Friday, April 18, 2008

Thoughts on Google Summer of Code 2008 - part 1

In just a few days, Google will make some announcements that will please many hundreds of students and disappoint even more. I think we should all focus on the positive side when the announcements are made. It is, after all, a fantastic thing that a company is spending millions of dollars so that some students get the chance to program on Open Source software as a summer job.

Just think of it. Who could have predicted, just five years ago, that a company would spend that kind of money on students who would work on someone else's project?

This is amazing - and many are now taking it for granted.

I find it great that the Python Software Foundation is an organization that can mentor SoC students. With the excellent supporting work of James Tauber as coordinator, many promising students are going to be paired with a mentor, hopefully leading to great projects to be completed this summer.

I have seen some grumblings on some SoC related lists that have made me thought about some of the "problems" I have seen. Note that these are very minor compared with the strong positive points. I will be discussing those in part 2, after the official announcements are made.

  • Because the PSF is an umbrella organization, most students work on different projects, unrelated with each other. As a result, they tend to have limited interactions with the greater Python community. I think there should be a "meeting place" where all the students would meet - perhaps a mailing list to which they have all to contribute once a week, sharing their progress, etc.
  • Not enough positive publicity is given to "successful students", i.e. those that continue to contribute to the Python community after the summer is over. For Crunchy, it has been one success (Johannes Woolard) out of a total of 3 students over the past 2 years. I don't know of many other success stories from other projects ... Alex Holkner comes to mind ... but I feel I should know more names of successful students. (I know there's another Alex or Alessandro who has contributed to the Python core and was involved with GHOP....)
  • With the exception of a few people like James Tauber and Titus Brown with whom I have had a few email exchanges, I do not feel that as a past/potential mentor I am as much part of a community as I feel should be the case. There is a mentor discussion list, but it does not seem to be the kind of place to generate community building discussions.
In terms of projects submitted, I would describe them to belong in the following categories:

1. Contributions to the "standard" core (cpython code, or standard library)

2 a. Contributions to "non-standard core" (e.g. Jython, PyPy, TinyPy?)
2 b. Contributions to 3rd party libraries (e.g. Numpy, Pygame)
2 c. Contributions to major projects whose end users have to use Python (e.g. SAGE)
2 d. Contributions to projects that can be used to teach Python [Crunchy, of course ;-), but there are others ... that will be for part 2]

3 a. Contributions that propose some new "standards" for Python programmers, never discussed before in the Python community.
3 b. Projects that happen to be written in Python, but whose end users are not exposed (or minimally exposed) to Python.
3 c. Projects that are not written in Python, that may or may not be usable in all OS, and that aren't more useful to Python programmers than they would be to people using other languages.
3 d. et cetera

Assuming that all projects are well-thought of (which is not always the case), I feel that:

  • Projects in category 1 deserve to be fully supported. The Python community need more capable people contributing to the core to prevent burnout for the current contributors. Perhaps, in a few years, after working some more on Crunchy, I'll feel capable of joining that group and contributing effectively (and have the time to do so).
  • Projects in categories 2 a-d are worthy of support. There are of course more such projects submitted than can possibly be supported, so some difficult choices had to be made. (Kudos to James for guiding this process.) Many people are going to be disappointed, but this was unavoidable.
  • Projects in categories 3 a-d are a puzzle to me. I don't understand their appeal for the PSF (and I know I am not the only one), but it seems that very few people are willing to take a public stance on this and debate the issue. Note that this comment is made as an observation on the discussions that took place so far and does not necessarily reflect on any decision that has been made.
This is it for the negative comments. I can't wait for the announcements from Google to focus entirely on the more positive side.

1 comment:

jtauber said...

One of the reasons I elected not to mentor myself this year is I want to spend the time helping to build the community between students and mentors working on different projects.