From Google Summer of Code to Game of Thrones on the Back of a JavaScript Dragon (Part 1)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

This guest post is a part of a short series about Tatyana Goldberg and Guy Yachdav, instructors at Technical University of Munich, and the journey that was inspired by their participation as Google Summer of Code mentors for the BioJS project.

Hello there! We are from the BioJavaScript (BioJS) project which first joined Google Summer of Code (GSoC) in 2014. Our experience in the program set us on a grand open source adventure that we’ll be sharing with you in a series of blog posts. We hope you enjoy our story and, more importantly, hope it inspires you to pursue your own open source adventure.

Tatyana Goldberg and Guy Yachdav, GSoC mentors and open source enthusiasts. Photo taken at the MorpheusCup competition Luxembourg, May 2016.
We came together around the BioJS community, an open source project for creating beautiful and interactive open source visualizations of biological data on the web. BioJS visualizations are made up of components which have a modular design. This modular design enables several things: they can be used by non-programmers, they can be combined to make more complex visualizations, and they can be easily integrated into existing web applications. Despite being a young community, BioJS already has traction in industry and academia.

In early 2014 we decided to apply for GSoC and we were fortunate to have our application accepted on our first try. The experience was extremely positive — the five students we accepted delivered great software and they had a big impact on the BioJS community:
  • The number of mailing list subscribers doubled in less than a month.
  • All five of our accepted students from 2014 became core developers.
  • Students were invited to six international conferences to share their work.
  • Students helped organize the first BioJS conference held July 2015.
  • Most importantly, the students have independently designed BioJS version 2.0 which positioned BioJS as the leading open source visualization library for biological data. 
You can see three examples of the work GSoC students did on BioJS below:

MSAViewer is a visualization and analysis of multiple sequence alignments and was developed by Sebastian Wilzbach. Proteome Viewer is a multilevel visualization of proteomes in the UniProt database and was developed by Jose Villaveces. Genetic Variation Viewer is visualization of the number and type of mutations at each position in a biological sequence and was developed by Saket Choudhary.

We learned a lot in the first year we participated in Google Summer of Code. Here are some of the takeaways that are especially relevant to mentors and organizations that are considering joining the program:
  1. GSoC is a great source of dedicated and enthusiastic young developers.
  2. Mentors need to carefully manage students, listen to them and let them lead initiatives when it makes sense.
  3. Org admins should leverage success in GSoC beyond the program.
  4. Orgs need to find the most motivated students and make sure their projects are feasible.
  5. People want to share in your success, so participation in GSoC can start a positive feedback loop attracting new contributors and users.
  6. Most importantly: the ideas behind GSoC - the love for open source and coding - are contagious and spread easily to larger audiences, especially to students and other people who work in academia. Just try it! 
Our positive experience spurred us to seek out and conquer new challenges. Stay tuned for our next post where we explain how GSoC inspired us to create a popular new class and how we applied data science to Game of Thrones.

By Tatyana Goldberg and Guy Yachdav, BioJS and TU Munich