11 May, 2016

A tip for dealing with the first GSOC weeks.

No matter if you're GSoC student in openSUSE, KDE, ownCloud or anywhere else, you're community bonding period has started. This is not an easy time because starting something new is always hard and this is, in a sense, a new job.

And many students are still busy with exams and other things. You are ambitious, of course, so you make promises to your mentor and then--you might not be able to follow through on that. You're too busy studying or this family-and-friends thing gets in the way. Now what?

It is fine to make mistakes or miss a deadline...

Please understand that we get this! It is not a surprise and you're not alone. The key here is to communicate with your mentors. That way, they know why you're busy and when you will be back.

Not having time for something, even if you promised - really, that is OK. When you have a job in the future it will happen all the time that more urgent things come up and you can't meet a deadline. Key is that you TALK about it. Make sure people know.

Let me give you a short anecdote - something that didn't even happen that early in my career...

At some point early in my job at a new company, I was on on a business trip and I missed my train. It was quite stupid: I got out in the wrong station. The result was that I had to buy a new ticket, spending over USD 180. I was quite upset about it and afraid to tell my manager about my blunder. I did the easiest thing: just avoid talking to my boss at all. As he was in the US and I was in Europe, that was not hard at all... But, after three weeks of finding all kinds of excuses to get out of our regular calls, he gave me a direct call and said: "what the heck is going on?". I admitted the whole thing and, of course, he was quite upset. But not at the USD 180. That is nothing on the budget of his or any team in any company. The costs of me not talking to him, now that he was serious about and I had to promise to never do that, ever, again.

... if you communicate about it

So what can you learn from my mistake? The rule, especially in the beginning of your career, is to over-communicate. Especially when it comes to new employees, many managers are anxious and worried about what is going on. Telling them often, even every day, how things are going and what you're doing is something they will never complain about.

You can practice during GSOC: sending a daily ping about the state to your mentor, even if it is "hey, I had no time yesterday, and won't have any today". And a weekly, bigger report on what you worked on is also a very good thing to get going.

Understand that it is not unprofessional to miss a deadline or make a mistake, but it IS unprofessional if it comes as a surprise to others when they find out later on!

Especially if there's some kind of issue or you got stuck: you don't have to ask for help right away, though you should not wait to long--topic for another blog. But it is important that management knows. It makes them feel in control and believe me, the nightmare of every manager is to not be in control! If you do these things when you start working I promise you: it will score you points with your boss and help your career.