My first open source project and Google Code-in

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

This is a guest post from a mentor with coala, an open source tool for linting and fixing code in many different languages, which participated in Google Code-in 2017.

About two years ago, my friend Gyan and I built a small web app which checked whether or not a given username was available on a few popular social media websites. The idea was simple: judge availability of the username on the basis of an HTTP response. Here’s a pseudo-code example:
website_url = form_website_url(website, username)
# Eg: form_website_url('github', 'manu-chroma') returns ''

if website_url_response.http_code == 404:
  username available
  username taken
Much to our delight, it worked! Well, almost. It had a lot of bugs but we didn’t care much at the time. It was my first Python project and the first time I open sourced my work. I always look back on it as a cool idea, proud that I made it and learned a lot in the process.

But the project had been abandoned until John from coala approached me. John suggested we use it for Google Code-in because one of coala’s tasks for the students was to create accounts on a few common coding related websites. Students could use the username availability tool to find a good single username–people like their usernames to be consistent across websites–and coala could use it to verify that the accounts were created.

I had submitted a few patches to coala in the past, so this sounded good to me! The competition clashed with my vacation plans, but I wanted to get involved, so I took the opportunity to become a mentor.

Over the course of the program, students not only used the username availability tool but they also began making major improvements. We took the cue and began adding tasks specifically about the tool. Here are just a few of the things students added:
  • Regex to determine whether a given username was valid for any given website
  • More websites, bringing it to a total of 13
  • Tests (!)
The web app is online so you can check username availability too!

I had such a fun time working with students in Google Code-in, their enthusiasm and energy was amazing. Special thanks to students Andrew, Nalin, Joshua, and biscuitsnake for all the time and effort you put into the project. You did really useful work and I hope you learned from the experience!

I want to thank John for approaching me in the first place and suggesting we use and improve the project. He was an unstoppable force throughout the competition, helping both students and fellow mentors. John even helped me with code reviews to really refine the work students submitted, and help them improve based on the feedback.

Kudos to the Google Open Source team for organizing it so well and lowering the barriers of entry to open source for high school students around the world.

By Manvendra Singh, coala mentor