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2020-03-27 12:56:46 -0400

Five Things an OTW Volunteer Said

Every month or so the OTW will be doing a Q&A with one of its volunteers about their experiences in the organization. The posts express each volunteer's personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. Today's post is with Sarken, who volunteers as co-chair of the Accessibility, Design, & Technology Committee.

How does what you do as a volunteer fit into what the OTW does?

I'm a co-chair of the committee responsible for the development and maintenance of the Archive of Our Own codebase. The Archive provides a home for over five million fanworks, which supports the OTW's goals of preserving and providing access to fanworks.

What is a typical week like for you as a volunteer?

AD&T operates in release cycles, which generally last more than a week, but it's not uncommon to start the week by finishing a release: ensuring all of the changes have been tested, polishing the release notes, and letting other committees know about any changes that might affect their work before the new code is deployed to the Archive.

Once that's done, we wait about a day before putting the next round of code changes onto our staging site, where volunteers from AD&T and other committees test the changes. I usually help coordinate that work in addition to doing some testing myself.

While that's going on, we're also looking ahead to future releases. That involves prioritizing issues and making sure someone is available to write or review the code.

There are a lot of other tasks that might come up during a given week, too, such as handling requests for database work, consulting with Support, making bug reports, or updating documentation. If we're having a widespread issue like slowness or downtime, we also have to communicate the problem to users, which sometimes involves quickly drafting a news post, but almost always involves tweeting. (If someone is tweeting from @AO3_Status, there's a good chance it's me or my co-chair mumble!)

Once those tasks are handled, then I get to write some code!

What made you decide to volunteer?

In 2011, Elz -- one of the AD&T co-chairs at the time -- saw some of the site skins I'd made and asked if I'd like to volunteer. I'd been a fan of the Archive ever since astolat made her "An Archive of One's Own" post in 2007, so it was an easy yes.

I'm also a tag wrangler, which is a role I volunteered for specifically to improve my understanding of how the wrangling features are used. That knowledge comes in handy when working on the wrangling code, plus it makes it easier to communicate with the Tag Wrangling committee about bugs and feature requests.

What's the most fun thing to you about volunteering for the OTW?

The people! My team is terrific, and I really enjoy getting to talk to and work with people from other committees. There are people I talk to almost every day who I wouldn't have met without volunteering, and my life would be poorer for not knowing such kind, talented people.

Coding itself is a pretty close second, though. It's extremely satisfying to hunt down the cause of a bug, and nothing quite beats the "ah-ha!" moment when you finally solve it. Of course, that moment usually gets ruined pretty quickly by the realization you still need to write tests for your new code...

What fannish things do you like to do?

I've made a few vids and recorded some podfic, but my main fannish activity outside the OTW is writing fic. I mostly write het and femslash, or at least I try to write het and femslash -- about half of those attempts end up being gen.

And whenever I can, I love to leave long comments on fanworks I've enjoyed. You never know when you'll make someone's day, and sometimes you just might make a new friend.

Now that our volunteer’s said five things about what they do, it’s your turn to ask one more thing! Feel free to ask about their work in comments. Or if you'd like, you can check out earlier Five Things posts.

The Organization for Transformative Works is the non-profit parent organization of multiple projects including Archive of Our Own, Fanlore, Open Doors, Transformative Works and Cultures, and OTW Legal Advocacy. We are a fan run, entirely donor-supported organization staffed by volunteers. Find out more about us on our website.


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As you might have noticed if you're following our Release Notes, we've been focusing on humdrum back-end updates for quite a while now. Words like "test coverage" and "strong parameters" have featured prominently in every change log for almost a year, and we haven't been able to focus on more visible features and fixes. However, progress is being made, and thanks to your donations we have the financial means to work with contractors for a good part of these updates!

