Journey to Google Summer of Code ’18

by Baani Leen Kaur Jolly

As I opened the GSoC website to check the results, I felt a variety of emotions ushering in together, in less than a minute. The anxiety about the result was slowly fading to give way to the inner satisfaction that no matter what the result was going to be, in the past few months, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent contributing to Systers Open Source, learning from the amazing mentors, engaging with the community and the result would in no way mean that I am not a suitable candidate but that perhaps there was someone more deserving than me and that I had alot more to learn before I can achieve this goal.

With all these thoughts coming into my mind at a rate faster than the rate at which my brain could process them, with a feeling of deep gratitude I refreshed the webpage as the clock struck 9:30pm IST. And suddenly the light greenish Pending button on the website paved way for a new webpage.

I initially thought it was an error in the webpage loading up, so I refreshed the page, but then the same page loaded again. Now, I tried reading it with a lot of focus and realised that it showed that May, Divyanshu, Ancy & Janice had been assigned to me as mentors, and it showed that the first evaluation is on 11th June, which perhaps meant that I was selected for GSOC! I was overjoyed, and could not believe my eyes, so just to be doubly sure, I went to the GSoC website and under the organisation Systers, I could see my name under the accepted ideas section. I was actually selected for GSoC! I was on cloud nine. Suddenly all the anxiety surrounding the results was over! (Unintentionally though, I even lost the anxiety around my Graph Theory exam due next morning! But that’s a different story altogether! xD) and I was glad to be part of this initiative.

So, coming back to how it all started! :D

As soon as I got into college, being the highly enthusiastic and motivated kid that I was, I wanted to try every domain, build everything I could ever think of, in my college life itself! So, I embarked my journey with Byld, the Software Development Club of IIITD. The more I explored development, the more I fell in love with building tools that helped others around me. I started contributing to my college’s open source projects, and learnt more about Open Source, and the common community practices.

I heard about Google Summer of Code, for the first time in November 2016, and although initially I felt I was under-prepared to crack it, my ever-optimistic self decided to give it a try. If I get through, it will be great! Even if I don’t get through, Open Source contributions will help me learn how to work in an organisation, collaborating with people of different backgrounds and also make me more aware about the GSoC application process, for the future!

So, I started by googling around to read about what Google Summer of Code was, reading through the rules for the student applicants, the mentors, the projects, etc.

The next hurdle which stood in my way was how to go about selecting organisations? I started reading about tips for GSoC by previous GSoCers on blogspot, started reading quora answers on how to prepare and go about choosing an organisation. So after about 1 month of gaining information about the program, I decided to start looking for previous organisations and start contributing to them.

The number of organisations was huge, and the organisations I had heard about from my seniors were making developer friendly tools, but not tools that impact & empower the society as a whole. I filtered out the organisations based on End User Applications, etc, but was still unable to find an organisation whose aim & philosophy matched mine perfectly, working for which will drive me to go the extra mile.

And then finally, I found Systers! An organisation, which provides an inclusive community for all, making products that empower the marginalised communities through their products.

I came across Systers Open Source organisation and was amazed by the kind of projects they did, all of them bringing in improvement at ground zero. Be it the Peace Corps projects which Systers has been developing, which help the Peace Corps Volunteers who have been assigned to various countries around the world or the projects which Systers has developed for it’s own community— the very fact that whatever we work on, at Systers is actually used at ground zero to help others, is what aligned completely with my aim in life & thus, I fell in love with this organisation. The more I interacted with everyone in the organisation, the more I realised how passionate & motivated people from diverse backgrounds were towards their work, doing amazingly well in their fields, yet coming together to contribute to Open Source, and guide newcomers like me, get started with Open Source contributions.

I knew this was the organisation I wanted to be associated with for a long term! I knew my passion for the cause and my love for coding will help me do wonders for this organisation! Systers is the only Open Source organisation I have ever applied to for GSoC, because once I found something which fits my life story so well, I was not able to work passionately enough for any other organisation (Systers set the bar really high for me! ) :D

From March 2017 onwards, I started interacting with my peers as well as project mentors actively on slack, learnt alot from how others around me helped me get started with contributing and made sure I help whomsoever I could by sharing the knowledge I had gained, answering others’ queries, contributing not just in terms of code but in terms of making mockups, giving new suggestions for the organisation, giving constructive inputs on other Systers OSS projects and not just the project I wanted to apply to, adding onto other people’s suggestions, actively interacting on issues not directly assigned to me, helping pin-point the errors or bugs in others’ PRs and giving them hints as to how to resolve them, etc. I learnt alot through my interaction with the community, asking for feedback on my suggestions and working hard to incorporate as many suggestions as possible. I started raising issues & bugs, submitted PRs after getting the issue assigned, made sure I was following the OSS workflow as mentioned on the Systers website, created newcomer issues, answered doubts of the newcomers with respect to getting started with OSS contributions, etc.

From the weekly community meetings, to the discussions on slack regarding the improvements we can incorporate in each of our projects, to contributing , reviewing and adding suggestions to the issues raised by others, to discussing new ideas like that of the GitHub & the NLP chatbot, the journey has been amazing and included a fair amount of research on my part, commitment to work through the busy schedule (during the semester) and contribute, and to discuss about the different approaches to solve the same problem and the pros and cons for each of them, and learning from each other’s experiences.

I enjoyed my journey through Open Source with Systers, which had begun long back in March 2017. It gave me the happiness that whatever I am building will be used by others. Each PR merged or my work getting appreciated motivated me to push further.

My experience of being involved in the community has been amazing till now! :D

Over the years, there is one thing I have realised, the work that one does with an objective in mind, may or may not assure one success; but the work done out of sheer passion and enjoyment, surely does pay back, in the most unexpected ways! :’)

So my tip to all the future aspirants is to find an organisation whose aim matches with what you feel passionate about, and then there is no stopping you! When work becomes passion and passion is work, the results are beyond expectations! Actively interact with the community, think of the project as your own project and discuss constructively within the community, incorporate the feedback of others & submit PRs. :D

In my next blog I will describe about my experiences during the GSoC application Period in detail! Stay tuned for updates. :)