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The Google Summer of Code

When one interprets the term ‘open source’, they are likely to associate it with the word ‘free’. However, when a web-developer does the same, it elicits an entirely different connotation.

 An immense benefit that open source technology boasts about is the sheer number of contributors that it attracts. Anybody can contribute as well as modify the original source code. Thus, the end product is polished and agile, something that many propriety software fail to be. The advantages of open source technology are well-documented and popular. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some of the biggest tech companies on the planet do their part in promoting open source technology. An apt example would be Google’s GSoC or Google Summer of Code. Every year, student-developers from around the globe work on free-and-open-source coding projects during the summer. In return they obtain a significant stipend and the invaluable experience of working with some of the finest minds of the tech community. In an essence, the platform is a coder’s paradise where the summer break gets long and taxing.

In order to attain better clarity on the Google Summer of Code program and the reason behind its prestige among aspiring developers, we caught up with Mehul Gupta, a second year student from the ECE department, who was accepted into the GSoC program on his very first attempt.

Just like any of us, Mehul, who is not overly fond of attending classes, loves to sleep and code. The latter of which he’s been doing for the past six years.

Q1) How did you come across GSoC?
A senior friend of mine introduced me to the idea of GSoC while I was still in school. The idea, though, only sunk in when I got into college. My senior, Siddharth Bhat, who had also been involved with GSoC before, urged me to apply for it.

Q2) How do you go about the entire process?
It’s best to start preparing as early as possible. One must first go through the list of organizations and choose the one they want to work with. In fact, you must look at it from a strategic standpoint. Every organization is not selected every year. So, if an organization has been selected for a few consecutive years, chances are that they might not get chosen the next year. If that is the case, you’d be stuck with an organization you know little about, making your project tougher due to the incomprehensibility of their codebase, and the time frame of the project could be as tight as twenty-three days. It is a task in itself to first make a provisional list of organizations you want to work with and then narrow it down to just one and further on choose one project.

Q3) How did you select your projects?
 I took the first fifteen days to select the company with whom I wanted to work, found out more about them and thought about what I wanted to do. In fact, there was a lot of thought process involved here-we had to write down our proposals and our approach, contact our mentors to clarify any doubts. It was after this that work really got serious. Since companies review your work and judge you accordingly, there’s no room for slack.

Q5) We’re assuming there was a selection process involved. Could you tell us more about that?
Absolutely. The set of tasks assigned to me were varying in nature. One of them was to finish what was called the GSoC ladder which was in fact the preliminary task. The ladder consisted of setting up the environment, solving issues, and writing test cases. It was very challenging. The tasks became more demanding and at a point I stopped going to college for a few days. I had to stay up many nights in order to get the work done.

Q6) Now that you got through, how was the entire experience?

Well, GSoC is an extremely time intensive program. I remember last summer when I used to bunk full days and sit in my room to work on this from seven in the morning till five in the evening. You do need a certain level of dedication towards this. Apart from that, one of the most annoying things about the program was the need for complete documentation of your work. This depends majorly on your organization but most of them require you to document your entire work every week or once in two weeks.

Q7) What is your area of expertise?
PHP. I’ve been using PHP for the past six years now. That’s one factor that has helped me with these projects. Despite being very challenging, they weren’t half as hard as they would be for a beginner.

Q8) What are the incentives you gain out of GSoC?
We do receive an online certificate from our organization as well as Google. The stipend is one of the best parts about the program. We initially receive 500$ for getting accepted into the organization. Subsequently we have a mid-term evaluation where we receive 2250$ and a final evaluation where we receive 2750$. So, totally about 5500$.

Q9) Apart from the obvious technical requirement, are there any other tips and tricks a candidate might need to get accepted into GSoC?
Well, it is extremely important to keep contributing to your organization even after submitting your proposal. They obviously want to check how interested you are and there’s nothing better than constantly contributing to their organization. Keep in touch with your mentor throughout the summer and more importantly never give up or lose hope throughout the process. Also, a GitHub profile is a must.

Q10) Any advice to budding aspirants?
GSoC is not very hard. It just requires a lot of dedication and patience and if you’re serious about applying for the next GSoC, I suggest you start right now.

-Akhil Vaidyanathan and Meghana Dharmapuri

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