“Think of it as an externship,” said Leslie Hawthorn, open source program manager with Google. Basically, students work from home – instead of in an office – on a three-month open source coding project while paired with a mentor from the industry or academia who is well-versed on that particular project.
The qualification process is based on proposals for participating open source projects from the community, of which in 2009 there are 150 across all areas of the software stack, from writing kernel drivers to product content management systems.
Proposals can range anywhere from simply helping in an area, or working on a “completely independent blue sky idea,” said Hawthorn. In the past, while some proposals have been purely speculative, others have resulted in new features merged into the code base, she said.
Peter Vescuso, executive vice-president of marketing and business development for Waltham, Mass.-based Black Duck Software Inc., thinks the Google Summer of Code is a program that certainly demonstrates the level of innovation and capability of open source software.
But he thinks it also showcases the level of ingenuity surrounding open source among the industry’s next generation of programmers. “There are definitely generational issues here where the older generation is just not familiar with it, is afraid of it,” he said.
The program helps nurture tomorrow’s IT professionals, said Hawthorn. “The idea is by mentoring these young students, who are probably entirely new to the project or even entirely new to open source, this will be the next generation of contributors,” she said.
A thousand students have been accepted to the 2009 program, 44 of whom are from Canada.