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Google's Summer of Code concludes

By Bruce Byfield on September 21, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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Google's Summer of Code (SOC), a program that matched computer science students with free and open source software (FOSS) projects and paid for results, is over. Despite some organizational problems, the SOC attracted an overwhelming response from both students and projects, and early indications are that the program has produced a wide range of projects and attracted a number of promising students to the FOSS communities. Whether the program will be repeated, however, remains undetermined.

Some sponsoring projects were skeptical about the program at first. Luis Villa, a member of the board of directors for the GNOME Foundation, initially expected "no concrete results" over the summer for a project he championed while selections were being made.

Jane Weidman, who coordinated the SOC efforts at Ubuntu, was even more skeptical at the outset. The selection process, Weidman suggested, was "extremely difficult" because applications varied "from flippant one-liners right through to veritable dissertations." Moreover, since mentors were not allowed to interact with applicants, Weidman believes that there was no way to accurately assess them. At times, she suggested, "the candidate with better writing and English skills got through rather than the candidate with the best skill for the project at hand."

As a result, Weidman said, Ubuntu's "students got off to a relatively slow start." Mentor assignments had to be changed, and, in the first weeks, "it seemed the hopes of obtaining creative and skillful coding solutions through the program seemed to be dashed."

However, during the last month of the program, Weidman said, most of these problems resolved themselves. By the end of the SOC, most students "impressed their mentors with their learning curves, and have shown enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to their projects."

Ubuntu now plans to include the GNOME panel enhancements created by Emmanuel Cornet in its next release, and Carsten Hey's Firewall in the April 2006 release. Ultimately, Weidman judges the program a "positive" experience, marred by teething problems that can be avoided if Google repeats the program.

Villa is equally positive. "We have very concrete, and I think very exciting results," he said. He hopes to see Danilo Segan's live documentation tool included in the next release. He is equally excited by the prospect of decreasing the boot time of the next release by as much as 15 seconds.

From these samplings, it seems as though few, if any, of the SOC assignments were revolutionary. The majority, however, seem to be solid and much-welcomed contributions to the mentoring projects. Google's DiBona summarized many of the mentoring projects' reactions when he said, "The jury is still out ... [but] I've been very happy with the early returns. The students have certainly exceeded expectations."

Repeat performances?

Whether the Summer of Code will be repeated is still undecided. Judging by the problems reported by both students and mentoring projects, it seems that Google was unprepared for the overwhelming response to the program, and had difficulties managing the project as a result.

Also, the program seems to have clashed with existing bounty programs. Jane Weidman pointed out that Ubuntu already offers bounties for completing code. She worries that the size of Google's payments will raise expectations about bounties to an unrealistic level in the future.

These problems aside, responses from both students and mentoring projects remain positive. Most would agree with Weidman when she added, "The goodwill and generosity shown by Google has been amazing."

DiBona said that Google is assessing feedback from students and mentors to gauge the success of the SOC. From his current knowledge, he said, "It's likely that we'll do this again." At the same time, he cautioned, "Two million dollars" -- the amount, presumably spent paying students and managing the program -- "is a lot of money, so no promises."

Bruce Byfield is a course designer and instructor, and a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge and the Linux Journal Web site.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for

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on Google's Summer of Code concludes

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Goodness sake

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 22, 2005 05:20 PM
Google hands out $8m+ to students doing FOSS and the article majors on Google's difficulties in coping with an immensely popular initiative and on whinging distros complaining that Google gave away too much money.

Let's hope Google feels able to rise above this and do it again next year. Not that I imagine they'd feel too inspired by these sorts of reactions.

Makes me feel proud to be part of the community.


Re:Goodness sake

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 23, 2005 03:25 PM
Quite taken out of context. The only way for the article to be _even_ more positive would have been to only concentrate on the good things, not the things that could be done better because doing something for the very first time never is 100% smooth.


Another Summer of Code article

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 22, 2005 10:20 PM
Not bad..but there is a Summer of Code Article, called What I Did at Google's Summer of Code<a href="" title=""><nobr>p<wbr></nobr> hp/3547611</a>
that's a lot better. Strangely enough at least one of the same persons quoted in that article are quoted here as well, with nearly the same quote. They also got a non Google BS quote from a student that works on a google project.


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