Google Code-in: The programming competition that changed my life

Monday, December 23, 2013

This week we have a special guest post from a student, Aaron Schmitz, that was a grand prize winner in Google Code-in 2011 and then went on to participate in the Google Summer of Code 2012 program the following year with Joomla, an open source content management system (CMS). 

When a Google Code-in blog post caught my eye on a cold November morning, it wasn’t because it was another one of those run of the mill race-to-the-buzzer-on-a-contrived-programming-puzzler type programming competition. No. Google Code-in is different for two important reasons. First, Google Code-in is a marathon, not a sprint. Little did I know how grueling but rewarding those six weeks would be. Second, Google Code-in isn’t about who had spent years memorizing very specific algorithms to solve meaningless and often impractical programming problems with no relation to the real world; instead, Google Code-in contestants write real code that finds its way into real repositories for real projects with real users. As it turned out, some of the work my fellow competitors and I did is now in software packages approaching 1.5 billion downloads! Very few industry professionals have the opportunity to write code with that kind of reach -- let alone a bunch of pre-college kids. 
Suffice to say, I was sold on Google Code-in! What could be more amazing than a programming competition designed for students my age (13-17) that tested and strengthened the skills required of real-world developers: endurance, the ability to work as a team towards a common goal, and the need for flexibility. When the first day of the competition finally arrived, I took a relatively simple non-coding task to do some research for an org, submitted the work, and got it accepted. One down; countless to go… I picked up a much harder coding task which I finished many frustrating hours later. Then another… Then another… My weekends disappeared... Then Thanksgiving... Then Christmas… 
What kept me going through six challenging weeks of programming day after day after day? For the first time I wasn’t just programming in a vacuum. I was collaborating with a multitude of other students from many countries and time zones. We constantly chattered on IRC and to some extent collaborated on tasks and worked together as a team to accomplish the goals of the open source projects we were helping. Two years later, I’m still friends with a few of my co-competitors even though we live thousands of miles apart and have met each other only once: on the Grand Prize trip. 
The greatest thing I gained from Google Code-in, however, wasn’t related to coding at all. Google Code-in changed my life because Google Code-in is where I found my confidence; Google Code-in showed me that I can do anything. The grand prize trip was phenomenal. One day we were being led around the Google campus by people famous in the open source community and the next we’re living it up on a private yacht sailing under the Golden Gate bridge. That week of excitement in Silicon Valley changed my outlook and inspired me towards the path I am on today. I don’t know where my journey leads, but the adventure has been amazing thus far. I challenge you to dive into the same adventure and see where your path takes you - you won’t regret it! 
By Aaron Schmitz, Google Code-in 2011 grand prize winner and 2012 Joomla Google Summer of Code student
There are still two weeks for students to learn more about the 10 participating open source organizations and complete tasks earning certificates and t-shirts in Google Code-in 2013. The contest ends on January 6, 2014.