02 May, 2013

Why should you participate in GSOC as mentor?

When deciding about participation in the Google Summer of Code program you think about the opportunities of getting new people involved or code written versus the time they have to put into mentoring and evaluating. But there are other, often overlooked advantages to participating in GSOC and I'd like to point a few of those out.

Google started the hugely successful Google Summer of Code project in 2005 to get students exposed to 'real developers' and open source. Since then, it has allowed projects to mentor thousands of students who were enabled to work on Free Software full-time thanks to the payments by Google. Conceived of by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the project was also supposed to bring fun, excitement and innovation to the open source community. Each year, thousands of students send in proposals and Google allows the most promising of them to execute their ideas.
master yoda

In practice
Projects put in a lot of effort mentoring these students, hoping they will stay around after the project or get some coding work done which otherwise might not have happened. This works out to varying degrees - not all students stay, not all code gets merged, and some mentors feel that they put in more effort than it is worth.

While I can not judge the cost-benefit ratio for each project, I'd like to point out that there is a factor you should include in your calculation: serendipity. If you're unfamiliar with the term: it means "happy accident". Simply put, it is the positive outcome of something you were doing for entirely different reasons.

GSOC has benefits beyond 'getting people involved' and 'getting code written'.  Here are a few of these:
  • GSOC creates a lot of positive attention around all projects that are involved. The vast majority of this is positive, fun news about features, getting involved in the project and more.
  • The students also create a flurry of activity. They ask questions, get answers, write proposals, push people to help them. Activity leads to engagement and for those already involved it is often nice to see interest in the project and stuff happening.
  • You also create long-lasting fans with the mentoring of students. They are 18-25, a very formative time in the life of a person. Most will look back with good feelings to their time with your project, even after 'life' has taken them other places. The value of this 'social capital' is hard to judge. But I am sure you understand what it could mean if one of your students makes it to CTO of a big company and they have a chance to do something related to your project!
  • Your project learns from the GSOC experience. People learn individually, but projects as a whole learn too. This is not as ephemeral as it might seem: the way your project works is build upon many lessons-learned. GSOC makes your community adapt to new requirements of coordination and organization - learning!
  • Sitting down together, thinking about ideas and discussing them is useful. You find out what your fellow team members think about ideas, what you could work on in the future - and perhaps you come up with The Next Big Thing™ ;-)
  • Last but not least, there are networking opportunities and collaboration with other organisations. Some of the mentors and students travel to the GSOC meetups around the world, having an opportunity to discuss mentoring and getting new people involved with other teams. This is of course especially true when you collaborate with several communities together, like +openSUSE does this year with +ownCloudHedgewars and Oyranos.

Jedi Knight Master : General Obi-Wan Kenobi ◙ ◘ ♦

I started this blog because I wanted to remind our students that is time to start creating proposals for Google Summer of Code 2013. But I'm hoping the above is also inspiring for mentors - there is still time to get involved!

So what to do?
For students looking for a project, I integrated the openSUSE/Hedgewars/ownCloud/Oyranos ideas I understood (that's a subset...) in the article so readers would get a glimpse of what GSOC for openSUSE has in store. It is cool stuff: integrating maps in apps in ownCloud, fcitx in wayland, comment support in OBS and much more.

Meanwhile, of course, there are GSOC idea pages all over. I checked out the KDE ideas page too - being the largest GSOC project in the last few years, I did expect quite some nice stuff. Oh boy... From web applications and library work to Amarok, Digikam and Plasma, there is a huge number of really cool ideas.

openSUSE and KDE are just two of the many organizations involved in GSOC. If you're a student, think about applying. And if you're a current contributor, think about how you could help your project by helping a student!

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