Welcoming 1,000+ Interns to Open Source at Google

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

One of the core tenets of open source is about finding ways for people to build great things by working together, regardless of location. This summer, through our intern program we’re gathering incredible talent from schools around the world, Googlers with a passion for open source, and project maintainers both inside and outside of Google to see what we can build together. 

Onboarding that many interns and turning them into new open source contributors was no easy task. So in partnership with the Intern Programs team and engineering teams across Google, we’ve grounded our planning by answering four key questions. 

How can we make our internship program a force for good in the open source ecosystem?

We knew that having more than a thousand interns contribute to open source projects could have a huge impact, however, many projects aren’t set up to onboard dozens of new contributors at one time and many maintainers can’t take on hundreds of new pull requests. Early on, we established best practices for intern placement and support. We committed to:
  • Aligning interns’ work with project priorities to advance the project while also allowing the interns to learn and grow their skills.
  • Proactively communicating with project maintainers and contributors, keeping them in the loop on timelines and logistics.
  • Looking beyond Google. While we prioritized projects that have full-time Google engineerings support. That includes Google-owned projects like Go, TensorFlow, and Chromium, as well as Google-created projects we invest heavily in, such as Kubernetes, Apache Beam, and Tekton. But Google also has full-time engineers working on outside projects we rely on, so our interns will also be working on projects like Envoy, Rust, and Apache Maven.

How can we introduce the interns to open source at Google?

We are determined to support and empower the interns as they become lifelong contributors to open source. Every Noogler in engineering learns about using and contributing to open source in a training run by our Open Source Programs Office. With an unprecedented number of interns working on open source projects, we are also providing additional resources; from offering a platform for questions, office hours, enrichment talks, and partnerships with external open source organizations.

How can we learn from our interns about the experience of contributing to open source at Google and beyond?

We see a huge opportunity to listen to our interns this summer. By meeting with interns and hosts—as well as surveying the entire class of interns at the end of the summer—we can look for ways to improve open source at Google and the contributor experience for projects they’re working on. We’re excited to learn from the internship program and from interns’ perspectives working in and contributing to open source.

How can we have an impact on these students that carries on throughout their careers?

One of my favorite questions to ask Googlers who are active in open source is how they were first introduced to open source. There’s a well-trodden path of a developer fixing an annoying bug, then a few more bugs, then adding small features, becoming a core contributor, and eventually a project maintainer. That process requires persistence and patience, and projects lose a lot of great developers along the way.

But... What if your first experience with open source is being welcomed into a large and thriving community of contributors? What if you get to contribute to open source full time, mentored by creators and maintainers of the project you’re working on, collaborating across organizations and across time zones? Our hope is that this kind of experience will leave a lasting impression on this summer’s interns and that they’ll continue to contribute to open source for a long time to come.

By Jen Phillips, Google Open Source