Google Summer of Code Mentor Mania

Thursday, January 3, 2013

This is a guest post from one of this year’s Google Summer of Code Mentors (also a former student in the program).

Google Summer of Code 2012 Mentor Summit
2012 Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit Group Photo- ~275 attendees
Picture taken by Robin Smidsrød, CC-BY-SA license

Once a year, open source enthusiasts the world over converge on Silicon Valley for a unique meeting called the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit, a gathering of mentors from the organizations that take part in the Google Summer of Code program. Attendees come in all sizes, shapes and fields – they are men, women, young, old, experts, newcomers, academics, students, engineers, managers and open source evangelists. Though diverse and unique in their own way, each of the attendees and their organizations has one thing in common – the desire to build and maintain high quality open source software second to none.

As a first time attendee, my goals coming into the summit were simple: to make connections with other open source organizations, to compare their hierarchy, management and community against that of my own organization, to gain practical hands on experience and last but not least, to try and comprehend Google’s relationship with the open source organizations they spend millions of dollars on each year.

Looking back at my experience during the summit, I marvel at the capability, resourcefulness and above all openness of the summit attendees. In the eyes of these participants, all were equal. No organization was ‘small’ or ‘crude’. No one was ‘losing’, only winning. Everything that occurred at the summit was as far away from the traditional corporate culture which I had come to loathe as it could possibly be. It was also interesting to see that my fellow attendees were far more efficient and results driven than any corporate type I had ever met. Attendees made friends easily, discussed ideas freely, and most importantly, accepted and offered criticism freely. No one was rude or overbearing – it was merely our nature to sit down and discuss what’s being done and what could be done even better in the Google Summer of Code program.

Flying into the meeting, I asked OpenMRS community manager Michael Downey which important people would be attending the summit. The answer I expected was (of course) Chris DiBona, Director of the Google Open Source Programs Office, delegates from KDE and the Apache Software Foundation, and perhaps a guest appearance by a Google executive. However, Michael’s answer was ‘Us. We’re all important’. Unfortunately, I could not comprehend the true meaning of this statement until my first few hours at the mentor summit. Indeed, at the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit, we were all certainly important.

As opposed to ‘ordinary’ summits organized by corporate sponsors, the Google Open Source Programs team had taken every effort to ensure that the attendees themselves decided the proceedings of the sessions. Mentors were encouraged to speak out, contradict, and criticize (which many often did). They were listened to with open minds, and given the opportunity to defend their arguments. The Google Open Source Programs team listened to all proposals and offered realistic feedback. The more boisterous proposals received “no’s”, as opposed to patronizing “maybe’s”, while the more plausible ones received approval to go into the next phase of discussions. In fact, this year’s conference had been amended based on the feedback provided during last year’s summit.

My impressions of the interaction between the sponsors and the attendees were that both parties clearly understood the roles and responsibilities of their relationship, and addressed them in a responsible and mature way. Clearly, both Google Summer of Code mentors and the Google Open Source team were all awesome people.

By Suranga Nath Kasthurirathne, OpenMRS 2012 Mentor and 2011 Google Summer of Code student