GSOC Mentor Summit – A First Timer’s Experience

Each year at the conclusion of Google Summer of Code, Google invites all mentor orgs to send two mentors or org admins all-expenses-paid for a weekend-long unconference at Google’s offices in Silicon Valley for mentors to share their GSOC experiences and collaborate on growing open source together. Since I’m so close by, I’ve always deferred to allowing our mentors from abroad this great privilege and reward. But this year when I learned four of our mentors would be coming from abroad (we got a bonus attendee for GCI participation and one more from the waitlist), I figured it was my worth my luck to try and get picked from the waitlist and make the 7 hour drive to Silicon Valley to attend.

Lucky enough to get chosen from the waitlist, I was so glad I had the opportunity to attend my first mentor summit as it was a memorable and eye-opening experience and I regret that I’d missed out on attending all the years before. Here’s a few reflections on the event and my hope that all of our mentors get the chance to experience the mentor summit for the first time as well.

Overall the event was unforgettable in that it was incredible to see how passionate so many individuals and organizations were about open source, to witness firsthand the breadth and diversity of the many GSOC projects, and to see firsthand how much impact GSOC has had over the years.

Thank You to Stephanie Taylor and the Google Open Source Programs Office

Hats off to Stephanie and the entire Google Open Source Programs Office. In the final session, it was touching to see the outpouring of gratitude from her colleagues and the well-deserved standing ovation from the attendees that she received. Coordinating the attendance of 329 individuals from 147 orgs from 35 countries is an immense undertaking and the smoothness and fluidity with which they pulled off the event was impressive. The entire team of Stephanie, Cat, Mary, Maria, Josh, and Robert as well as many other volunteers, worked tirelessly the whole weekend to ensure everybody’s needs were met. Thanks also for the generosity of Google for covering the travel and hotel costs for three of our mentors. 

Thank you to our Mentors who attended

Thank you to Gaurav who traveled from Delhi, Pranjal who traveled from Bangalore, and Ishan who traveled from Amsterdam to attend the Mentor Summit. These were veterans of the Mentor Summit and it was great for them to return again. I especially want to thank Avik though who traveled from Bangalore and was a first-time attendee of the mentor summit.

Avik really took advantage of the mentor summit to the fullest by attending sessions throughout the days to expand his learning and improve upon our GCI and GSOC processes. When not in the unconference sessions, he was deep in brainstorming sessions with me to plan out his role on the Apache Fineract PMC and how we can put amplify his extensive knowledge and experience across the community. I’m going to now highly encourage that we allow for future attendees to be first or second-timers at the Summit so they can maximize the potential at the event.

Unconference – Broadening my Horizon

The unconference format proved highly beneficial in terms of both growing and sharing my knowledge. I chose to plant myself in sessions where I could share the strengths and learnings from our Mifos GSOC experiences, sessions where I could fill gaps in experience and knowledge for GCI and GSOC, and lastly technical sessions to broaden my perspectives beyond that of a layman.

Sticking Around: Attracting and Retaining Long-Term Contributors – I led this session to both share my own personal best practices as well as learn from others for both GCI and GSOC.  We at the Mifos Initiative have been relatively successful in retaining and transforming our interns into long-term contributors after GSOC – luckily we’ve been able to do that with nearly 50% of our interns. Over the years, we’ve made it a concerted effort of ours to identify, attract, retain and transform our interns into long-term contributors. Before, during, and after GSOC we’ve employed some successful strategies and tactics that I was happy to share with others including seeking out junior interns who are passionate and have full potential they’re looking to fulfill, making our interns feel like they belong to our community during GSOC, and then recognizing and empowering them with leadership roles after GSOC. The session was well-attended and well-received – notes can be found here: https://goo.gl/yofrLr.

I also attended the following sessions:

Failing More Students – while failing students is a painful yet necessary part of GSOC, I attended to share our experiences we had with failing students and to learn from others. What struck me most was how much Google encourages organizations to fail students to strengthen the integrity and prestige of a GSOC internship as well as how much they stand by and respecting mentoring organizations difficult yet necessary decisions to fail. I’ve learned that we must trust our gut intuitions and it’s better for all involved to fail earlier in the process.

GCI Discussion – while we’ve participated in Google Code-In for two years, I feel we still have much to learn. I was blown away by how many students some projects were able to engaged with and the highly valuable projects that had high-schoolers work on too. The most important takeaway I had was to leverage our previous GCI and GSOC participants to do on-the-ground outreach and evangelization to local high schools.

GSOC Selection Process – over the years, we’ve evolved our selection process and criteria to be fairly effective in identifying students who can both deliver immediate impact during the summer and stick around for the long-haul. I was happy to share how much emphasis we put on community interactions when requiring several pull requests before an application has been submitted as well as the vital importance of knowledge and alignment with our mission to show commitment to the project, as well as the technical questions during our Skype interviews as a powerful final evaluation metric.

To amplify my technical knowledge…

GitHub Workflow Improvements – it was neat to learn about the shared pains of so many projects with Github and eye-opening to learn about some of the valuable tools like Zulipbot, Gitmate, etc the that the opern source community has created to better automate processes and address these pain points. I’m eager to implement some of them for our community.

Kubernetes on the Google Track – As our community gets set to roll out Apache Fineract CN and take better advantage of containerization, this session was a nice intro to me on Kubernetes including a simple demonstration and some insightful questions and feedback from the audience including Avik!

Usability Testing Round-Robin – I almost forgot another very valuable session – there was a simple round-robin to go around usability testing various apps with our peers. I got to sit down with three individuals for only about ten minutes each but was able to uncover tons of small bugs and usability enhancements that will be perfect tasks for GCI. It was eye-opening to say the least to how important it is to get fresh eyes on our apps and hear feedback in real-time.

Stickers!

World Famous Chocolate Table

My local selections from Dick Taylor Chocolates were gone even before the end of Day One!

Disclaimer: I’m not a big chocolate fan but I did have one piece so I did participate in helping make it disappear 🙂

Lightning Talks – A Flash of Brilliance

One of the most lasting parts of the Mentor Summit were the two sessions worth of lightning talks spanning 3 hours coordinated by Sean Morrison. The 50 talks that were given were especially impressive in demonstrating the scale, scope, diversity, and complexity of the GSOC projects students worldwide are working on. I gave a lightning talk on Dilpreet’s Mobile Banking App project (slides at https://goo.gl/WSbE37)

Pranjal gave one on Gopala’s web app enhancements (slides at https://goo.gl/PN6nyZ)

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