My Google Summer of Code journey: From student, to mentor, to organization administrator

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Today’s post comes from guest blogger Ana Cutillas — a dedicated Google Summer of Code student, mentor, and now organization administrator for Systers, a forum for women involved in the technical aspects of computing. The email list has over 4,000 members from at least 54 countries around the world. Ana is passionate about all things open source and shares a bit of her story below. 
A few years ago, a friend told me about a cool open source program called Google Summer of Code (GSoC). I was reluctant to get involved — I had no idea where to start! But when the organizations for GSoC 2012 were made public, I felt ready. I skimmed through the list and one of them caught my eye. Systers. Funny name. I read more about them: an international electronic mailing list for technical women in computing. Awesome! I decided to apply and before I knew it, I was a full time student, full-time worker, an Ultimate Frisbee player and applying to become a GSoC participant. Needless to say, I was quite busy.

For the application, Systers required that you install their environment in your machine and fix a bug for them. It wasn't easy. I had so many questions! Thankfully I had already joined the Systers' developers mailing list and I decided to ask them. At the beginning, mentors-to-be answered my questions but eventually new potential students joined the list and I knew the answers to some of their questions. It felt great to be able to help people already.

I finished my application before the deadline and I got feedback from Systers that helped me make it better. They told me that GSoC wasn’t compatible with having a full time job (they were right, it definitely isn't). They suggested I should either volunteer my time and have someone mentor me outside of the program, or leave my job and apply to be an official GSoC student. I didn't have to give it much thought—I left the job I didn't like for the possibility of an awesome summer.

Throughout the application process, I became friends with another student that wanted to work with Systers too. The night of the accepted students announcement, we were both so nervous. I remember walking back home from my Ultimate Frisbee practice when she told me she had gotten the email. I had a rush of mixed emotions, I was so happy for her but worried about where mine was. Maybe I hadn't made it? After several of the longest minutes of my life, there it was! I made it!
Systers set me up with two mentors. During the community bonding period we went through my summer schedule until we were all happy with it. The coding period started and I dived head first into my project. I spent my summer working in Python, and learning about open source project etiquette and culture. When I didn't know where to find the files I needed to do something, I could ask my senior mentor and she just knew. I feel very fortunate to have worked with her and I still turn to her for career advice.

A few months after GSoC ended, I got  an email from our administrator to the mailing list saying that Systers was going to try to participate in GSoC again that year (in 2013). I immediately wrote her back and told her that I would like to be a mentor. I was really nervous about being a mentor, a lot more than I was when I was a student. As a student you’re just expected to get your work done, ask questions and slowly become part of the community. However, as a mentor, I was expected to be a role model. I had such an amazing experience with my mentor and I really wanted to provide the same experience to my student.

All my worries went away as soon as I met my student.  As far as students go, I hit the jackpot! She was extremely smart, really organized, got her work done on time and was absolutely fantastic to work with.

Later in the year I was chosen to go to the mentor summit at the Google campus in California. There, I got to meet some of the people that had mentored me when I was a student. The summit has truly been one of the best experiences of my life. It was so cool to be surrounded by tons of exceptionally smart people who were also really passionate about open source.

Shortly after the summit, our administrator asked me if I wanted to help out as an org admin as well as be a mentor for 2014 GSoC. I didn’t have to think about it, I happily accepted. I’m happy to report our organization has grown a lot in a year. We’ve gone from six to 14 students and we’ve been able to recruit about four mentors per student.  And what a ride I’ve been on. I’m excited to continue my work with Systers and can’t wait to see what’s next for Google Summer of Code.

By Ana Cutillas, Google Summer of Code Student, Mentor, and Organization Administrator for Systers