My story of fighting against bias and getting an internship in technology

Hi, there! 

I’m Jiae from Korea, who used to have no connection with programming, and is now working as an Outreachy intern for OCaml.  

Here’s a bit of my background story of how I got into programming: 

I’ve been studying my entire higher educational life for liberal arts, especially for linguistics and thought I’d be an academic in the field one day. And life happened, meaning roughly that I happened to move to some countries, working as a translator, never having settled safe and sound, but I thought I’d apply for a master’s for linguistics in Austria where I am currently based. 

However, oh my, who would ever think that would be so tricky… 

First of all, since I’m not an European nor having a degree from EU countries, my bachelor’s degree got instantly ignored. I heard that Austria might be one of the most livable countries but very harsh to foreigners. Even among my friends, I could easily tell the example – I have a Thai friend who has a master’s degree in their country but couldn’t get a proper job here. Another friend of mine, who is Malaysian, also has a master’s degree, worked as a teacher and has a teaching qualification, also couldn’t get a proper job. It seemed like I wasn’t the exception. I had to visit the admissions office so many times, back and forth, even directly approached the department and did a presentation at the department’s dean’s office. Then some dedicated time later, they said that I can take some credits at their bachelor’s courses, and once they are content with the results, then I could TRY TO APPLY to their master’s programme. 

Well, what can I do? I started to attend the courses but this happened to be the beginning of  March of 2020.. haha. After just a couple of on-site ones, the courses all went online, and somehow I felt my passion went somewhere else too. The courses were interesting but weren’t like what I imagined, mainly because it’s bachelor’s after all, and I expected to work and be involved in the field but still talk about theoretical things.. Moreover, I found out about my health issue, just before I started the study, so it’s way more hard to focus. 

…And skip to the next chapter, 

After tons of doubts, and worrying, I tried to jump into the programming world. I’ve always been curious about programming but I had a mere experience of doing super basic compulsory HTML class for kids in my elementary school, which I enjoyed a lot. And in fact, I applied to a master’s course where you can study both linguistics and computer science 3 times in a row, before I strived to apply linguistics like I mentioned above. But I assume you now know the Austrian’s higher education department’s drill and how the story went. Anyways, neither that I have an experience, nor a computer science degree, the only reliable thing for me was and is the internet. So I started to research on the internet and got hooked more and more on programming, because of the fact that you can instantly involve the actual work and if you become good enough, you can even contribute to many things. So I started my learning process on all online free source platforms such as FreeCodeCamp and 생활코딩 (A Korean nonprofit educational platform for programming). But then I felt alone during the learning process and started to doubt myself. So when the rough time hit, I tended to search for success stories of fellow no computer science degree background pioneers online and motivated myself. Then I bumped into Virginia Balseiro’s post about ‘How to get your first job as a self-taught developer’’ (If you are reading this Virginia, thank you so much for your inspiring stories!), and from her posts, I got to know about Outreachy. I doubt that many people would read my blog, but if my blog post could help some other fellow struggling newbies like I did with Virginia’s story, that’d be really great.

What is Outreachy internship? 

According to their website, Outreachy provides paid internships in open source to people subject to systemic bias and impacted by underrepresentation in the technical industry where they are living. They have been having their interns mostly women, people of color, also people from a historically disadvantaged caste or tribe, transgender, genderqueer, or non-binary people. 

Well, that was it. I just love this ‘Fight against the odds’ spirit of it, more specifically, against systemic bias and underrepresentation. When I did a pre-master (yeah, there’s a thing like that and I even did that, but the Austrian higher education people didn’t acknowledge it either), I literally wrote my thesis about ‘bias in linguistics’ and enjoyed very much learning about ‘underrepresentation for liberal arts studies from pure science fields and why this matters’. As well as in the tech community, it is true that a person who has a non tech background could feel belittled. I was also one of them. For instance, job openings for this area prioritize someone with a degree from the same field, relative former experience, even among internships, they mostly favor undergraduate students from relevant departments.

The cherry on top for me was the fact that I could finally involve myself in real work and even contribute to open source. So I applied, worked hard and enjoyed every step of the application term, and luckily got the internship for OCaml (I’ll write more specifically about this in the next one). Outreachy and OCaml gave me a chance to start somewhere, without questioning whether I had much experience, a qualification, and despite the fact that I am still very much a newbie in this field. And the mentors at OCaml also didn’t make me feel excluded. They were very welcoming and always willing to teach even when I ask about basic things. I’m super grateful for this opportunity. Now it’s only the beginning of the internship but I wish I could give others opportunities like this as well someday with the knowledge from this experience.