Having worked with a few other contractors in the past, primarily on smaller fixes to our codebase, we now have a stellar team that's been by our side for much of our big Rails upgrade, and will hopefully stay on for a few more projects after that. \o/

However, it's important to note that being able to afford contractors doesn't mean that all the work gets done right away. (Alas.) Our small team of volunteer coders and testers still has to thoroughly review and test all code submissions, while still living up to their pesky "real life" commitments. Bugs can still take days to solve, whether the person elbow-deep in code is being paid or not. And unforeseen problems affecting site stability and security still take precedence above all else, tying up volunteer time. (This is also the reason major code updates have been delayed for so long: there's always another fire to put out!)

As a result, the slog through our outdated code will take a while longer, and progress will seem slow from the user side. We are currently on Rails 3.2 and our upgrade will take us to the latest version of Rails 5. (Anyone familiar with Rails knows that this is quite a bit of work.) And once we’re done with the Rails work, we need to upgrade Elasticsearch, which powers the Archive's search and filtering functionality. After that's all done, we'll take a little nap we can go back to more exciting and significantly more visible projects!

We want to thank you for bearing with us through it all, and for the donations that make it possible to outsource some of the workload involved in updating the Archive code. We can't always reply to comments here, and we can't respond to every tweet (even if the reaction gif is really funny), but we see you, and we appreciate you. Thanks for your support over all these years! <3


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Here at AO3, we've been looking into getting some paid coding help for a few years, to work on projects that are larger or more time-consuming than our volunteers are able to tackle in their spare time, and also just to help with the backlog of work and offer some extra assistance. We had a contractor take on a few small projects last year, but to outsource work on major projects, you need to be able to form longer relationships.

Today we're excited to announce that thanks to user donations, we've been able to contract an experienced programmer for several months' worth of work! \o/ And she isn't just an experienced Ruby developer — she's a Ruby developer who has been working on the Archive since 2008! Since she's familiar with all the nooks and crannies of our infrastructure, it will be easy for her to jump right in on major projects, like the much-needed update to our searching and filtering code. After that, it's onwards to back-end improvements, code cleanup, and other long-awaited projects like site internationalization.

Our new contractor is starting work next week, and we'll have a preview of her work on the searching and filtering code soon! Thanks to all of you for the donations that have been keeping the site running and are now enabling us to make it even better.


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2011-10-28 11:43:46 -0400

Are you interested in volunteering as a coder or tester for the Archive of Our Own? Do you have questions about our development process, or would you like to learn more about how archive features go from idea to reality? The Accessibility, Design and Technology Committee will be holding an open house to talk about our work and answer any questions you may have!

All are welcome! The chat will be held on Sunday, October 30th at 20:00 UTC (what time is it in my timezone?) in OTW's public chatroom on Campfire. The chatroom can be accessed at

Accessibility, Design, & Technology is the guiding body that coordinates software design, development and testing on behalf of the Organization for Transformative Works. Currently we are responsible for designing and building the Archive of Our Own.


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2011-10-07 11:17:37 -0400

Happy Ada Lovelace Day from everyone at the Organization for Transformative Works!

Celebrating women in technology is a subject close to our hearts: when the OTW came into existence in 2007, one of our major motivations was the desire to give fans control of the tools and infrastructure which support fannish creativity. The predominately female fannish communities from which the OTW emerged have a long history of mastering new skills and sharing expertise for fannish pursuits — the vidders of the 1970s were pioneering mashup techniques decades before they became trendy! — and we want to extend that skill-sharing to the creation of a fan-owned home that welcomes all fans.

The vast majority of OTW volunteers identify as female, and the amazing things our teams have achieved demonstrate that they all deserve to be considered tech heroines! Below, we highlight the work of our tech-focused teams and the individual voices of some of our staff and volunteers.

Archive of Our Own

The AO3 is the major tech project for the OTW, and is supported by several committees and volunteer groups: Accessibility, Design, & Technology; Systems; Support; Tag Wranglers; Coders; and Testers. We're one of the largest female-majority open source projects in existence, and we're proud that in less than four years we've developed from nothing more than a cool idea to become a thriving site with more than 23,000 users.

