Anita Ihuman: Journey into open source cover image
Anita Ihuman: Journey into open source

DevConf.CZ Team • June 17, 2022 | Category: Interviews |

Anita Ihuman got into open source quite recently, in 2020, and she’s already contributed to a variety of projects, like Layer5, CHAOSS, APISIX, and many more. Read on to learn more about her journey and how global lockdown made it a little bit easier to get into open source.

About Anita Ihuman

Profile Picture Anita Ihuman is a Developer Advocate for Layer5, but she is also an active contributor in other open source projects like CHAOSS and Apache APISIX. She studied microbiology and in her free time, she likes to write articles, watch movies, or just snuggle up with her cat. She has consistently been inspired by seeing open source contributors who have a huge positive impact on the ecosystem and the people in it. That is why she is passionate about contributing to open source communities. Her talk at 2022 was about Quality Documentation. She has recently become a big fan of the GitHub Stars Stories podcast. You can find her on Twitter (@Anita_ihuman) or on her LinkedIn profile.

Watch the recording of Anita's 2022 talk: Quality Documentation: The Key to Open Source Grow.

Q: How did you start contributing to open source projects?

I got into tech quite recently: my journey started in 2020. Back in school, I often heard my more technically savvy classmates talk about the amazing events they attended, what cool stickers and other swag they got. At some point, the majority of them managed to speak at a conference about what they do. That is something I always wanted to do. When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a mass communicator. I ended up studying microbiology and the path to conferences is not so direct from there, so I thought: maybe if I focus on tech, I can find a way to speak in public.

The pandemic was a great opportunity for me to get in. I had free days, and there was no need to travel to school, so I used all this time to learn a new skill. Two or three months in, I heard about Open Source Africa, the largest open source community event in Africa. I watched the videos from the conference, and I was really intrigued by the topics; how passionate the people were, how the community was really helpful and encouraging - that piqued my interest in open source. I was just a front-end developer at the time. Then, I learned about GNOME. Obviously, I wasn't able to contribute to GNOME right away. I thought I had nothing to contribute to. There is a Diversity and Inclusion committee that helps with onboarding into the GNOME Foundation, but I wasn't even able to onboard myself. Then, I heard about another contributor hackathon by She Codes Africa, where I started my first open source contribution to Layer5. It wasn't the greatest experience, as it took me a week to solve one issue, and it was frustrating. I told myself to keep on going because the community itself was welcoming, so I kept showing up. It took me some time, but in the end, I loved it.

Q: What makes your project stand out to you?

First, I was helping onboard newcomers to GNOME. I didn't do so much there, but when GNOME Africa came up, I joined as a technical writer - still helping with onboarding. I wasn't consistent with that because at the same time, I started contributing to Layer5, which seemed more interesting.

In Layer5, I got to the position of community manager, to help welcome people in the community and to answer questions on Slack, but I was also contributing code as a front-end developer. I became a "mesh mate", which is more like a coach helping a person to get into the community. My friend Ruth Ikegah and I started the newcomers call in Layer5. I felt like I was an official open source contributor. I realized there are so many new contributors who had to deal with difficulties in getting into the communities, just like I once did. With the newcomers call, we were able to retain many new contributors that helped the community and the entire project.

Then I heard about the CHAOSS Foundation, which focuses on building metrics and analytics to help define community health., and also has its own Diversity and Inclusion initiative. I joined it because I experienced so many difficulties at the beginning and I thought I could help to set things right. While contributing to Layer5, I was contributing to CHAOSS, and also making one-time contributions to other projects. I became a coach in several coaching programs. With CHAOSS, I started in the role of the reviewer to help check the metrics of open source events, open source projects, or even open source contributors. You can apply and receive a badge for your contribution. I've been contributing to CHAOSS for a year, and so far everything is going well.

I also started contributing to Kivano recently, towards the end of 2021, because I got offered a job there.

Q: What is the hardest part of being an open source project contributor?

Of course, the journey wasn't always smooth. I spent most of my time at home and I liked that I had an opportunity to interact with people all over the world. My goal was to get into a dev role, not just contribute to the front end. That was challenging. I started putting myself out there and that was the difficult part. I don't like a lot of interactions; I enjoy being on my own. Another case is learning about cloud - learning Kubernetes online is very challenging.

Q: What is the best way to reward open source contributions?

Many people fear the idea of open source because they believe they have to devote time without any form of incentives. That discourages a lot of people. Personally, I don't see the time I spent onboarding and learning about upstream projects as a waste because I had nothing else to do. I loved the idea of being able to be a part of a large group of people from whom I can learn. Tiny forms of appreciation definitely helped, though. It did not have to be financial support. I appreciated things like issuing badges or giving titles to people who are contributing. It made me feel relevant, rewarded, and recognized as a member of the community. It made me want to show up. Swag works well, too. It is a way of marketing for the community and I can say to people that if they want to get something similar, they should join in and contribute as well.

Q: How did the pandemic affect the project and your contribution?

I think it was easier to start the contribution during the pandemic for me. I wouldn't be able to attend any of the events, being a complete beginner. I would probably need another 2-3 years of experience and to get a job to have money for travelling. However, since everything was virtual, I could attend from the comfort of my home and with no financial support. It was a great deal for me. I wonder how it would be in person. The shift was probably more difficult for people who were used to attending in-person meetings and ways of working.

Q: How did impact your open source contribution?

I learned about from Twitter. This was one of the conferences where I thought I would speak one day in the future, because it was such a huge deal for me. I submitted a topic about how to start your contribution and I was surprised to see my talk accepted in 2022. It was an interesting experience because most of the topics in the conference were things I wanted to learn about. The speaker support was amazing; I was given the proper information ahead of time and I really appreciated that.

Explore other articles like this: The many roads to open source interview series.