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Hacking the Kernel, Hacking Myself

Kelley Nielsen (Linux Foundation, Gnome Foundation)
Geek Lifestyle
Average rating: **...
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I was chosen, out of eighteen successful applicants, to be one of four Linux kernel interns through the Gnome Outreach Program for Women. This is the story of my journey from a frustrated retail worker, dreaming of writing code for a living, to a full fledged kernel developer. It’s about the technical aspects of my project, which is updating the swapoff algorithm to be of linear complexity instead of quadratic. It’s also about my participation in the OPW program and the opportunities it offered me, both in terms of mentoring and support and in opening the door to my career. Finally, it’s about how I grew and changed as a coder and a person as I rose to the challenge and broke into the industry.

My talk will be made up of several stories, each about a pivotal moment for me and for my code. Because my code and I grow and develop together, the stories will have technical discussions of my work with the kernel’s virtual memory subsystem intertwined with descriptions of my learning and creating processes, my relationships with my mentors and other members of my support team, and my identity as a coder. I’ll also talk about the Outreach Program for Women, how it works, and its value in bringing new contributors to the fold.

The first story will be about the application process, which was a transformative process in itself. What seemed like an army of talented, hungry coders flooded the opw-kernel list with patch after patch for forty days. Did I measure up against them? The next story will be about my first week on the job. Now it was time for the real test. Did I have both the chops and the attitude? As for the rest of the stories, they’ll be surprises, because I haven’t lived them yet. The deadline for this proposal is halfway through the internship period, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

Photo of Kelley Nielsen

Kelley Nielsen

Linux Foundation, Gnome Foundation

Kelley is a relatively new kernel developer, who is learning under the excellent guidance of mentors through the Gnome Outreach Program for Women. She is also a co-coordinator for Codechix, which organizes in-person events of all kinds for women and everybody. Before settling on the kernel, she wrote a collection of Linux screen saver demos, aptly titled Xtra Screen Hacks, and a few Android apps. She blogs here.