Started in 2005, the Google Summer of Code
program has allowed for over 2500 students from 98 countries to contribute under the watchful eye of a professional mentor with code to various open-source projects. Launched under Google's big wing, what started as a small project and a way to contribute back to the community has reached mammoth status, being one of the most praised non-profit development initiatives around. Offering financial stipends for students and mentors alike, the program is encouraging students to give open-source a try before choosing a corporate job.
Responsible for this is a team of Google employees led by Carol Smith, the Google Summer of Code Program Administrator. She was kind enough to answer an email interview with us, mainly regarding the program's adoption in educational institutes and the student's reaction to this point.Softpedia:
Describe your collaboration with educational institutes around the world when a campaign starts.Carol Smith:
We tend to use our network of past students, mentors, and organizations quite heavily to get the word out about the program. They create things like flyer translations in their language and post them in places like their universities and communities. We also make blog posts announcing the start of the program and I myself give some talks at conferences around that timeframe encouraging organizations and students to get interested in the program. But primarily we rely on word-of-mouth.Softpedia:
Do you still spend the same amount of time lobbying the program at companies or have you reached a level of success and organizations come to you with ideas and programs for next year's campaign?Carol Smith:
We have found that we do get a steady level of interest in the program each year from past participants and again from word-of-mouth from people who have participated in past years telling their friends, families, and communities. But of course there is always a spike in interest around the times when we do blog posts and the like. Every year we want to reach out to more people in unreached areas and populations.
Do you spend more time marketing the program in universities or lobbying at open-source companies?Carol Smith:
I'd say universities, but really the interest comes from all over. Softpedia:
How has the open-source community responded to the program and is there a change in attitude since the first year? Does the community trust and value Google as a contributor or are they as wary as with any other large corporation?Carol Smith:
I think the general sense in the community is that Google Summer of Code is great outreach program and helps the open source organizations in our open source ecosystem as a whole. My experience with people in the community thus far has been that people love the program and think we're doing a good thing for opensource development and student outreach as a whole.Softpedia:
The program has grown from 400 students and 40 organizations in 2005 (1st year) to 1,125 students and 175 organizations in 2008. Since then, you've had around 1,000 students and 175 organizations in your program. Is this the program's natural draw or more of a self-imposed limit?Carol Smith:
We've discovered in the last few years that the "magic number" for the program hovers around 1,000. This is a function of the fact that there's one program administrator (me) and there's a limit on how many students the organizations can handle mentoring. Softpedia:
Do students give feedback on the program itself?Carol Smith:
Yes. We have two evaluation periods - the midterms and the finals - in which the students are assessed. The students also provide feedback on their mentors, the community they're involved with, and the program itself. We try to use the feedback we get in these evaluations to make changes to the program whenever possible.Softpedia:
Is there a certain category of students attracted to Google Summer of Code? Like students from under-developed countries where the stipend received in the program could be more than what they'd be getting if working for a local software development firm?Carol Smith:
Actually, no. I think this is one of the great things about the program is that it attracts students from all over the world and from a bunch of different backgrounds and demographics. This truly is a worldwide program that reaches across a lot of "barriers."Softpedia:
Are school results and activities criteria of acceptance in the program when the student pool requires a method of setting them apart?Carol Smith:
We don't have any involvement in what students are picked for the program - we leave that entirely up to our mentor organizations. Their criteria for selection is entirely different depending on the organization, but I think across the board they all agree that a strong proposal with a reasonable scope for the summer and an interesting idea are all things that set the student proposals apart.Softpedia:
What is the program's main area of improvement on which you're concentrating your efforts right now?Carol Smith:
I believe that we've made great strides with recruiting more women with the inclusion of more women-developer-focused organizations, but I always feel that we could use improvement in that area. I'd also love to see even more countries that haven't been represented with accepted students participating in future years Softpedia:
What would be the projects for which you'd proudly say, "Yes. We developed that at Google Summer of Code?"Carol Smith: Angie Byron
is definitely one of our great success stories - she came to the program not knowing the coding language she was developing in. She learned it, created a successful project, and then went on to work for the organization she was a member of - Drupal. Drupal's also the tool running whitehouse.gov now.
Credits: Paul V. Borza
, former Google Summer of Code participant.