Google Code-in 2014 wrap up with OpenMRS

Friday, March 27, 2015

OpenMRS is a medical records system used around the world, especially in places where resources are scarce. It’s also being used with Google’s chlorine-submersible tablets designed for Médecins Sans Frontières to use while treating ebola patients. The OpenMRS community recently participated in Google Code-in, providing young students with an opportunity to get involved with real open source projects and learn about contributing to them. Chaitya Shah, one of OpenMRS’ two grand prize winners, shared this story with us about his participation in the contest.


For 7 weeks in December 2014 and January 2015, I worked with OpenMRS in the Google Code-in (GCI) competition. GCI introduces highschool aged kids to open source software development by providing a wide variety of tasks we can complete. For me, it has worked wonders. I’d been interested in the concept of open source software for about a year and even participated in GCI 2013, but this year, the experience turned my interest into a passion. I worked on many new things, met lots of new people, and learned several important skills along the way.

A few days before the competition started, I decided to see how OpenMRS’s software worked. I went through the GitHub repositories and tried to get openmrs-core, the main application, running. After a few tries and the help of several contributors on IRC, I was finally able to do so. Their help showed me what the OpenMRS community was truly about: everyone was very helpful throughout the contest and there was always someone online to help me out at any time of the day.

Several of the tasks I worked on this year were much more complex than the ones I worked on last year, giving me more of a challenge and motivating me to put forth my best effort! The early tasks, however, involved getting acquainted with the OpenMRS community and learning how things work in the organization. Several of these tasks taught some key aspects of open source software or of programming in general. One of the simplest but most important tasks was introducing myself to the community. If the communication between a developer and an organization is weak, the code produced will suffer. It was also inspiring to see so many other people interested in contributing to OpenMRS through GCI.

After learning the basics of OpenMRS, I started to explore tasks in the UI Revamp epic. With guidance from a mentor, I worked on making the OpenMRS ID site look more like the redesigned wireframes provided. These tasks really taught me a lot about design, one of my weak points. I used to know very little about HTML/CSS in general. The revamp tasks taught me about good practices in UI Design and I loved every minute of it.

In the last two weeks of the competition, I decided that I was ready to contribute something brand new to the organization. While deploying OpenMRS on the OpenShift cloud platform as part of a task, I found the developer guide was vague in some areas and difficult to follow. It took me a few days and some experimentation to get it working. To ensure that others wouldn’t have the same troubles, I made two videos showing the exact steps to follow: one for Windows and one for Unix-based systems.

After that, I decided to take on a Docker task. Docker is a system that lets you build, ship, and run distributable applications. This task directed me to create an image that downloads, sets up, and runs OpenMRS automatically. I was slightly overwhelmed at first, but Docker proved to be quite useful because it uses a system of containers rather than virtual machines, making it much faster and easier to deploy applications. I felt a big sense of accomplishment once I had finished publishing my work, writing up documentation, and making a quick video tutorial on how to set it up.

I learned a lot from OpenMRS and GCI this year. I was especially impacted by the weight that community interaction has in open source work. Previously, I’d always had the notion that being a programmer is very lonesome, sitting in a room with nothing but a computer for many hours at a time. However, I now know that everything in open source software development is collaborative; everyone works together to accomplish a single goal. I hope to someday find a job with a company that embraces this collaborative nature. Thank you to OpenMRS and GCI for an awesome experience this year!

By Chaitya Shah, GCI grand prize winner