My sweet adventures with Sugar Labs and Google Code-in

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Today we have a guest post from Sam Parkinson, a 15 year-old Google Code-in 2014 grand prize winner. Sam worked with Sugar Labs for two instances of Google Code-in and tells us more about his journey navigating the world of free and open source software. We hope this is only the beginning of Sam’s contributions.
Ever since I was young, naive and enjoying my first tastes of Linux, I've wanted to contribute to the FOSS community. For me, Google Code-in (GCI) made that dream come true. I was lucky enough to be able to participate for the last two years with the mentoring organization Sugar Labs.

Sugar Labs is a “desktop environment without a desktop” that uses Python. Officially, Sugar Labs is the core component of a worldwide effort to provide every child with an equal opportunity for a quality education. Available in 25 languages, Sugar Labs activities are used every school day by nearly 3 million children in more than 40 countries.

I started my FOSS journey in GCI 2013 by completing the simple task of changing a ValueError to a logged exception. At first, my confidence level went from "yeah, I know some cool Python tricks" to "omg! how do I code?". I discovered new (and sometimes confusing) things like PEP8, git-branch and mailing lists. However, having the GCI and Sugar Labs communities as a support system made my dream of contributing to FOSS manageable by breaking it up into small, manageable tasks.

I worked on some pretty cool features, like adding a nutcracker-style mode in a Speak activity, where users could insert a picture of a face and have it talk to them.
I also worked on some not-so-fun tasks, like fixing bugs caused by GTK updates while trying not to break compatibility with ancient versions. But by the end of GCI 2014, I had learned how to pass code reviews and even completed some of my own. Hopefully I’ve programmed something that has made somebody smile.

In 2014, I was lucky enough to be chosen as a GCI winner. The grand prize trip was the cherry on top of the proverbial cake. I got to meet the amazing people I'd been hacking with, plus some pretty inspiring people from Google and other FOSS projects. I found it mind blowing to actually talk with people about programming face to face, and even better to sit around laughing about the programming culture. A highlight of the trip was meeting Walter Bender, one of the Sugar Labs mentors. Together we hacked on a project improving the Sugar Labs website. It’s not done, but it’s in better shape than it was before, and I can claim that I did some coding during the trip.

GCI was truly something that changed my life. I went from being an open source newbie to being able to contribute to really cool projects, thanks to the amazing GCI and Sugar Labs communities. It's something that I would recommend any young programmer consider doing. Participating in GCI is something that can make dreams come true.

By Sam Parkinson, Google Code-in grand prize winner