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My internship with the FSF tech team and beyond

Published on December 18, 2020

Originally published on the Free Software Foundation's sysadmin blog:
My internship with the FSF tech team and beyond.

Hello! I'm Amin Bandali, and this is my second blog post on the FSF sysadmin blog, concluding my internship with the FSF tech team this year.

Throughout my internship with the tech team, I have worked mainly on sysadmin tasks related to setting up and/or managing FSF's GNU/Linux servers. Perhaps most significantly, I set up an instance of the Sourcehut forge software to help evaluate it as a candidate for the upcoming FSF forge project. I documented the installation and setup process of Sourcehut's various components in the form of a literate GNU Emacs Org-mode file, where source blocks are interspersed with comments and prose explaining them. One can then progressively evaluate and execute the source blocks, and optionally have their results stored back in the Org file itself to help with documentation/demonstration.

I have also been slowly working on various improvements for the server running www.gnu.org, and will continue doing work on it as a volunteer after the end of my internship. This will hopefully be beneficial to the FSF sysadmins running the server, the GNU webmasters who do webmastering work on gnu.org, and the general public browsing and using gnu.org's pages. Notably, changes included upgrading the server to the latest release of Trisquel GNU/Linux, and revamping and improving the search mechanism for gnu.org's pages. Additionally, there are several other projects that I would like to tackle with the tech team in the near future.

During my internship with the FSF tech team, I picked up a variety of new skills and learned more about a diverse set of topics and tools. This included building and installing a complex piece of software like Sourcehut and debugging issues encountered along the way, using Ansible for managing and deploying infrastructure, as well as learning more about the Exim mail transfer agent used to run FSF and GNU's array of mail servers.

In conclusion to my internship and the year 2020, it's safe to say that this year has been an eventful year for many people, including myself. I started my internship with the tech team back in May, and as a graduate student at the time, I was expecting a reasonable and balanced workload for my work on my thesis over the coming months. However, early on (less than two weeks) into my internship I learned that due to a number of reasons, I needed to complete my master's studies on a two-month deadline. I told the tech team about the issue, asking whether I could take a hiatus to complete my studies without affecting my internship. I am beyond thankful to the tech team and the FSF as whole for being accommodating, and for their flexibility in allowing me to take a leave to focus on writing my thesis and wrapping up my master's studies. I managed to successfully wrap up my studies in that short timeline, and focus on my internship afterwards.

However, all good things must come to an end, and this internship is no exception. I am incredibly grateful to the members of the FSF tech team -- Ian, Andrew, Ruben, and Michael -- for welcoming me to the team as an intern and mentoring me, answering my many questions, and helping me learn more. It has been an honour and a wonderful experience for me all around working with you all and seeing the energy and passion with which you take on the work and responsibilities that come with being an FSF sysadmin and Web developer. While most of my interactions were with the tech team, I also got to interact with FSF staffers from several other teams during my internship, and I'm thankful for our conversations and the chance to get to know and appreciate the important work you do.

This internship has come to an end, but I will carry with me all of the good memories and the lessons I learned along the way, and will happily to continue working with you as a volunteer. The things I learned have been invaluable and greatly helpful to me, as I transitioned into my new full-time job at Savoir-faire Linux as a Free Software Consultant, where I get to work on various parts and aspects of Jami, a GNU package for universal communication which respects the freedoms and privacy of its users.

I would like to thank the FSF for providing me this excellent opportunity to work alongside the tech team as an intern, and take away so many valuable lessons and great memories.

Interested in interning for the Free Software Foundation? The application period for spring 2021 internships is currently open. Please see https://www.fsf.org/volunteer/internships for more details and information on how to apply!

Got a question or comment? You can find my email address on my contact page. :-)