What “not” to expect from Google Summer Of Code

If you’re a GSoC aspirant, then you’d have probably done your extensive research on questions like “What is GSoC?” and “How to get selected for GSoC?”.

While there are tons of quality articles walking you through the DOs and DONTs of the entire GSoC journey (like How to chose an Organization?, How to draft a decent Proposal?, How to behave?, etc), most of these articles don’t stress enough on a very important point, “What exactly is the purpose of GSoC?”.

Being an ex-GSoCer myself, I receive quite a few messages from people requesting me to guide them for GSoC, and most of the folks have very “shallow” reason when I ask them the question “Why do you want to be a GSoC student?”. The most common reasons are one of these:

  • It will help me getting a job at decent company.
  • There’s “Google” in GSoC, I’ll have something to add to my Resume.
  • The stipend I’ll get is lucrative.
  • I’m in here for learning. (That’s a good reason, but not many people actually mean it)

Many people believe that GSoC is some magic spell that will change their lives. But what they don’t realize is it’s not the GSoC selection, but it is “the experience of contributing to an Open Source project that you find interesting” that will change your lives. The reason I’m raising this point is because, I’ve seen many people finding shortcuts to get into GSoC by:

  • Selecting an organization which they find less competitive.
  • Picking a project which they don’t like working on (just because they identify the project on which they actually want to work on as difficult). That’s why you can observe a high number of people going to organizations which have Web Development project, or have most of their codebase written in Python.
  • Competing recklessly with fellow applicants, and trying out various social tricks (like “pretending” to be extra helpful in forums, always being online in the chatrooms, etc) to try to outshine others.

While I don’t see any harm in being smart with your decisions, but all of the above mentioned criterias should be your “Secondary filters” and not the Primary ones. It’s okay to choose a less competitive organization over a highly competitive one if you find both of them almost equally interesting, but it’s not a smart choice to choose an organization just because it is less competitive.

Okay, at this moment you might probably have couple of questions

  • What is the purpose of GSoC?
  • What should be the primary filter?

Although there is no ideal answer to these questions, but I’d like to share my views here

The purpose of GSoC is to introduce newcomers to the wonderful world of Open Source. Google wants to promote the Open Source culture by incentivizing new developers to contribute to the Open Source projects. That’s why they pay such lucrative stipends.

If you look at the previously selected GSoC organizations, there’s a lot of diversity in terms of languages, technology and aims of the projects, and there’s a reason for it. They want students to work on real world projects of their interest. If you aspire to be a Data Scientist and don’t happen to know enough about the field, then what could be a better opportunity then to really work on a real-life working project related to Data Science. That’s what you primary filter should be. Pick what you think is going to be useful to you in long run, something that aligns with your career goals.

Remember, once you’re selected, you’re expected to work on the project for almost three months, and that, trust me, is a long time. And if you don’t really enjoy what you are working upon, it is highly likely that you’re going to be churned out very soon!

Finally, and most importantly, you don’t have to be a GSoCer to enjoy the actual benefits of GSoC, anyone and everyone is welcome to contribute to Open Source projects and learn. GSoC is just a program to motivate people to do that, nothing more, nothing less. If you don’t get selected, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll hardly find anyone claiming that the time they spent preparing for GSoC was a waste (unless they picked their projects based on shallow reasons). You’ll find people contributing even after GSoC just because they enjoy helping others out and working there, and that’s what I feel is the true essence of Open Source which my GSoC experience had made me realize.