Sunday, February 15, 2009

For First Time GSoC Applicants

Google Summer of Code for 2009 has been announced. In GSoC 2008, I applied and worked for Jato. It was really fun. Moreover it helped me to be a better developer than I had been. While doing my GSoC, I have learned git, under-the-hood details about Java and become a more matured C programmer. It also helped to shake off the initial intimidation factors in joining open source community as a developer for the first time. Before GSoC, I didn't even know the name of Jato, but now I am an active developer continuing my GSoC works.

Thats why I want to share what I have learned. I know there are plenty of resources available for GSoC wanna be applicants, but for the first-timers the initial process may be very confusing. Thats the audience on which I will focus.

So here it goes.

1. Start Early

Yes, start early, start Now ! Do not wait for the last moment. Go through the faqs, tutorials. Dig into the previous 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 GSoC pages. Get an idea about the mentors that participated and projects that have been proposed. But it is important to keep in mind that no previous mentor organization is guaranteed to have a slot in GSoC.

2. Come up with a short list

As there are many organizations participating in GSoC now, it is necessary to make a list of organizations that you think suits you most. And I think, its better to make that list even before the announcement of accepted mentor list. Because without any sort of prior list and plan, you may run out of time if you need to go through all the accepted mentors and their projects one by one. Of course, there is a certain not-so-amazing possibility that your selected mentor failed to get a slot this year but, hey, you can certainly make changes in that case.

You can start sorting by using language. If you abhor loosely typed language there is no point in applying php, JavaScript focused mentors. Here is a list of mentors in 2008, categorized by language.

Another important factor in choosing the mentors apart from language that they use, might be the type of the work they do. Are you interested in working on compilers ? How about diving into GPS/Geospatial projects? Here is another nice categorized list of 2008 mentors that might help you to guess.

While traversing previous years' mentors list, you can find that even though officially no mentoring organization is guaranteed to have a slot, most well known mentors, for example apache, mozilla or pidgin, are almost sure to have slots. Thats the source of another dilemma. Because, well known mentors mean more fierce competition, while lesser known mentors are less likely to have slots. I had to face this problem. I chose to work on Plan 9 from Bell Labs. After reading lots of documents, doing lots of trying and testing with Inferno, it failed to get a grant. So, my advice is to come up with a balanced list.

3. Get in touch now

After choosing the list, its necessary to get in touch with the organization. Join the mailing list, hang in the IRC channel.

Read the mails carefully, watch the conversations in IRC. Most probably the 'hot' topics for upcoming gsoc will be discussed. Find out the steps and protocols for committing code.

And most importantly, try to get the culture in the organization. Some organization may be very strict. You might get burnt for Top-Posting or get a sharp 'RTFM' reply for asking something which has been answered else where. But thicken your skin for that. We all certainly make mistake, do say things which we later regret. The important thing is to learn from the mistakes and not to let the intimidation factor trade on you.

And particularly if this is your first approach to an open source community, you may lay low for few days both in IRC and mailing lists. Try to understand the environment, the pattern of conversations, which is allowed to ask and which is not. But don't hesitate to participate if the topic is in your level. It'll certainly help you to bond with your new developer colleagues.

4. Land on an Idea

Try hard to come up with an idea. Certainly, you can choose ideas from the proposed idea-list. But coming up with an idea can and will boost your chance to get accepted. While proposing idea, try hard to come up with original and ambitious idea which the organization actually 'needs'.

To come up with such ideas, you may need to start reading the development docs and go through few source code files. It is necessary to do so to find out how and where your idea fits and whether its feasible to complete within the GSoC time line (3 months approximately).

After coming up with an idea, the most important thing is to communicate with the organization. Propose the idea in details, get a feedback. That will make a strong case for your application.

I think it concludes the initial preparation. The next important step will be writing application. Here is some link for that



sowrov said...

Is it just going to give me an opportunity to add a new line in my CV, or there are some other profit (e.g. financial support ;) )?

Siam said...

@sowrov, according to the faq, Google will provide a stipend of 5000 USD per accepted student developer, of which 4500 USD goes to the student and 500 USD goes to the mentoring organization.

So, yes, its 4500 USD for you.

Anam said...

Well written. Thanks