Successful participation in GSoC is based on a three-way fit between mentor, GSoC contributor, and project. As a mentor, your role in finding that fit is two-fold: to help the organization identify and select strong GSoC contributors appropriate for your projects, and to find a pairing between yourself and a GSoC contributor that is productive and pleasant. Fortunately, these goals are quite compatible.
Understanding GSoC contributor Motivations
A helpful starting point for finding, evaluating and selecting GSoC contributors is to look at the process from their point of view. Why do developers apply to GSoC?
“I want to be rich.” The stipend that GSoC contributors can earn for the summer is an important motivator for many.
“I want to be famous.” Being a GSoC contributor carries a certain amount of prestige. However, the desire for fame is not always a sustaining long-term motivation. Be aware of the difference between a GSoC contributor who wants to be “accepted” versus “successful”.
“I want to learn.” GSoC contributors may want to learn various things as part of their GSoC experience, such as how to work in the organization’s project, how to do open source development in general. It is important as a mentor that you are cognizant of the basic skill set required for the project.
GSoC contributors should want to participate because they have something to contribute to the organization’s project. This is obviously an exciting and promising kind of GSoC applicant to receive. Assuming that the GSoC contributor has good technical skills and can interact well, a good result is almost inevitable.
Selecting a GSoC contributor
There are some GSoC contributor qualifications that are important for any successful GSoC experience. The GSoC contributor needs to be technically skilled, needs to have good communication skills, and needs to be a hard worker with sufficient available time to succeed. Given only a brief application document and some tiny amount of remote interaction, determining whether a GSoC contributor has the necessary qualifications is exceedingly difficult. Hopefully the organization has an application process in place that helps. However, as a mentor you will normally be expected to assist in the evaluation that will ultimately decide who gets accepted to GSoC from your organization.
You have several techniques at your disposal for helping your organization evaluate applicants. First and foremost, your expertise is key in evaluating proposals. Is a given proposal technically realistic? Is it useful to the organization? Does it meet the organization’s overall goals for GSoC?
Check out Tips for finding the ‘right’ GSoC contributor for your org, compiled by mentors and org admins.
Some of the proposals your organization receives will be obvious winners, about which little discussion is needed. Many more will be obvious losers that need no discussion at all. Proposals that fail to conform to the organization submission rules, are extremely short, or are difficult to read or understand almost inevitably come from applicants who would fail miserably if accepted. The middle ground in applications is where the action is. There are several techniques for assessing these promising but troubled applications:
Send an early query to the applicant asking for more information. Failure to respond well or in a timely fashion almost guarantees problems with the person later on.
Watch the applicant’s community interaction. The best GSoC contributors interact with your organization’s community during or even well before the application period. A mediocre proposal is much less concerning if it looks like the applicant is already moving forward.
Inquire about the applicant’s GSoC history. A GSoC contributor who has participated in GSoC before may be easy to figure out. Past performance is usually an indicator of future GSoC success. This information could be included in your organization’s proposal template, or obtained from a general web search.
Find out where else the applicant has applied. Does the applicant have other GSoC proposals? Did they copy-paste the same proposal over and over? There are often opportunities for negotiation with other organizations around someone who has applied to several places.
Look at the applicant’s other summer plans. You are looking for an applicant who is up front about possible other commitments during GSoC. If they have other commitments and are planning to do a 350 hour project in 12 weeks that could be a concern. However, if they are doing a 175 hour project in 12 weeks and are taking a class or have another part-time commitment it could likely be fine.
Finding a Match
As a mentor you want to do more than just help your organization select the best GSoC contributor. You also want to ensure that they select a GSoC contributor and project that you will enjoy working with.
This may involve more than just finding a bright GSoC contributor with the right area of expertise. It is worthwhile to look at the personality type and work style a proposal reflects. If you are a methodical, organized person, for example, a loose and casual style might not be an ideal fit for you. Mentoring a GSoC contributor geographically far from you can be a bit challenging, but also quite enlightening. Be aware of timezone differences that might require early morning or late night schedules for live meetings, which are critical for effective mentoring.
For those unfortunate applicants that don’t make the cut for logistical reasons (e.g., not enough mentors or funded slots), consider providing feedback to let them know their proposals were valued. This is a service both to the applicant and to the organization. These applicants will be more likely to stay engaged, possibly even contributing outside of the official GSoC program, and returning next year with an even stronger proposal.
Google’s Selection Process
The Google Open Source Program Office (OSPO) has an internal process to select mentoring organizations and allocate GSoC contributor slots; understanding it may help you make better GSoC contributor selections.
Each mentoring organization will review the applications they receive (outside of the program site) and determine the best projects using the criteria agreed upon by their organization. Next the Org Admins will make sure those “best projects” have at least one mentor confirmed to mentor that project. Then the Org Admin will rank the proposals with confirmed mentors using the organization’s agreed upon criteria. (Note: Google is looking for a mixture of medium and large projects, not just large projects from an org when possible). If your org has 10 great contributors and you rank the 7 large projects 1-7, then the 3 medium projects as 8-10 be prepared to get less slots than if you had mixed up medium and large in the top 7. If you have some small (90 hour) projects mixed in you’ll also me be likely to receive more slots. Next the Org Admin will submit the ranked GSoC contributor “slots” they wish to receive.
Next, Google OSPO will allocate each organization a number of slots. The number of slots will lock in the top ranked proposals for the organization. If an organization received 5 slots then their #1-#5 ranked proposals will automatically become GSoC contributor projects.
Google will let organizations know how many slots they receive a day or two before we announce the accepted projects publicly so organizations and mentors can prepare.
You should also understand how GSoC contributor selection and mentoring can affect the eligibility of an organization. In particular, note that a poor job of mentoring may lead to a poor outcome, making it less likely that your organization will be selected in future years. But failing a GSoC contributor does not mean that Google will consider that organization poorly for future programs, we encourage organizations to fail if the GSoC contributor is not doing the work, historically 8-15% of students fail or withdraw from the program in a given year.
Starting at the Beginning
A successful GSoC project begins with a successful initiation. Finding the right three-way fit between mentor, GSoC contributor and organization can make success incredibly easy. Conversely, failing to find this fit makes it difficult or impossible for the project to succeed.
Once a fit is found, the project is ready to be elaborated. You and your GSoC contributor are prepared to embark upon a grand adventure. Excelsior!
Pro Tip: One temptation to be avoided is to give a promising GSoC contributor excessive help in rewriting their proposal. It is likely that the result will be a proposal stronger than the GSoC contributor it represents. A GSoC contributor’s communication, organization and logical thinking skills rarely improve over the course of a summer.
Pro Tip: If in doubt about an applicant’s final ranking, err on the side of rejecting. Limited program budget and mentor time can most certainly be better spent on another applicant in your or another organization.
Don’t Be That Person: Don’t even think about selecting a GSoC contributor with whom you’ve had no contact. You should establish an active back-and-forth prior to making a decision. If you or your GSoC contributor have failed to make this happen, do not proceed.
Don’t select multiple people for the same project idea: If two GSoC contributors are working on the exact same project then they are competing with each other. Likewise, don’t make one person’s project dependent on another person’s project, that essentially makes it a team project which is not allowed or in the best interest of the GSoC contributors.