Sunday, October 7, 2012

The GSoC Experience : How to apply as a student ?

The first time I participated in GSoC, I was in final year of my college life in 2010. And it has been a wonderful experience. At that time I participated as a student and this year I participated as a mentor, completing the full circle.

In this post I will write about how to apply for GSoC, my experience as a student, and then about my experience as a mentor. Since, that would be too much for a single post, I think right now I will stick only to advice about how to apply as a student (assuming you are applying for the first time).

Once you have read enough about the program and familiarize yourself with how it works, the first major task is to select the organisation to which you plan to apply. 

Selecting the Organisation :

  • Try and select an organisation whose work interest you, try to look at organisations in a field where you want to work in future. In my case, I was interested in the field of computer graphics and game development, so I selected organisations like Crystalspace3D, Tux4Kids and some other organisations who were working in the domains which interested me. One can do this very simple by seeing the list of orgs which were selected last year in GSoC (and assuming that they would be selected this year too), and checking out their org description page.
  • Once your search has been reduced to 8-10 orgs by using the above criteria. Then it is time to delve a little deeper and try out products or services by these orgs. If you are interested in operating systems, it might mean installing and trying out a lot of them, a.k.a pain in the ass. But who said applying to GSoC is easy. And knowing more about the technology they use and the current work going in those organisations. In my opinion the best way to figure that out is to check out the projects they were doing last summer and checking out their previous year and if they have compiled then this year's idea's page for GSoC.
  • Once you are done with this you should generally try to short your list to 2-3 orgs, with which you should interact.

Interacting with the Community :

  • The most common mistake to do is to enter the irc channel of an org and expect them to tell you about their product. Do your homework first. Before entering irc channel of an org and asking questions, read about the organisation their website, their wiki page, do try out their product/s, and definitely have a good look at their ideas page before asking questions.
  • In fact, I would say that it would be better if you first select a project or two, in which you are interested in, and discussing and asking about them. By doing this you can come to know about how important a particular project is for a community, and who would be mentoring that project if a student is selected for that project. Also, what does the community expects a student to do if one is working on that project and how do they expect a student to do that. I believe that if one can gather this information while interacting with a community, then it can be a huge first step.
  • Once you know about a GSoC project and feel that you can do it and it would be worthwhile your time. It is time to set up the development environment for that particular project and learn more about the module on which you would be working on (if you are working on an existing code base) or learn about the modules with which your module would be interacting. And try and read blogs and research papers on that particular topic. In my case, I took a project on global illumination method photon mapping and I had no clue about what it is before applying for GSoC.
  • Once you know about the topic and the theory about it it is time to visit the irc channel again. This time you should be discussing in detail about the code and what exactly the community and your mentors expect you to do in that project if you are selected. Discuss about the code you would have to write, the time it might take and how should you try to approach it.

Preparing your Application :

  • Once you have a decent idea about the project and how you would be doing it. It's best to start creating your application. It is always better to be the first one to post GSoC application on the mailing list. This helps in two ways, firstly, some of the influential people in the community and senior members don't always hang around on irc, so it becomes easier to get noticed and get recommendation about your application from them too. Secondly, by being the first one to post your application on the mailing list you ask other students to probably check out some other project, rather than the one in which you are interested in.
  • Generally most of the organisations have a template for an application. But your application should generally include answers to a few questions: Who are you? What is the project you want to work on? How would you solve the problem or complete your project? Timeline.
  • Also it is best if you break you goals into primary and secondary goals. Primary, being the ones which are directly related to your project and which you should definitely get implemented during the GSoC period, no matter what. And secondary being the ones which you would want to implement during the GSoC period if you finish the primary goals on time. Make sure you and your mentors align with the primary and secondary goals you write in your application.
  • Once you have posted your application don't hesitate to ask questions like: Are my goals good enough for a GSoC project? Are these goals doable within the period of GSoC? What all contingencies should I keep in mind?
  • One very important part of application is the project timeline. It is best if you write down the timeline for your project in terms of every week of your GSoC intern. It helps you assess whether your goals are realistic or not, or are they good enough for a GSoC intern. Also once you have refined it and if you finally get selected. It helps as a time table.
And well towards the last week before application submission deadline, it is mostly about interacting with mentors, learning more about the project and the code base and updating your application in sync with it.

Now, please dont treat this article as a guide to getting selected for a GSoC intern. These are just some pointers from my personal experience which I think might help someone applying for a GSoC intern for the first time.

I did my GSoC intern with Crystalspace3D in 2010, and most of the opinions are based on my experience as a student in 2010 and as a mentor in 2012.


1 comment:

mohit kumar said...

Kudos, if interested in attending Enterprise SAP TechEd , lemme know!!!