Last Ada Lovelace Day we polled AO3 volunteers to find out a bit more about them, and we thought we'd repeat the experiment this year. The charts below give a summary of their answers:

Bar chart showing the gender identifications of AO3 volunteers: Female - 83%, Male - 12%,  Other -25%.

Bar chart showing the capacities in which people have contributed to the project: A coder - 29%, A designer - 15%, A tester - 44%, A tag wrangler - 49%, A support team member - 20%, A docs member - 7%, A systems member - 15%, Other - 37%

We're still very definitely a female-dominated project; however, we're interested to note that since last year the number of volunteers who identify as male has increased by 10%. We think this reflects the fact that we are focused on making a welcoming and supportive environment for people to gain new skills. As Skud pointed out in hir 2009 Oscon keynote, making a project welcoming for newbies is particularly beneficial to women — who are often excluded from traditional tech contexts — but that doesn't mean it becomes less welcoming to people who aren't women!

Not all the contributors to the project are coders or sysadmins; the AO3 also relies on the work of testers, tag wranglers, support staff, designers, and docs writers. We value their contributions just as much: a tech project is about more than lines of code, and without them the AO3 wouldn't exist.

A key part of our goal is giving fans (whatever their gender identity) the skills to build the tools they want to use. We were super-proud to see some of the fruits of this mission during the recent Delicious debacle, when fannish talk quickly turned to "We should build our own bookmarking service — if the AO3 could do it, so can we!" Our volunteers have achieved so much — they're all tech heroines (and heroes)!

The AO3 team would like to give special thanks to one particular tech heroine — Sidra, Systems co-chair and primary guardian of the servers for the AO3. The Accessibility, Design, & Technology Committee have posted a separate post celebrating Sidra's awesome work.


Another major technical undertaking for the OTW is Fanlore, our fannish history wiki. Since Fanlore is built on existing MediaWiki software rather than a custom-built application like the AO3, the tech aspects of this project are not as immediately obvious, but they are just as important. Our Wiki staff have learnt to maintain and use the MediaWiki software, creating custom templates, investigating new software modules, and getting to grips with wiki maintenance. They are awesomely assisted by our Systems team, who installed the software on our servers and keep everything running smoothly (we love you, Systems ♥).

Fanlore is celebrating Ada Lovelace Day with a new challenge on Women Characters, Science Edition! Why not create a Fanlore article about your favorite female character who is a scientist, engineer, or mathematician? Tell us about your fannish experiences with these characters — the women themselves, the relationships they’re in (het, lesbian, canonical, fannish, etc.), the fanworks they star in — whatever you can think of! You can stub out a new page, or add a sprinkle of information on an existing page.


If you've read this far, you've probably realized that Systems is involved in every OTW project. They tend the AO3 servers; install software for Fanlore, Transformative Works and Cultures, Open Doors, and the main OTW website, plus the software that helps us process donations and manage volunteers; and set up the mailing lists that help all the committees and volunteer groups do their daily work. The heroines and heroes of the Systems committee work largely behind the scenes to keep our technical infrastructure running smoothly, and the entire OTW benefits enormously from their dedication and expertise.


The Webmasters are another committee whose work is spread among a wide variety of projects. They maintain the OTW's main website, the Open Doors site, and the Elections site, manage our donation processing software, serve as layout coders for Transformative Works and Cultures, design styles for the OTW's social media accounts, and manage media hosting for various internal projects. To date, the Webmasters have all been women, and have been largely self- or peer-taught in the technical skills they use.

Some thoughts from our volunteers

In a post that celebrates women doing it for themselves, it seems appropriate to close with some thoughts from our volunteers, as they reflect both on their own work and on that of other women they admire. We'll be adding links to individuals' blog posts at the end of this post throughout the day.

