ITBrief. The author is Hope Wang, Developer Advocate, Alluxio.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to reflect on the progress we have made toward gender equality in the tech industry, particularly in open-source software (OSS). While there is still much work to be done, I am proud to be part of a community actively working to empower women and promote diversity. In this article, I want to share my path to the open-source community and offer advice to women developers interested in contributing to open-source projects.

My Unconventional Path to Open-Source Software

As a woman in tech, I have had an unconventional yet fulfilling journey to open source. Growing up as an only child, I was fortunate to be free from the stereotypes of what girls should or should not learn. This freedom allowed me to explore a wide range of interests, leading me to pursue a blend of computer science, economics, software engineering, and management science in my education.

My early career was a journey of exploration and self-discovery. I took on various roles, from a Data Architect at a large corporation to a Venture Capitalist investing in growth startups. These roles gave me a unique perspective on the software industry. 

After completing my MBA, I decided it was time to pivot and find a role that would allow me to combine my passion for working at the intersection of technology and business with my desire to empower others. This led me to join Alluxio, an open-source software company, in a role focused on cultivating positive relationships with developers.

The Importance of Supporting Women’s Success in the OSS Community

I advocate for developers, and my job requires a lot of empathy for their daily lives. During my work with them, I found the gender gap a critical issue. Although there have been numerous efforts to improve diversity, the participation of women in OSS remains unbalanced. According to B. Trinkenreich, M. Gerosa, and I. Steinmacher, women only represent approximately 10% of the contributors and are underrepresented in central OSS roles. This gender gap is not just a matter of fairness or equality but also a barrier to innovation.

Having a diverse group of contributors is essential for building software that meets the needs of a diverse set of users. Open-source projects benefit from diverse perspectives by having more women contributing to them. It is about building software that serves everyone, not just a select few. It is about creating a community where every member feels welcome, valued, and empowered to contribute.

What an OSS Community Can Do to Empower Women Developers

There are many things an open-source community can do to empower women developers. The key is fostering an inclusive environment that values diverse voices and experiences. For example, actively encourage women to contribute to the projects by creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, providing clear contribution guidelines, and offering support. 

Additionally, promoting women’s contributions through various channels, such as social media and newsletters, can help to raise their profile and provide role models for other women in the community. Also, it is essential to provide mentorship and networking opportunities to women developers. Connecting them with senior developers and leaders can help provide guidance, support, and valuable connections that can help advance their careers.

I have seen the positive impact of these efforts firsthand. One of our female PMC (Project Management Committee) members, Lu Qiu, is a good example. She is a respected tech lead in our community, contributing significantly to our project. I work closely with her on public speaking engagement at conferences and participating in panels, especially those focused on women in tech. I also connect her with new women contributors and junior developers who can benefit from her mentorship and guidance. These efforts have not only helped Lu grow as a leader but have also created a ripple effect, inspiring other women in the community to step up and contribute.

My Advice for Women Developers Interested in Tapping into Open Source

Firstly, don’t be afraid to take the first step. The open-source community can seem intimidating, but remember that everyone started somewhere. Start small, perhaps with a documentation update or a bug fix, and build your confidence from there. For example, many open source projects have curated a list of new contributor tasks, from documentation, easy bug fixes, and translations, for those new to open source but wanting to become a contributor.

Secondly, seek out supportive communities. There are women-led communities in open-source, like Women in Big Data, Women in Analytics, Women in Data Science, and more. It is really important to build a network, no matter if you are new to this field or you are looking for further advancement. Also, look for open-source projects that actively welcome and support women. Actively seek women mentors, and do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Lastly, believe in your abilities. Imposter syndrome is common in the tech industry, especially among women. But remember, your skills and perspectives are valuable. You have something unique to contribute, and the open-source community needs your voice.

The Way Forward

There is still much work ahead for OSS, the software industry, and us as a society to create a more diverse and inclusive environment. However, I firmly believe that supporting women’s success in the OSS community can drive innovation, foster collaboration, and build software that serves everyone. As women in tech, we have the power to shape this community and make it a place where everyone feels welcome and valued.