FOSS Mentoring: A tribute to female mentors

Rikki Kite

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Jul 13, 2010 GMT
Rikki Kite

Last week I read an article that suggested women are less likely to mentor other women in business. The article made me think about mentoring in Linux and open source. I emailed a few of my friends in open source, both male and female, and asked them: Which mentors/mentorships/programs/events in FLOSS have inspired you? Which ones do you think are great success stories (help inspire/encourage women)? (You can read more about their responses in our September issue of Linux Pro [#118], which goes to the printer today.)

In short, I found that organized mentoring in our field is lacking. There are many smaller groups that help people network, such as LinuxChix and Systers.org, but few efforts at mentor-specific programs. Perhaps a mentor-finding-directory would be handy?

Somewhere along the way many of us have found mentors or been inspired by groups or projects, and I encourage you to share those stories here and with each other.

Beth Lynn responded to my questions about mentoring and shares her story:

FOSS Mentoring

By Beth Lynn Eicher

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a crèche to raise a penguin. A person needs many mentors to help them through all stages of a Free and Open Source career. Usually, when I think of mentors, I consider those people who have molded me into the professional Linux system administrator I am today. More recently, though, I have discovered that there are many other individuals who have helped me become the leader that I am today as a director of the Ohio LinuxFest Corporation. Many men have helped me along the way, but this piece is a tribute to some of the female mentors in my life.

In this thought journey on the topic of mentors, my question is “Who is a mentor anyway?” Merriam Webster defines mentor as a “trusted counselor or guide.” From my personal experience, it seems easy to discredit those interactions in which you are helping another person as just being “friendly.”

Lindsey Cambell is a student and a web developer that I am starting to mentor. She said, “I do not know how this whole mentoring thing works, but mostly I am looking for any kind of information/opportunities for myself.” Actually, I do expect to learn from my interactions with Lindsey. We will chat over email on her goals. From there I will coach her to make the connections she needs to realize her dreams.

Lindsey and I have much in common. I received an Associates degree before transferring to a research university, and Lindsey is transitioning from a community college to a university this Fall. About 10 years ago, I had transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, where I had Dr. Mary Lou Soffa for Data Structures. There Dr. Soffa taught about the importance of research in science education. That summer Dr. Soffa was my internship advisor for my first research project at Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

At Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), an employer put a non-Microsoft computer on my desk for the first time. Not only did I need to learn how to write parallel code in a programming language I never used before on an experimental Beowulf cluster, but I also needed to learn how to use strange desktop operating systems such as Red Hat Linux and NetBSD. Many days I felt like a fraud, but under Dr. Soffa's guidance that summer, I was able to prove that message-passing for Java works just as well as the C libraries.

Each day at the PSC I had the guidance and friendship of one of the strongest women I know, a senior system administrator, Moose Esther Filderman. Before meeting Moose, I had not considered system administration as a profession. There is still a perception in the field that women cannot handle the work because there could be heavy lifting involved. Moose taught me that system administration is about bringing services to the user community, and not to let anyone make me feel weak.

Today I am a senior system administrator and a officer of the Ohio LinuxFest Corporation. I would have never guessed 10 years ago that I would be not only be going to conferences but running conferences, too. As the Program Chair of the Ohio LinuxFest, Moose continues to amaze me with how much she gives back to open source and the profession of system administration. She is my ethical conscience that leads me to mentor other young women involved with Ohio LinuxFest, such as Carol Rutz and Mackenzie Morgan.

Mentoring is my childhood neighbor, Christine Tongel, who taught me how to use the command line.

Mentoring in free and open source software is simply being there to help each other.

Take the time to inspire the girls and women around you and you will be one strong empress penguin.

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