It's exciting to work in teams that are overwhelmingly female. I really like the testing parties, as it's a little confusing and intimidating to try to work from written descriptions. I joined to support an organization I trust and approve of, and to get some practical tech experience. I just started volunteering a few weeks ago, so not much to say yet!

Sometimes I have conversations about servers, code, etc and I realise that former!me wouldn't have understand ANY of it. I've only learnt enough to contribute a tiny amount of code, but I am able to be a fully functioning member of AD&T because I have absorbed enough to be able to take part in these conversations as a useful laywoman.

I like finding interesting bugs and feel good whenever I find one before it hits Beta.

I like that the archive tries to accommodate a variety of people and systems instead of saying: get browser x with y settings or we don't care about your problems.

I love wrangling big fandoms with lots of problems and characters-shared-between-fandoms, it's a big undertaking but it's nice to see everything all neat once you're done!

Since I come from a background of relatively no coding, it has been really exciting to submit my bug fixes and see my changes on the archive! The whole experience has been really rewarding!

Since beginning my work with the Archive, I have improved my computing skills dramatically. I have learned a great deal about linux and switched to a more complex, text-based distro. I have gained an exceptional amount of skill and confidence with unix commands and bash. I now have an understanding of how the Archive is put together via Ruby on Rails, and that understanding deepens and develops with every issue I work on. This has been an amazing experience and I am excited to keep learning and growing as a coder!

I've never been part of a mainly women-identified group before, and it's really been rewarding for me in so many different ways. I'm so proud to be part of the OTW!

It combines two of my dearest hobbies: Coding and fandom. Both Open Source people and fandom people build great, communicative communities with lots of collaboration, and if you put those two together you get fun squared. :D It's really great to share more than the passion for coding with my fellow coders, so when I'm in a phase where I code less in favour of writing or squeeing over a new shiny fandom, it's never really off-topic, thus making it easier to keep in touch with coding stuff.

[Something I'm proud of accomplishing.] Dragging a committee up from its bootstraps at the project's launch, in such a way that it perfectly well survived (and prospered after) my own burnout-related crash and burn.

I really love it. I quit grad school in a blaze of disillusionment and have been unemployed and completely at sea in my life since, and it's been really heartening to have something I can contribute to in small ways, especially something that's part of fandom, which has been such a wonderful aspect of my life for so many years.

It is one of the more nurturing and family-building projects/organizations I've seen.

It's a delight to work on a project where people not only don't jump to assumptions about you, but where people are supportive even if you make the smallest contributions.

ruby metaprogramming! redis! There is just nothing quite so fantastically satisfying as working with a smart and dedicated and passionate team on a project that we all actually use ourselves and value deeply as a result.

I've really enjoyed being AD&T training lead, running sessions for new people to learn how to code from scratch, and mentoring them as they advance. It's so rewarding to see people gaining new skills, and particularly when you know they've previously been excluded from opportunities because of their gender or disability, e.g. by lack of part-time courses that can fit around childcare or flare-ups.

I'm *so excited* to be part of the team that's creating the Archive that I love so much. I think fandom is amazing to have worked so hard together to create the Archive.

Mirrored from an original post on the OTW blog, where we'll be collecting links to Ada Lovelace Day blog posts from OTW members throughout the day.


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2010-03-24 12:11:02 -0400

Accessibility, Design and Technology would like to wish you a happy Ada Lovelace Day!

As the committee responsible for designing and building the Archive of Our Own, one of the largest female majority open source projects on the web, we're thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate women in technology.

The first code for the Archive of Our Own was committed in January 2008. Some stats for the lifetime of the project:

  • 73669 lines of code
  • 30 different people committing code
  • 2238 code commits
  • 276 people involved with the Archive in some capacity (as coders, testers, tag wranglers, or support team members) - not all of these people are active at the same time, but we think this is still pretty impressive!

