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Diversity Scholarship Series: From Networking in Copenhagen to a Lightning Talk in Shanghai

At every KubeCon + CloudNativeCon since Seattle in 2016, CNCF has offered funding and support to attendees from traditionally underrepresented and/or marginalized groups. More than 300 of these diversity scholarships — which include free registration, travel stipends, and networking events — have been accepted over the years.

Through their experiences at the conferences, diversity scholars have found mentors, been inspired to contribute to the open source community, and even gone on to become CNCF ambassadors.

Yang Li was one of the diversity scholars at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon EU 2018 in Copenhagen. Just over a year later, he was giving a lightning talk in Shanghai. 

“I was always a believer of ‘do what you love,’” says Yang. “However, I was not doing things that made me excited before KubeCon Copenhagen. That experience gave me the courage to change myself to work with things I love again.”

Based in Hangzhou, China, Yang began working with Kubernetes in 2017, initially helping with localizing the dashboard to Chinese. When he found out about the diversity scholarships, he decided to apply. “I thought it would be wonderful if I can attend KubeCon once, especially since it would be my first time going to a conference overseas,” he recalls. When he found out that he had been accepted, “I read the email several times before believing it was true. I was extremely happy and thankful for this opportunity.”

In Copenhagen, Yang met many people in the open source community and especially bonded with the other diversity scholars, with whom he’s still in touch. “I learned many things about Kubernetes and other CNCF projects,” he says, “but the most important thing I learned is how awesome this inclusive community is and how important that is for an open source project.”

When he got home, he decided to become more involved with the Kubernetes project. Though he had used open source software and GitHub before, he had never been active in any community. “KubeCon made me realize that I want to work more with open source projects,” he says.

Yang soon became a contributor, joining the release team for 1.12 and 1.13, and getting involved in SIG-testing, SIG-release, and SIG-contribex. “I have found some mentors during my journey as a contributor in my spare time,” he says. “They are very kind and experienced, and they taught me by example how to work better on an open source project.”

Meanwhile, the Kubernetes-related project he was working on at his job was discontinued. So he promptly found another full-time position so he could keep working on Kubernetes. He’s now an SRE at The Plant K.K., which creates web applications. “The company is an end user of Kubernetes, so I’m connecting my open source work with my day job,” he says.

At the end of 2018, Yang took his involvement to the next level, helping run the Contributor Summit in Shanghai and in Seattle. “I helped the community onboard new faces,” he says. “Once I knew how wonderful it was to work within the community, I started to encourage other people whenever I got the chance.” 

The biggest chance to do that so far has been on the stage in Shanghai this past June. When he submitted a talk proposal for KubeCon China, “I thought it should be a community topic since the community wants to grow more contributors in APAC regions,” he says. “I decided to share my own experiences from the past year.”

On the KubeCon stage that day, “I was both nervous and excited,” he says. “I got the message out, I had some good feedback, and I’m glad it encouraged and inspired more people to join the community.”

Yang had written in his proposal that joining the Kubernetes community “has made me not only a better open source contributor but a better software engineer. It is safe to say that it changed my career path.”

Indeed, he has just been relocated to Tokyo by The Plant K.K. “It has definitely surprised me where this has taken me over the past year and a half,” he says. “I’m very grateful for the CNCF scholarship, the Kubernetes community, and my employer. I think I’m living my goal of doing what I love.”

*Anyone interested in applying for a CNCF diversity scholarship to attend KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2019 in San Diego November 18-21 can find out more here. Applications are due September 9.*