Travis Foundation

Get better at programming, foster diversity and support Open Source - with exercism.io

Katrina Owen Image: by Manuel Gruber | Katrina Owen at Rossconf Vienna 2015

We love Open Source and all the amazing projects that are out there! But more often than not project maintainers have insufficient time and money to keep working dedicated hours on their beloved projects: they found themselves hacking on issues, late at night, after coming home from work — or had to abandon their projects because they just couldn’t keep up with the work at anymore? There are a lot of projects which are loved and appreciated within the community, but don’t get much support — let alone enough support to allow the maintainer to put in full-time work.

On top of that, free OSS work is not diverse at all. For example, only 11% of OSS contributors are women.

Marginalized people in tech — women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and others — have less free time for a few major reasons: dependent care, domestic work and errands, and pay inequity. Ashley Dryden, in The Ethics of Unpaid Labor and the OSS community

That’s why we decided to start Open Source Grants: To not only support projects we love and we think have a great value for the community, but also to focus on supporting projects which are lead by members of underrepresented groups in tech, or which directly foster diversity in tech with their project.

We are so excited to present one of our all-time favorite Open Source Projects; a project we want to support in the future and which we’re now looking for sponsors for (contact us to help make this happen! ).

Meet Exercism.io, lead by Katrina Owen, who — she says — accidentally became a programmer while pursuing her degree in molecular biology. She contributed to various Open Source projects, is a Ruby Hero award winner and started Exercism in 2013. In short: Katrina is one of our biggest role models in an industry which desperately needs more visible, diverse role models.

Lately Exercism has gotten even more attention since it was featured on Wired.com and grew by 40k new users in only two days. We’ll now give the word to Katrina who explains what exercism is, does and how the future could look like:

Exercism screenshot

Exercism is an experiment that got out of hand — delightfully so.

It wasn’t clear at the start what it was or who might benefit. Over the past two and a half years it has grown into a rich tool with a varied and enthusiastic user base.

Exercism provides practice exercises, with a twist. The solution to an exercise becomes the starting point of a conversation. The focus of the conversation differs depending on the skill level of the participants.

Newer programmers are often stuck in a limbo. They’ve done the online tutorials, but it’s a whole different beast to solve a problem without hand-holding. For new developers the conversation centres around programming fundamentals and readability. It’s a powerful thing to have someone give you the exact hint that you need, at the exact right moment.

When experienced programmers learn a new language, syntax is easy. Style is harder. The conversations with experienced programmers tend to centre around language features and idioms, allowing programmers to quickly gain the fluency they need to use the language professionally.

For language enthusiasts, the discussions on Exercism are an opportunity to share their love of a language by helping others discover the elegance, beauty, and quirks that make that language unique.

The experimental roots of the site still show. The design is somewhat haphazard and the usability is sorely lacking. It’s been said that getting started with Exercism is a rite of passage. That’s putting it quite gently.

This past summer two developers were sponsored to work on Exercism full-time as part of the RailsGirls Summer of Code program. The team spent a huge amount of time delving into the usability problems on the site, and in particular, the onboarding process. During the same period, a UX designer helped do design and discovery exercises.

I’d like to spend three months taking the discovery and design work that was done last summer and fix the onboarding process on Exercism and I’m so thrilled that Travis Foundation wants to help me make this happen.


For supporting exercism on its journey - We need you!

Travis Foundation needs sponsors to fund these Open Source Grants. We are looking for companies who love and want to give back to Open Source. Who want to help exercism flourish more. Who want to see it developed further with three months full of dedication and full-time engagement from Katrina Owen.

If you believe in our work - helping Open Source projects to stay alive and foster diversity in our community, please get in touch to talk about sponsorship packages for exercism. We are so looking forward to hearing from you!


Read more about what donors can expect on our Open Source info page.


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