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Knight-Mozilla Open News

How to Apply to Be a Knight-Mozilla Fellow

by Erika Owens

The deadline to apply to the Knight-Mozilla Fellowship is just a few days away on August 21. If you’re considering applying, but you’re not sure about how to apply, this post is for you!

First off, if you’re considering applying, just do it. The application is a chance for us to get to know you better and it may turn out you’re a great fit for the fellowship or there may be other ways to colaborate on journalism code. You won’t know till you apply.

Before you apply, you may be wondering about what previous experience you need. You don’t need prior journalism experience or expertise in any particular coding language. You can be a current student, a recent graduate, or have forgotten the last time you were even in a classroom. You can have kids or no kids, already live in a city where a host news organization is or need to move around the world. You can come from many backgrounds, you just need to have some experience with code and an interest in spending 10 months working in journalism.

So, you’re sold. You want to apply, but maybe you’re unsure. Maybe you’ve applied before. Maybe you haven’t contributed to an open source project before. Maybe you haven’t even touched a newspaper in years. It’s ok, I’m going to walk you through this process.

Some things to keep in mind with the application:

  • Don’t worry. It can be hard to put yourself out there, to maybe face rejection or the scrutiny of people reviewing your work. We know it’s hard and try to make this process as painless as we can. We will give you as much information as we can and never trick you. You still may be a little nervous, that’s understandable. But if your nerves are getting in the way of appying–let us know. Each day this week we’re going to have blog posts helping talk through different areas of concern you may have–about the application, about projects during the fellowship, about what the heck happens after a fellowship. We aim to proactively alleviate concerns you may have, but if we miss something, we hope you’ll let us know and give us a chance to help.
  • Don’t brag. Ok, this might sound a little strange. This is effectively a job application, aren’t you supposed to wow the hiring committee with your brilliance? Sure, we want to know how amazing you are, but focus on the you part of that statement, not the amazing part. We want to learn about what interests and excites you, the kinds of projects you’ve enjoyed and the enthusiasm you have for your work (be that your day job or the time you eke out for what you really love). You may notice we never refer to “rock stars” or “ninjas” or other language like that in talking about the fellowship. There are no back-up singers in this fellowship and we’re not interested in people who are only comfortable in a starring role. Just tell us about you. When you’ve done amazing stuff, it really does speak for itself.
  • Do share. We ask in a few different ways for you to tell us about yourself, your work, your interests. Please share! Even if you’ve applied before, give us a full picture of your application–a new group of news organizations looks at the applicant pool each year so we don’t want folks to miss the great project you included on your first application. Sharing is one of the cornerstones of the fellowship, so share your work, share your past experiences, and share how you collaborate and connect with other people.

Let’s take a look at each section of the application.

About you

This is pretty straightforward contact information stuff. We ask about city and country to get a sense of where people live who are interested in the fellowship. If you’ve moved a lot or are not sure where you’ll be in a few months, no worries, just put what best decribes where you are from–however you choose to interpret that.

About your work

Here’s where we start to get to know more about what you’ve worked on. For your GitHub or other code repo, it’s totally ok if you repo is mostly (or entirely) empty. Many of our fellows had no GitHub activity prior to their fellowship. If you do have an active repo, it just helps us see what kindsa stuff you like to work on.

For your website or portfolio, this does not have to be the snazziest site ever. And, here’s a secret: don’t let the existence of the site hold up submitting the application. We don’t start reviewing them till at least Monday, so if you link to mywebsite.com and then update it over the weekend with a new look or updated bio, we will likely never know. Also, please don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of time updating your website. We largely check your site to familiarize ourselves with your work and refer back to it as we review applications. If it has a link to your resume, a short list of work, and a little about you, that’s great. It can be a super simple format. We won’t be grading you based on how speedy and spectacular your site is.

For resume or CV, you can upload a link or paste a link in the text box. While the rest of the application is a chance for you to feature particular skills or projects that interest you, your resume gives us a more complete snapshot of your experience and background. You don’t need to do anything fancy for us. Just a standard list of experience like you’ve submitted to other jobs is great.

Tell us more about you

These five questions are how we learn about you the person, not just you a list of skills. We’ve really tried to make these questions as straightforward as possible. Here’s a little extra context, but as always, if you have any questions, just email us.

  • Why do you want to become a Knight-Mozilla Fellow? Just tell us a little bit about what struck you about the fellowship or the pitch by one of our partners. Wanna travel, teach, jump into open source cause you’re new to it? Those are all great answers. Gentle hint: think about why you think the fellowship could benefit you and how you could contribute to the fellowship. As with any job application, it’s great to talk about the benefits for you and for the organization.

  • What are your go-to technologies when building things on the web? Interpret this question in whatever the way works for you. Programming languages. Hardware. Software. Processes. Whatever helps you do you work. It’s ok if you expect what you use might change during the fellowship. You can just tell us what you prefer working with right now.

