Showing your awesomeness for Google Summer of Code

Some of you may have heard the story: When the GNOME folk looked through their summer of code applicants back in 2006, they had 181 applicants… and not a single woman. They decided to do something about this, and started The GNOME Women’s Outreach project. They soon had 100 talented female applicants. You can read the whole story here. One of the lessons to take away from this is that there may be really talented women out there who just aren’t applying:

Women would contact us saying “oh I don’t know if I’m qualified enough but working with a mentor sounds good etc etc etc and then have REALLY impressive CVs — clearly they’d’ve been accepted to GSoC if they’d applied, but they were clearly not confident enough to do so.

We at geek feminism hate losing talented folk to Impostor Syndrome, which causes totally awesome people to believe that they aren’t good enough. So for those of you who are considering applying this year, I’m hoping we can boost your confidence by reminding you that projects want you, providing some tips on making an application that will get noticed (so you can’t say “oh, I’ll never get it”), and giving you another place to ask questions if you’re too shy to ask them elsewhere. We can also help with applications and maybe even introduce you to people if you’re just too shy to get your foot in the door — just ask!

Lots of readers of and writers for Geek Feminism have been involved in GSoC. I’m one of the mentors for Systers, which might be especially interesting to GF readers since we’re an organization that promotes and supports women in technology (the name “Systers” is a play on women in “systems”). You can read my blurb advertising the incredible awesomeness of my project here and there’s lots of other cool summer of code projects advertising on GF.

The most common question I’m getting from prospective students right now is, “What do you look for in a GSoC applicant, and how can I make my application stand out?.”

There’s lots of things we look for in a GSoC applicant, but we most of all we want someone who’ll get stuff done, and with whom we’ll enjoy working.

Here’s some tips for demonstrating your inner awesomeness:

  1. Get involved with the community early. Join the mailing list(s), hang out on IRC, or wherever the community is. That lets both you and us know if we’ll work well together, and lets you learn more so you can put together an awesome application that we’ll all be excited about. If you participate in discussions, we’re much more likely to remember you when your application comes in! (Hint: if you’re using a nickname, remember to put that name in your application too so we can associate!) The earlier the better when it comes to community involvement — you don’t need to wait ’till the applications open.
  2. Spend some time doing research on your proposed project: Find out if anyone’s tried it, what other approaches are possible and how your idea compares to them. If you’ve done this research in advance, we know you’ll be ready to go when summer hits!
  3. Ask smart questions. If there’s something about the project you don’t understand or you’re trying to do a bit of hacking and run into a snag, the mentors will often be able to help. One of the things I’m looking for in applicants is an ability to communicate, and asking articulate questions that show you’ve done research is one way to impress me. I’m also looking for applicants who can work independently and figure out stuff on your own, so if you do get stuck, remember to explain what you’ve tried, and where you’ve already looked for information so I know you made the effort to solve the problem yourself.
  4. Contribute to the project in advance. One of my prospective students has started writing patches to fix our simple bugs, and it tells me so much about her: that she’s already getting comfortable with our code base, that she’s dedicated enough to find solutions to problems, that she’s really serious about contributing to our project. Another way to contribute would be through helping others such as answering questions on the mailing lists or IRC or contributing to the project wiki. Show off your skills!
  5. Don’t be afraid to apply! Even if you don’t get in, the GSoC application period is a great time to scope out a project because there are mentors who you know are willing to answer questions. You don’t need GSoC: you can always choose to join the project on your own. But don’t forget that lots of really talented folk misjudge their own awesomeness, so don’t pre-reject yourself. You might be exactly what that project needs!

So now I open up the floor to everyone else: If you’re a mentor, what impresses you? If you’re a former student, what tips do you have? If you’re a prospective student, what else would you like to know? Feel free to ask for help with your applications or ask if we can introduce you to someone in your project too!

2 thoughts on “Showing your awesomeness for Google Summer of Code

  1. Erin

    Heh, this was a very timely post. I was just whining to my friends yesterday about how I’m going to end up not applying because of my epic, epic issues with imposter syndrome.

  2. spz

    beautiful post, but a caution for point 3 of the recommendations list from my experience as a mentor for The NetBSD Foundation:

    don’t spend forever searching for an answer! if you haven’t even found the right docs on what you are looking for in half an hour, ask on a chat where you can find info about what you are looking for. If you don’t understand something in the docs and a look at code also doesn’t help you, -ask-.
    That by no means needs to be a failing on your part, documentation is harder to get right than it looks at first sight (and also stereotypically unloved by programmers – I don’t know of any project that wouldn’t greet willing and able documenters with enthusiasm).

    You have mentors (or in the startup phase, a contact) to keep you moving forward over obstacles in your project, and the entire community to help you with general snags (as in return, if someone gets stuck on something you know, you are expected to give them a pointer). It’s a community so it can move forward together at a faster pace than a gaggle of solo “fighters” ever could.

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