Getting ready for Code-in: notes from BRL-CAD

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Google Code-in contest starts on December 1st for students. To prepare and inspire students, Christopher Sean Morrison, a dedicated mentor and organization administrator from BRL-CAD, talks a bit below about his experience with GCI over the last few years.


BRL-CAD has participated in Google Code-in (GCI) for two years now, and it’s been amazing to see the frenzy of creativity and aptitude. Our community alone has had the pleasure of introducing more than a hundred students to the world of open source software. The students’ contributions get used all around the world even though many of these students had never heard of open source or computer-aided design (CAD) before they started on GCI. With GCI, they get to explore at their own pace, learn while they are completing real world tasks, and make genuinely useful contributions to open source projects.

One great outcome of GCI is that students work as a team, often unknowingly, to achieve a complicated objective that has been broken down into piecemeal tasks. One example involved creating a scene like you might see at the beginning of a movie or a game: a half-dozen students modeled individual letters, others organized them into a scene, and a final rendering was made.  Another involved several students that unknowingly made BRL-CAD run much faster on Windows: they implemented various routines independently of each other, created test cases to demonstrate that functions worked correctly, and documented their improvements while others worked to tie it all together. Both examples might have taken even an experienced contributor weeks or months by themselves. GCI students earn recognition for these accomplishments and their work gets used by others.

For our BRL-CAD community, these young eager individuals have tackled and completed more than four hundred tasks related to computer graphics, 3D modeling, design, science, and mathematics. Some of these tasks helped our open source community grow while challenging right-brain creativity: students have designed new t-shirts, created YouTube tutorials, written blog posts, and modeled our logo for marketing materials (including the one shown above). Other tasks improved BRL-CAD by employing left-brain analytical thinking: students wrote code to fix bugs, improved websites, wrote technical documentation, and calculated 3D volumes, surface areas, and centroids.

There’s really something for everybody and every skillset. We’re excited to see what GCI 2014 will bring!

By Christopher Sean Morrison, BRL-CAD Organization Administrator and Mentor