  • What was your first experience collaborating with others on the open web, by contributing to an open source project or in some other way? You can interpret “collaborate” broadly here. Maybe your first experience involved contributing to open source code, but you probably had to collaborate with people to learn how to use the issue tracker or download the project before you even got to that point. Or, maybe you’re new to open source code, but have collaborated in online communities for years. We are way more interested in your experience with collaboration here than in being wowed by what cool code whatsit you had experience with before most of us and even touched a computer.

  • When you first begin a project how do you get started? This builds off of the go-to technologies question. We’d love to hear more about your process. You could answer this in regard to how you prefer to work or how the organization you work with now functions. It’s just helpful to learn about your usual work style.

  • What is one of your favorite examples of news online? What do you like about it? The other questions focus a lot on the code side of the fellowship, but this is your chance to talk about your interest in journalism. Even if you’ve never set foot in a newsroom, you’ve probably read something recently that was created by a news organization. Tell us about one of those pieces that you really liked. This isn’t a place where you need to play favorites and call out to one of the fellowship partners. We’re way more interested in learning about what you like and what stands out to you, than in finding out that you were one of the five people who saw that piece from eight years ago we thought everyone else forgot.

Three things you’ve built

By far, we get the most questions about this section so I’m going to do my best to take away the intimidation factor here.

We really see these projects as a chance to get to know what kind of work you enjoy and the role you have played in building prior projects. We are not going to be critiquing your projects. We are curious about your projects.

Projects can be lots of different things, from published works, to one-off experiments, to works in progress. Here are some types of projects that may come to mind as you think of examples to share:

  • Something you really enjoyed working on. It’s ok if it was your own personal project and not something you did at work. It’s ok if it has nothing to do with journalism and is totally unserious and just something that you thought was fun. That’s great! Tell us what got you interested in the project and how you went about building it. It’s ok if the project was messy and you just did what you had to do to get it done–that sure describes a lot of newsroom code.
  • Something that really challenged you. You may have examples of projects that stretched your capacity. Maybe you spent a lot of time refactoring the code to really get it right. Maybe you used a project to teach yourself a new framework. Maybe you work at a company that has really interesting, but closed-source projects. Tell us about this. Even if we can’t see the end product (or the hours of tinkering you put into the code), share a screenshot or other documentation and tell us about the process in the description.
  • Something you’d like to do more of. This could be a recent project you just tried. It could be something you’ve done on the side, that you’d like to devote serious time to. If you’re still pretty new to coding, it might not even be a coding project at all. It could be an event you organized, a class you taught, a topic you researched. Projects that fellows work on take many shapes, and the experiences they bring with them are no different.

If you don’t have a link for any of your projects, you can put http://seebelow.com in the URL field and see below in the description field and upload a screenshot, wireframe, or similar in the optional supporting material field and add the description of the project there.

Also, these projects, like the rest of the application, is only shared with OpenNews staff and colleagues at partner news organizations who are involved with hiring. If you want to share something not yet published, that’s ok. We won’t share it publicly.

Additional information

These questions help us better understand our applicants and outreach activities.

Many of our fellows have been fluent in languages other than English and some of our partner news organizations have preferred people to be fluent in other langauges.

We’re really curious about how you heard about the fellowship, so we can make sure we reach applicants like you every year, so telling us how you heard about the fellowship, with as much detail as you can recall, is really helpful.

We also work hard to make sure that our applicant pool and fellowship cohort reflect the diversity of communities that we serve. To track our work on this goal, we have an optional question where you can answer if you identify as a woman, person of color, or member of another under-represented group in technology. If you are comfortable answering this question, please select any of the options that apply to you. For other groups, you can tell us anything you would like to share. Some applicants have shared things like being LGBT, having a disability, being a veteran, being formerly incarcerated, living in a rural area, and many other attributes. These answers also help us better understand the communities we’ve connected with–and which ones we need to do a better job contacting.

And then the legal stuff is just to make sure you’re ok with sending us your info and whether you want to get some emails from us.

Hit “Submit”

After all that, you just need to hit submit. But you really do have to finish the application and you do have to submit it before 11:59:59pm Eastern Time on Friday, August 21. We do not accept late applications. We will be tweeting and eagerly watching your applications roll in on Friday, so if you have any questions, even last minute ones, you can email us, but if you miss the deadline, you’ll have to wait another year to apply.

After you submit your application, you’ll be redirected to a thank you page and receive a confirmation email. That means we got your application–thanks for applying! We’ll be in touch in a few weeks with next steps about your application.

If you have any questions not covered, please join us for a question and answer session on our community call Wednesday, August 19 at 11am Eastern time.

We look forward to reading your application.

posted August 18, 2015 | posted in fellowship 

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