UCOSP (Undergraduate Capstone Open Source Projects) program: Year 4

Friday, June 8, 2012

We have just completed our fourth year of the UCOSP (Undergraduate Capstone Open Source Projects) program and are already planning for a fifth. In this multi-university collaboration, students from across Canada - 13 schools this past year - participate in industry-mentored open source projects for course credit. Almost a year ago, we wrote an overview of the program including the practical details around the program organization and the rationale that led us to develop it. As a high-level description, suffice it to say that this unique program - to the best of our knowledge there is no similar program anywhere else in the world - was conceived to provide students with a very realistic experience of software engineering and to fundamentally enhance their school learning. The feedback we are getting from our students provides strong evidence that we are meeting these objectives.

Let me share a few stories from some of the 71 undergraduate students who participated this year:
"[UCOSP] was the first time I realized how a team located in different areas can integrate and work together. The IRC channel is the place we have the most fun.  I am very thankful to this project because I got an insight and have experienced  how an open-source project operates."
From another undergraduate whose UCOSP experience led to her Google summer internship:
"My UCOSP project was Groovy, a plugin for Eclipse that provides IDE support for the dynamically typed language Groovy. Some time after I started working on my UCOSP project, I applied to Google for a summer internship. After making it through the first round of technical interviews, I found myself being interviewed over the phone by a senior developer for Google. He asked, a little apprehensively, what I knew about Eclipse plugins. I described my work for UCOSP to him. He was audibly relieved - he was looking for someone to work on an Eclipse plugin that provides IDE support for JavaScript. I got a phone call with an offer an hour later and I'm working there now."
Another student comments on what he learned by reflecting through his learning experience:
"The most important things you learn during the project are about yourself: how disciplined you are, your time management skills and how to work independently. In particular, I've discovered that I need structure to be productive."
The project mentors have also commented positively on various aspects of the project. For example, the Umple project mentor comments on the use of Google tools for managing his distributed team.
"It is a nice fit that Google is a key sponsor of UCOSP: Umple's development is hosted on Google Code, and we make extensive use of Google Groups and Google+, particularly the excellent ‘Hangouts with extras' multi-party video conferencing feature. Weekly Hangouts turned out to be almost as effective as in-person meetings with my local students at fostering a sense of community among UCOSP students from several campuses." 
Finally, one of the home-faculty members whose student was on the ReviewBoard team, says:
"...[my student] had a fantastic experience with UCOSP. He doesn't understand why all of the students aren't beating down the doors trying to get into the course."
As a steering committee we are thrilled with the continued success of UCOSP and are happy to talk to anyone about it. We want to thank Google for their support and to publicly thank the dedicated open source project mentors who are training tomorrow's leaders. For all of us who are involved with UCOSP, it is clear that this is a valuable program for our students and that our projects make useful, even valuable, contributions to the open-source projects that participate in it. We are excited to be planning our next year and we are thankful to the sponsorship of our supporting organizations.

By Karen Reid, Senior Lecturer University of Toronto, UCOSP Steering Committee Member