I know what happens each summer

The onset of summer is generally characterized by stifling heat, mangoes and, a rush of CVs from students who want to do summer internship projects. That is, GSoC notwithstanding. It happens each summer, unfailingly and inevitably. There are two specific trends that are observed in the CVs:

  • most of them are from students pursuing some form of Computer Science and Engineering or Information Technology
  • a larger percentage of them would be making their first contributions to the world of FOSS if they end up working on a FOSS project

The first part is an area that sometimes make wonder if we cannot reach out to folks from other streams to spend their summers productively. There is an increasing need to have cross-discipline interaction and, while CompSci and IT may be an easier path to matchmaking, how do we end up getting other people interested as well. For example, say folks from the Arts and Fine Arts, other Engineering disciplines etc. Ideas and comments welcome on that.

The way to solve the second part of the problem is somewhat simpler – devise a very “high touch” mentor-protege driven system wherein the first_time_participant is given an intensive orientation in the basics of how to participate in a project, how to provide bug reports, how to create patches etc. Additionally, teaching them the basics of using FOSS infrastructure bits like mailing lists, IRC, version control systems and so forth. The point of failure in this path is of course when there is a project/task to be identified and handed over to the student to attempt to solve. The following issues come up:

  • most upstream projects do not seem to have bugs/tasks marked with something like “student project” which makes it a somewhat tedious job to sift through a whole lot of possibilities before hitting on a particular cache of tasks
  • there are no ‘defined’ upstream mentors for the tasks, so, even though a student might be able to deliver most of the tasks by {him|her}self, there is a lack of upstream ‘buy-in’
  • the above two couple together to the conclusion that there is no proper assessment of the time estimate for a task/project

I often hear the question that “if there isn’t any interest from upstreams, why not get them working on projects that are relevant for problems at hand ?” And, the answer to that is something along the lines of “having first time participants contributing to upstream projects is a quicker means to coach them into good citizens than having them think up, design and deliver their own projects”. There are days I wish that each upstream had something like “summerprojects.upstream.domain” kind of filtered view of tasks/projects with a mentor who could provide a bit of abstract/summary of what that task means. It isn’t really a big ask – and a little bit of push from the bodies that oversee the project could make this happen.

And, since the upstreams are nothing but what their contributors make them out to be, I keep on doing my bit to coax and cajole them into seeing the value in this. Especially so because with each passing summer I notice that the caliber of the students are somewhat on the upside of the scale.