We polled our volunteers to find out a little more about them before Ada Lovelace Day, and the charts below give a picture of some of their responses:

Bar chart showing gender distribution among contribtors to the Archive of Our Own

Bar chart showing the range of roles undertaken by volunteers for the Archive of Our Own

Approximately 97% of the people contributing code to the project and 93% of all Archive volunteers identify as female - this is a dramatic difference to the majority of open source projects on the web, and we think it's well-worth celebrating! Our sense of achievement doesn't arise from the fact that we're a female-dominated organisation, however, but from the fact that we've been able to share skills and enable people to become involved in things which they might otherwise have been excluded from.

Twenty-nine percent of our volunteers describe themselves as having no experience of working on technology projects before they joined us, and forty-eight percent say they only had a small amount of experience. Among our coders, a third had NO knowledge of coding before they joined, and very few people had worked extensively in Ruby on Rails, the core framework on which the Archive is built. Contributors to the project have learnt Ruby on Rails, CSS, systems administration, documentation skills, project management, quality assurance, information management skills, and much, much more. We've been able to develop a strong female-majority team because of a culture of encouraging the new and inexperienced - this benefits women, who are less likely to have experience of working on technology projects, but we hope that it also makes our project a more welcoming one for everyone.

One of the most exciting things about seeing this project from the inside is the fact that it is truly collaborative. The work of our 30 code committers takes place in the context of a massive amount of other work: designs are worked out collaboratively, documentations people help us keep track of all the things we're working on, testers ensure that the code does what it's supposed to, tag wranglers organise the content on the Archive, and the support team work incredibly hard to make sure our users have a great experience. Whereas in some open-source projects, the work of non-coders is seen as less important, we enjoy an atmosphere of shared endeavour in which everybody's contribution is celebrated. By working closely together, we also enjoy lots of cross-pollination, and we've seen many people move from testing to coding, or coding to support, developing new skills in the process. About 41% of volunteers on the project serve in more than one role - we believe that by providing space for people who want to specialise while allowing those who like diversity to branch out, the whole project is enriched.

We're proud of our enthusiastic, skillful, supportive team of volunteers, of all genders, and we believe that Ada Lovelace is a great time to celebrate a culture which welcomes everyone. In that spirit of inclusiveness, we'd like to close this post with some comments from the people from our teams:

The sense of community, inclusive of the most occasional tester and casual reader to the most dedicated coder and systems-person, is just so wonderful.

[One thing I'm excited about learning:] Learning how to test in general & regression testing in specific, and learning how to use the issues tracker for google code. It's fun! Testing has a great mentor, Eylul, it's easy to pick up and learn, and it's really satisfying when you see a fix for a bug you've discovered or tested make its way onto the archive.

[One thing I'm excited about learning:] Acquiring new skills (which I'm still doing): Ruby on Rails. It gives me great satisfaction, especially as I am out of work.

The development of the Archive of our Own is just a phenomenal thing to see. This big undergoing with every deploy, how everyone comes together to get this new release on its way. How many people with different jobs it takes to build this software and how people step up and pitch in and help out, regardless of if it is in their "job description", is really inspiring to me.

I really love that we're all working as a team (even people I don't see or know as they're on different parts of the project) to create something that's being used by thousands of people. It adds to a part of my life that until now, I've only really been an observer in, not a participant.

I'm really excited that I managed to leap in and work with a bunch of people I'd never met before, and am having a great time doing it. And I've learnt how to use a lot of tools, like google code [coders' bug management system], campfire [the OTW's chatroom] and 16bugs [AO3 Support's bug management system] that I'd never even heard of before.

Okay, and one more thing -- even though my part in the whole is tiny, I feel a great sense of accomplishment every time an update is deployed to the archive. I'm continually delighted by the fact that there can be so very many fingers in the pie, and it still ends up being a *pie* (that's tasty and delicious!)

We're happy to be sharing our pie with fandom at large! Happy Ada Lovelace Day!