Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Getting back into Outreachy

Outreachy is a great organization that helps women and other minorities get involved in open source software. (Outreachy was formerly the GNOME Outreach Program for Women.) I've mentored several cycles in Outreachy, doing usability testing with GNOME. I had a wonderful time, and enjoyed working with all the talented individuals who did usability testing with us.

I haven't been part of Outreachy for a few years, since I changed jobs. I have a really hectic work schedule, and the timing hasn't really worked out for me. Outreachy recently posted their call for participation in the December-March cycle of Outreachy. December to March should be a relatively stable time on my calendar, so this is looking like a great time to get involved again.

I don't know if GNOME plans to hire interns for the upcoming cycle of Outreachy, at least for usability testing. But I am interested in mentoring if they do.

Following conversations with Allan Day and Jakub Steiner, from GNOME Design, I'm thinking about changing the schedule we would use in usability testing. In previous cycles, I set up the schedule like a course on usability. That was a great learning experience for the interns, as they had a ramp-up in learning about usability testing before we did a big usability project.

But Allan and I would like to get interns involved more quickly. Also, Allan would prefer to have testing be more integrated to a current design project. Allan has a great point in saying, "rather than releasing something and having it tested weeks or months later, we need to be testing what we are working on right now."

My idea for the next cycle is to accelerate usability testing! I would imagine restructuring the internship so applicants would do a "crash course" in usability concepts the first week, then start doing usability tests immediately after that. Learn by doing!

For a 13 week internship, I imagine an intern or interns could spend almost the whole time leading usability tests, especially focusing on "you need five testers for an iterative process" so they are doing basically the same test throughout the internship, against different iterations of different designs. That would provide more immediate feedback to designs you are working on at the time.

A possible schedule could be:
  1. Quick study of usability testing background and methods
  2. Review test needs with Design Team; plan test #1
  3. Execute test #1
  4. Discuss results with Design Team
  5. Plan test #2
  6. Execute test #2
  7. Discuss results with Design Team
  8. Plan test #3
  9. Execute test #3
  10. Discuss results with Design Team
  11. Plan test #4
  12. Execute test #4
  13. Discuss results with Design Team; wrap-up

Based on that schedule, we could fit 4 usability test iterations in 13 weeks. We might do as many as 5 if things accelerate toward the end, such as shorter turnaround in refining the design. This depends on the time required to generate a new design based on the input of the usability tests.

The key would be to connect the design process and timeline to the internship timeline. And then to be realistic in testing. For example, we might have the intern do a paper prototype test one week, then spend the next week discussing results and figuring out the next iteration, and the intern does another paper prototype test, etc.

Paper prototypes are probably the fastest to turn around, because they don't require coding. But if there's a working interface or some animatic, the intern could do usability tests based on iterations of that.

For a simpler paper prototype, a more aggressive schedule could be:
  1. Quick study of usability testing background and methods
  2. Review test needs with Design team; plan test #1
  3. Execute test #1
  4. Discuss results with Design Team; plan test #2
  5. Updated prototype; execute test #2
  6. Discuss results with Design Team; plan test #3
  7. Updated prototype; execute test #3
  8. Discuss results with Design Team; plan test #4
  9. Updated prototype; execute test #3
  10. Discuss results with Design Team; plan test #5
  11. Updated prototype; execute test #3
  12. Discuss results with Design Team; plan test #6
  13. Wrap-up

But that may not be realistic, even for a paper prototype. There's still logistical issues, such as finding test volunteers. We'll have to adjust the schedule as we go. I think the thing to remember is we'd target at least 4 and maybe 6 usability tests during the Outreachy cycle.

If you're interested in participating in Outreachy, the anticipated schedule is:

Sept. 10, 2018 Applications and the eligibility check opens. Applicants can see and apply to listed projects.
Oct. 2, 2018 Last date for new mentoring community listings
Oct. 9, 2018 Last date for new internship project listings
Oct. 23, 2018 Application deadline
Oct. 30, 2018 Late application deadline
Nov. 5, 2018 Deadline for mentors to select interns
Nov. 14, 2018 Accepted interns announced
Dec. 4, 2018 to March 4, 2019 Internships period