Mariya's OPW Experience

WIKIMEDIA ADVENTURE

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Goodbye OPW ( Wrap-Up Post)

Now that three months are almost over I took some time to look back at my OPW experience and write about what I achieved and could not achieve, what I wish I did differently and what advice I would give to future OPW ladies:)

 

What I worked on

I worked on two different projects. The first one, “Find the vendors”, involved finding third-party MediaWiki users, learning more about what they do and what they need , and getting them to know each other and collaborate with each other. My second project was to create a single-page introduction to Wikimedia-related data to help researchers find what they need.

What I achieved

  • Learned about the different ways users use MediaWiki, the problems they face, the wishes they have and communicated to the broader WMF community. (summary)

  • Made third-party users discuss each others work and get to know each other and revitalized their mailing list.

  • Gave third-party users more visibility on MW.org

  • Sent out educational info.

  • Updated documentation.

  • Researched and documented Wikimedia-related data sources in a single-entry page to help researchers identify the data source they need.

What I didn’t achieve  

  • I didn’t do as much product management as I expected( mainly due to health issues constraining my time). I would have loved to work a little more on developing a product, new features, future strategy, etc. but I realize time was limited.

  • I could not get the third-party community to a self-sustaining state. I noticed that once I started working on something else the communication started to die out slowly. The community is still in a state where it needs some push.

What I learned

  • Work on an open-ended project.  I am generally used to math and programming, where you either have the right answer or you don’t and your code either works or it doesn’’t. Of course, it can always be improved, you can always find a more elegant solution, etc. but at least you know if you have the right solution. In this internship I was working on rather open-ended tasks, which was very unusual for me and made me a little anxious from time to time. If I was to do this more long term, I would need to find a way to evaluate my progress. Maybe some people don’t need this but if I don’t have some clear way to measure progress, I don’t feel comfortable.

  • Product management is tough when you don’t know the product deeply. If you can get hands-on experience with it, that’s best.

  • A lot about community building. Community building is like gardening - it requires consistent work. Personal communication is much more effective than mass email and different people require a different approach, etc.

  • A whole lot about WMF and FOSS in general. I read a lot about managing a FOSS project and I attended presentations about the OPW organizations and their work flow.

What transfered between my two projects

  • experience with rather logistical issues :wiki markup, how to find information on a wiki , communication channels (mailing lists, IRC). I just felt more comfortable with anything WMF related and knew my way around.

  • the habit of thinking from the user point of view which was central to both of my projects and to marketing and product management in general

  • I had some exposure to XML dumps and the API around “Find the vendors”, which helped me get into my second project faster.

What helped me

  • MENTORS. My mentors Sumana and James have been the greatest help for the last 3 months, very understanding and responsive, knowledgable and friendly. It was also great that I got to meed Sumana before OPW started.
  • Having worked in an international company.I was used to working in an environment where communication happens online and you haven’t met most of the people you work with in person. 


What I would have done differently

  • Keep it focused. If I were to do this again, I would keep it to one project only. It would keep down the learning time and leave me more time to focus on the actual project and let me go in depth. Of course, working on more things has the advantage of broader exposure but you can only do that much in 3 months.

  • Start differently. I would have started “Find the vendors” by asking people who they are first, before going into what they need and are unhappy about. I would send out a survey to learn about the community and to ask people how I can be helpful. I would ask everyone to just say hi on the mailing list and introduce themselves. Even knowing who is out there would have been very valuable.

  • Measurable goals. I would have had some more measurable goals established in the beginning, as much as possible with the project. I imagine goals like having that many people writing on the mailing list, one presentation every two weeks, that many opinions on each topic, etc. Of course, these are difficult to define but still it would be good to have some guidelines.


Advice for future OPW students

  • Don’t be shy. If you are not sure about something, reach out to people and ask for advice. If you have an idea, go for it. Just communicate about what you are doing! Mentors are great but make sure you talk to other people interested in your work as well. The more ideas or feedback you can get, the better.

  • Discuss. There are as many opinions and visions as people involved in any project. In a FOSS project usually there is no single authority to have the final word. Decisions are taken by the community. Anything you do will probably get both support and criticism. If you are not convinced, explain and defend your views and hear all opinions. Two options there: you might have a point no one considered or your learn why you are wrong. You win either way.

  • Communicate promptly. If you need anything from anyone, ask as early as possible, let them know you will need their help and when, and poke them if you are not hearing back. People in FOSS are generally very busy, some are volunteers and do this on the side, so be nice and make sure you give them plenty of reaction time. This will help your work go smoothly. If you and your mentor are several time zones apart, sent that email before you wrap up your day, don’t leave it for the morning after.

  • Prepare. The most you can do to get ready for your project in advance, the easier it will be for you to make a meaningful contribution. Try things out, learn who the involved people are, read some docs.

  • Be honest. Share about what you want to achieve and what you want to do from the very beginning( the application process) and throughout your internship.  Even if you don’t find a relevant project, it is very likely that what you want to do is needed. Also, you can most likely tweak the direction of your project a little midway if you find that you are more interested in doing X and not Y and Z.

What is left to do

Find the vendors:

  • presentations by third-party users on their improvements of MediaWiki. I helped organize one of these and it proved to be a good way to get people to know what others do and work together.

Data documentation:

  • Publish the results from a research consultation conducted by WMF in 2012.
  • Add other data sources to the DataHub Wikimedia group.

Conclusion

As a whole, OPW has been a wonderful experiene. I learned a lot and worked in a very positive, friendly environment. I want to thank OPW for the opportunity and once again Sumana and James for being great mentors.