Advisor Spotlight: Ashley Wolf, Open Source Program Manager
Many in tech are familiar with the term Open Source, but few know what it means. Even though it may sound complex, it isn’t as complicated as it may seem. After Ashley Wolf taught herself the inner workings of open source, she soon found herself to be the Open Source Program Manager at Verizon Media. She continues to define her role and career path all while supporting young women interested in tech with #BUILTBYGIRLS
Can you explain what you do as an Open Source Program Manager?
As the Open Source Program Manager for Verizon Media, I am responsible for setting and executing the policy and strategy around using third party code and libraries internally. If a team or an individual wants to publish a project that they’re working on, I help them through that process too. My job is to make sure all our services help technical employees leverage open source properly, and all technical partners external to us are able to get what they need from our open source projects.
In addition, our team is responsible for the Yahoo Developer Network - that’s a 500,000 user network where we publish our API’s, SDK’s, and promote our open source projects.
What was the whole journey like to be a Program Manager?
Mine is an unconventional path because I did not get into tech until after I graduated college. In college, I knew I was technically inclined, I knew I was interested in tech, but I didn’t really have opportunities to learn more about STEM or to have access to STEM programs.
I started to do a lot of online research to figure out how I could take my passion for technology, building relationships with people, and sharing information, and build a career in that.
I was interested in how people share code online, specifically open source. I found a lot of articles talking about what Yahoo was doing in that space—that Yahoo was invited to the White House to show how sharing code can help build a stronger community. So, I reached out to one of the directors at Yahoo to talk more about what that career path looked like.
My path started with finding somebody who was already involved in technology, in the open source space, and receiving mentorship. It really helped me dive into something I wasn’t too familiar with and see if that was the right opportunity.
I read a lot of new material, did online research on what companies were doing in this space and fortunately enough, a position on the open source team came in in 2014.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I get to support developers who work on really cool things they want to share. For me, it’s really exciting to set code free and learn about new platforms and tools that our engineers are building.
It’s really a rewarding experience to help people make their code more visible. And for them to know what it feels like to contribute back to the community.
What do you wish someone told you when you were young getting into this?
It’s really the access to opportunities. I have a younger brother and sister that are in middle school right now, and all I hear them talk about are coding clubs and coding camps and I wish I had access to those opportunities. Programs like this and other mentorship opportunities, whether they’re in school or extra-curricular, are so important..
The other thing is, don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask questions. Whether it’s online or in-person. I reached out to my mentor and future boss through the online network, Quora. He was a substantially prolific writer on Quora responding to questions about software, open source, and even representing the company at the White House.
I did not know how to look for a mentor and what do you even say? But I reached out and shared my passion for software and open source, and he replied. Doing that research and not being afraid to ask questions, and finding somebody that has a similar path as you are interested in is really important. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Finding even one person can change things for you.
What made you decide to sign up with #BUILTBYGIRLS?
I heard about the opportunity through an employee resource group called Women in Tech (WIT). WIT shares topics for discussions as well as speaking and mentoring opportunities like #BUILTBYGIRLS. (Full disclosure BBG is one of Verizon Media’s brands). A few months ago, I saw someone share a post for the #BUILTBYGIRLS WAVE program and thought it was a great opportunity for me to learn from students and also share open source opportunities with them.
How many Advisees have you had and what have they taught you so far?
I’ve had two Advisees and both were very impressive. In the beginning, I was nervous to talk with them. They both were in their junior year of college majoring in Computer Science. I was very excited to learn from them. They were still unsure of which direction they wanted to go into but they were eager to hear about this space where they can work with developers and write code.
What’s one piece of advice you gave your Advisees that others would benefit from too?
Don’t be nervous that you are going to get stuck going down one path. #BUILTBYGIRLS gives you the opportunity to learn about a bunch of different roles in tech. My mentees asked me “What if I do this internship and I don’t like it” or “what if I go too deep down the rabbit hole in this one direction and want to do something else?”
I told them, it's OK to be unsure, to ask, and to explore. There's an old computer science problem known as the explore/exploit problem where you know you need to spend some time exploring your options and then once you have a sense of the landscape that you start to leverage it. The problem is how much exploring is too much. Too often people don't explore enough. They think that if they open a box they will never be allowed to try to open up another one. It's not true in real life. You can open up many boxes to see what's in them before you pick the one you want. Take the first 10 years of your career to try things out you think might work for you. Then dive into what you really love since you'll have spent a good amount of time exploring.