On Monday, September 21, 2015, the Arab Women in Computing (ArabWIC) group led by Professor Sana Odeh, ran their first in a series of Tech Talks for their global membership. The topic was Open Source Software. The session was set up, managed and hosted by Ghida Ibrahim and Fatma Djoudjou, both of whom were on a panel that I moderated at New York University in Abu Dhabi in May 2015.

Although this initial Tech Talk was partly set up to gain experience of running global webinars with multiple speakers, it was inspiring to hear from women who are active in the open source communities, or who are implementing systems with open source. There were three main speakers:

Extract from Dr Manar AbuTalib’s presentation on Open Source Software in the Arab World
  • Rand Muhatasab is a software engineer at startup #hashdoc. Rand described how she learned PHP and the Yii MVC framework by herself and became a full-stack software engineer. Rand enjoys working with open source software such as JavaScript, JQuery, Ruby and more for the innovation and customizability opportunities open source software gives her.
  • Aya Mahfouz is a contributor to the Linux Kernel with 100+ patches. Aya described how she got started, and gave some tips for others to start contributing, e.g., subscribe to mailing lists to find out what the community is looking for, check contribution life cycles, start small, and read a lot. Aya told us about a number of programs to increase diversity in open source software development, including the Rails Girls Summer of Code and Outreachy Outreachy helps people from groups underrepresented in open source software, by providing a supportive community for beginning to contribute, and offering internship opportunities twice a year with a number of organizations. They will open the applications for round 11 on September 29, 2015.
  • Manar AbuTalib is Assistant Professor at the University of Sharjah and CEO of the Emirates Digital Association for Women. Manar told us about enthusiastic OSS groups such as the GNU/Linux users Groups in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Qatar and Kuwait (QGLUG); the Digital Free Software Association in Tunisia; the Jordan Open Source Association; and open Source communities in UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon and Palestine. She also shared the results of a survey on open source software across the MENA region. Manar told us about a paper she co-authored and published in 2015 called “Enhancing Social Science Research in the UAE: An Open Source Software Solution University of Sharjah (UOS) Case Study

There were two additional guests who also spoke about their open source experiences:

  • Rachel Myers is a Ruby and JavaScript engineer on the New User team, working to make GitHub a better experience for new users, especially people learning to code. As an open source project at work, during Open Source Fridays, Rachel is working with other GitHubbers to profile and optimize Atom, the open source editor, with the goal of creating a great experience on computers with ARM architectures. That will ultimately lower the costs for a development machine and lower barriers to technology education. On weekends, Rachel works on RailsBridge and BridgeFoundry projects, which hold workshops to bring underrepresented groups into technology.
  • Ishita Mandhan recently graduated from Texas A&M University and started working as a full-time open source developer at IBM. She is working on an OpenStack database as a service (DBaaS) project called Trove that enables provisioning and management of a wide range of relational and non-relational databases. Ishita told us that stepping into an open source ecosystem can seem intimidating at first but there are lots of ways to learn when you are first getting started- reviewing code, communicating with members of the project on IRC, the mailing list to better acquaint you with the community.

After some questions and answers, and reviewing lessons learned from running the webinar, the first ArabWIC Tech Talk ended with discussion of the upcoming Grace Hopper conference, in October 2015 in Houston, Texas. A number of ArabWIC members have the good fortune to attend the conference. We look forward to hearing about their experiences in future Tech Talks. In the meantime, you can listen to the Tech Talk on Open Source Software.

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