A key activity for org admins is setting up and supervising the process by which GSoC contributor proposals are prioritized and matched with mentors. There are many good ways to do this. There are also a few common ways to proceed that are not so good. In any case, understanding how organizations commonly approach GSoC contributor and mentor selection can help to ensure a better outcome from this critical step.
The Formal Process
Conceptually, the process of selecting GSoC contributors and mentors is simple. In practice, the process of prioritizing proposals and assigning mentors can be difficult and contentious.
During the GSoC contributor application period, organizations prioritize the GSoC contributor proposals, discard proposals unworthy of consideration and investigate proposals further. The organization administrator will reach out to the mentors and together they will prioritize the proposals and rank them. Then the organization administrator will submit their organization’s requested number of project “slots” on their program dashboard. Committed mentors must be assigned to all projects that the organization wants considered. Additional mentors can be added later but a minimum of one mentor must be assigned to a proposal or it can not be ranked.
GSoC contributor slot selections will be based on the rank an organization gives the proposals.
Proposal volumes tend to be high, and the nature of the activity can lead to disagreements and bruised egos. Make the process for deciding on projects clear early, and be consistent.
Google asks your organization how many slots you want after you have had time to review the GSoC contributor proposals that your organization received.
The actual number of slots Google assigns to each organization depends on the number of organizations and the number of GSoC contributors Google is going to fund that year. Then the slots are distributed amongst the accepted organizations by Google. Every accepted organization is allocated at least one slot. First-year organizations rarely get more than two slots. No organization ever receives more slots than they asked for.
There is no net advantage to getting as many slots as possible. Sure, more GSoC contributors might get paid, and the org gets paid a little more. However, accepting less-than-great applications has a huge cost in time and grief. Google’s process for choosing organizations includes the pass/fail ratio. Poor ratios may endanger future participation in GSoC. And if you request more slots than you need you are taking those slots away from other organizations who could have used them for some of the excellent GSoC contributor proposals they received.
When Google assigns an organization its slots, that number will automatically consider the ranking your organization administrator gave the proposals. For example, if an organization requests 7 slots and is given 5, the proposals that were ranked 1,2,3,4 and 5 will automatically become your accepted GSoC contributor projects.
If you ask for a certain number of slots and are given that number but then realize you don’t have enough mentors to cover all of the projects you have essentially wasted that slot and taken it out of the hands of another organization that didn’t receive the number of slots they requested relative to their excellent proposals. There is no way to trade unused slots with other organizations.
You can not substitute in other proposals after you have ranked your proposals and received the slot allocations.
GSoC contributors selected by multiple orgs
GSoC contributors are allowed to submit up to 3 proposals each year, and they can be to multiple organizations. When organizations have chosen their desired GSoC contributors based on their ranked slot allocations, it is inevitably the case that a few GSoC contributors are sought by more than one organization.
Ranking is taken into account when slots are allocated to projects. The higher your organization ranks a proposal the more likely your organization will receive it, in the case another organization also ranks a proposal from the same contributor. If a tie breaker is necessary, then Google’s AI will select which org will receive the proposal.
If you “lose” the project due to another org ranking it higher, Google will contact you to see which project you would like to replace that slot with. The system will automatically select the next ranked proposal (if your org did not receive all the slots you asked for) but the OA will have a day or so to let Google Admins know if they would prefer to adjust that project slot to a different contributor.
Acquiring and Assigning Mentors
Building a mentor pool and matching mentors with projects and GSoC contributors is one of the most challenging tasks for the org admin. For many organizations, the mentor will be selected by project when the ideas page is constructed. For others, mentors will be assigned once proposals have been received and right before ranking of slot requests begins.
Look critically at mentor volunteers. Wanting the role is not a sufficient qualification. The mentor should be well-known to the community, and known to be someone reasonable and patient. The best technical person is not necessarily the best mentor; look for teaching and…well…mentoring skills.
Do not be afraid to reach out to folks in the organization who have not volunteered. The ideal mentor for a project may not have heard of GSoC, or may not have considered themself a candidate for mentoring. They may be flattered to be asked.
Make sure you have enough mentors, including quite a few spares. Folks who would be capable of mentoring a variety of projects are especially welcome. Strongly consider having enough backup or secondary mentors that every project has an alternate of some sort.
If you (or the mentor) are insecure about their qualifications having them join the project as a backup mentor is a great strategy to encourage future participation.
Cheating and Proposals From Outer Space
Avoid spending time on proposals that were not tailored to your project by ignoring them. Some folks use the star feature to mark their favorites or to mark the proposals they are going to ignore. Stars are only visible to the user and can not be seen by others.
Occasionally a GSoC contributor does not understand the importance of attribution when drawing on material from outside sources. Make sure they understand, early on, that plagiarism is not tolerated. The article http://tesl-ej.org/ej10/a2.html has some context to avoid surprises.
Probably the best that can be done in suggesting selection strategies is to provide a few simple ideas that organizations have used effectively in the past. Your organization will build its own selection process over time; these ideas are just a starting point:
Get outsider help. Having a perspective from outside the “GSoC bubble” may help you see GSoC contributor proposals in a new light. Sometimes, even folks from outside your organization can provide useful review, especially if they have relevant technical expertise.
Use your mentors wisely. The mentors are in the best position to select GSoC contributors and proposals for themselves. After all, it is they who will have to work with these GSoC contributors. Be careful, though, of mentors who may be less experienced in the ways that GSoC contributors and projects can go wrong. A few well-chosen war stories can be helpful in this situation.
Interact with the GSoC contributors during the proposal period. There should be no remaining questions by the time GSoC contributors are slotted. Finding out that a GSoC contributor will not interact, or cannot interact well, is absolutely crucial.
Don’t be afraid to take charge. At the end of the day, the org admin is responsible for the GSoC contributor and mentor selection decisions. If your org doesn’t give you full veto power, or gives you grief about executive decisions, consider stepping down. Sometimes somebody has to make the final decision.