My Google Code-in grand prize trip

Friday, June 13, 2014

Today’s post comes from Mateusz Maćkowski, one of the 20 grand prize winners of Google Code-in, an open source programming contest for 13-17 year old students. Mateusz came all the way from Poland to California for the trip and details the four days of technical presentations and fun activities the winners took part in.
The Beginning
I first found out that I was a grand prize winner for Google Code-in 2013 (GCI) for the Wikimedia Foundation in the middle of January, about a week after the contest ended. I then had three months for my excitement to build before my trip in April to the United States to meet the other 19 Grand Prize Winners and a mentor from each of the 10 participating open source organizations.

Day 1
The opening meet and greet dinner started the festivities and as we entered the room, we were greeted by Stephanie Taylor, Cat Allman and Mary Radomile, three of the four members of the Google Open Source Programs team responsible for organizing and preparing the contest and trip.

After spending about an hour eating and chatting with other Grand Prize Winners, their family members, and our mentors we received backpacks full of goodies (t-shirts, stickers, notebooks, a jacket, etc.) followed by a short icebreaker game. Each student received a list of personality traits or talents (such as “Can paint”, “Has a dog”, “Can speak fluently three or more languages”, etc.).  We each had to find another person who matched the particular description. It was a great way to interact with each of the other students. The winners were the two people who were able to match the largest number of people. After the game, we received more swag, and – a huge surprise to most in the room – Samsung Chromebooks!

Day 2
The next day all 50 of us piled onto a large bus in San Francisco heading to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. When we arrived in Mountain View we cruised around the various buildings of the Google Campus before settling into our large event room for the day.
We started with a brief presentation from Stephanie on various information and statistics about GCI. After that we had our awards ceremony where Chris DiBona, Director of Social Impact and Open Source at Google, gave us each of our awards. Our mentors then presented each of us with a plaque for our achievements. We took tons of individual photos and group shots (just a few of the many to come) and then headed to lunch.
Google employees from all parts of the company and from each of the countries represented by the Grand Prize Winners joined us for lunch.  It was great to be able to talk one-on-one with a Polish Googler about their experiences in Silicon Valley. After lunch another Googler spoke about the famous Google self-driving car project.
Next up was a tour of the Google campus. The tour included some of the most recognizable places at the Googleplex, including the Android statues representing each of the Android releases. As you can see, it was a perfect spot for group and individual photos.
After the tour concluded several more Googlers gave talks about their products and services — Google Giving, Google Maps, Chrome and the open source project Samba. The last Googler talking that day was a contributor to Melange, the open source software that Google Summer of Code and Google Code-in is run on. He is a past Google Summer of Code student and has been an active contributor to Melange for several years.  

Day 3 – “San Francisco Fun Day”
We spent our third day touring San Francisco. We had the choice between two tours: a Segway tour, or a visit to Alcatraz. I chose the Segway and couldn’t have been more excited. For me, it was one of the best parts of the whole Grand Prize trip.
After the Segway tour it was time to visit the California Academy of Sciences, which is one of the largest natural history museums in the United States.

The last event of the day was a surprise — all we knew was that we’d go on an “adventure”. What an adventure and nice surprise it was! We took a yacht tour in San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Angel Island. We spent the evening talking with other students, mentors and several Google employees. Day 3 was just as cool as the previous one.

Day 4
The last day of the 2013 GCI Grand Prize trip took place at the Google office in San Francisco. It was a nice and easy walk from our hotel to the office along San Francisco’s Embarcadero which is a large walkway along the waterfront. There was a breakfast buffet waiting for us, and because it was Google, the choices were, to say the least, significant. During and after the breakfast we listened to Google speakers who talked about Google Summer of Code and the Go programming language.

We then had a short tour of the San Francisco office where we could see beautiful views of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge.
After a few additional speakers, it was finally time for what I was anticipating most — the mentors from each of the 10 GCI open source organizations gave short lightning talks (3-5 minutes) about their projects and the work the GCI students accomplished during the 2013 contest

Finally it was time to return home. Below is an image of human misery — flying away from San Francisco at night seen from the airplane window…
When people ask me about the trip my response is usually “It was fantastic until I had to return!” My final words? Participate in Google Code-in! A friend told me that I shouldn’t really care about winning, because the number of people participating is so high that I wouldn’t stand a chance. When I later told him that I was chosen as a winner, his face was “priceless”. Even if you don’t end up on the Grand Prize Trip, it is definitely still worth the time and effort. It was a great experience for me to be able to create software that is actually used by MediaWiki users from around the world as a teenager.

By Mateusz Mackowski, GCI Grand Prize Winner for Wikimedia