A demonstration of excellence: Anikuabe Nana Kweku Jr’s experience with Common Voice and Google Summer of Code

Kathy Reid

By Kathy Reid | Feb. 1, 2021 | Fellowships & Awards

Common Voice is the world’s largest open voice dataset, featuring 9000 hours of voice data from 60 languages. It is a key component in a mission to democratise voice, and to keep the internet accessible for everyone. In support of ongoing developer community engagement, the Common Voice team is also deeply involved with programs across the industry like Google Summer of Code (GSOC).

Swarthmore College student Anikuabe Nana Kweku Jr recently implemented Common Voice’s Demo Mode during his placement with Mozilla. Demo mode makes Common Voice even easier to use, helping users to quickly become comfortable submitting voice clips. We chatted with both Nana and his GSoC Mentor, Common Voice Lead Engineer Jenny Zhang, about what they both learned.

Nana, who is originally from Ghana, has a passion for ubiquitous computing. He was selected from a field of over 40 outstanding applicants for the GSoC placement. Jenny explained what made Nana stand out.

“We were looking for someone who would benefit both personally and professionally from working on the Common Voice project - someone who had demonstrated potential in their college career, who recognised the value of Common Voice and who would be able to contribute to this project in the future.”

The ethics of Mozilla in fighting for a free and open web really stood out. I was also attracted to the Common Voice project because it involved elements of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design that I’d been learning at college, and I wanted to apply that knowledge. Common Voice is also the largest project of its kind in the world and I was really excited to be part of a platform with so much reach

Anikuabe Nana Kweku Jr, Google Summer of Code intern with Mozilla's Common Voice project

Nana was attracted to interning with Common Voice and Mozilla for several reasons.

“The ethics of Mozilla in fighting for a free and open web really stood out. I was also attracted to the Common Voice project because it involved elements of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design that I’d been learning at college, and I wanted to apply that knowledge. Common Voice is also the largest project of its kind in the world and I was really excited to be part of a platform with so much reach.”

Front page of Common Voice demo mode
Common Voice Demo Mode walks the user how to contribute, providing a robust onboarding mechanism.

During his internship, Nana gained practical experience by building out the Demo Mode for Common Voice using Typescript. As Jenny explained, this feature has significantly improved the onboarding experience for new users of Common Voice.

“People often discover Common Voice at conferences and are eager to try it. However, before Demo Mode was released, the user was taken to contributing straight away, without providing an explanation. Demo Mode helps to onboard the user, by providing a guided path through the platform.”

Nana overcame several challenges while implementing Demo Mode in Typescript, gaining real-world professional experience.

“Often when we are writing code we want to deliver features. As I was building out the Demo Mode, I realised the importance of coding standards and structure to build maintainable code.”

Nana also learned to work independently, and valued the mentoring provided by Jenny.

“Jenny was a wonderful mentor - I learned so much from her. As the Lead Engineer on the Common Voice project, Jenny’s time was limited which meant that I had to be very organised, and self-directed.”

As a Mentor, Jenny also gained experience from being involved in GSoC.

“Nana was so hardworking and committed! For me, the challenge was in ensuring expectations, and setting the right rhythms from the start. When you have someone as dedicated and passionate about their work as Nana, you need to make sure that they’re not going to burn themselves out!”

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You can get involved with Common Voice by checking out demo mode, downloading the dataset and training your own speech recognition model with DeepSpeech, joining in the conversation on Discourse, or contributing to the Common Voice platform code. The 2021 Google Summer of Code applications are opening soon.

Nana’s journey doesn’t stop here. He’s already been accepted into a software engineering internship at Microsoft, and hopes to go on to a research career in ubiquitous computing.

You can follow Nana’s ongoing journey via his website, or via his GitHub account.