Dare to try: a story of summer triumph

Friday, March 1, 2013

Guest post by Anna Senarclens de Grancy, former Google Summer of Code student and recent mentor for Systers 

Check out this inspirational story from a previous Google Summer of Code student (for 2 years) who went on to become a two time Google Summer of Code mentor in the program. If other students are unsure of whether they have what it takes to get involved in the program, read on and consider applying to Google Summer of Code 2013.

This is my story of how I did what anybody could have done but not everybody would. I dared to try something new and found out that with a little bit of guts, some luck, and support from people at Systers I can do almost anything. 
My mum realized I’d likely become an engineer when at the age of two I was managing  multiple remote controls better than most adults. Later on I confirmed her beliefs by attending a technical upper secondary school followed by a technical university. After some time in college I had to pick what field of engineering to pursue. I took an introductory course programming in Ada with a friend who told me there was no way I could do CS. I took this quite hard because, even though I wasn’t very good at it, programming had been a lot of fun. As a result, I decided to pick mechanical engineering instead of CS which means that I’m not a computer scientist. Then a friendly computer geek passionate about open source software introduced me to this whole new world. 
Newly inspired I realized I wanted to give CS a second chance, this time as a hobby. I got some books on Python and began learning on my own in the evenings and during weekends. Learning from a book is all fine but there is only so much one can do before one wants a challenge and to try something out for real. Someone suggested I check out Google Summer of Code, and when I did, I found Systers. I was fascinated by their mission and  since they were offering a project in Python for beginners, I gave it a try. I had never really done any real programming before, nor did I have any experience with databases or distributed revision control. My Python knowledge was mainly from books and I hadn’t taken many computer science classes in college. I had a lot to learn, but you can hardly imagine how much fun I had doing it! I dared myself to try and ended up having the summer of my life. Sure there were hard times trying to understand the code, what to do, and how to do it. In my ignorance I changed, moved, and removed enough things on my computer to have to reinstall Ubuntu three times and Mailman probably five or six times. I had sleepless nights sitting in front of the computer coding, and when I slept I dreamt of bugs. I added what seemed like a million debug statements and often got nonsense back (at that time I didn’t know how to use a debugger). 
Once I solved my first bug and got the taste of success and the feeling of I might actually be able to do this, I was hooked. So much fun! Such great feedback from Systers, they were always friendly, patient, and willing to help answer my questions. It’s such an ego boost when you solve that one problem you’ve been working on for days or even weeks. I dared to try something new and ended up learning a lot and having a great time while doing so. I lived the dream and also got to know amazing people along the way. The only thing it took was making that first step. 
Have you ever considered how easy it might be to fix a bug in your favorite open source software program? I encourage each of you to give it a try! 
By Anna Senarclens de Grancy, Google Summer of Code former student and mentor

As this story illustrates, you don’t have to be a CS major or have 10 years of coding experience to be a part of Google Summer of Code, you just need to have a desire to learn and to push yourself. The participating mentoring organizations will be announced on April 8th, students then have two weeks to discuss application ideas with the organizations. On April 22nd, student applications open for Google Summer of Code 2013.