May 25, 2013

Entering the world of open source

Open Source is a great concept, especially in a piracy ridden country like India, where people seem to propagate- anything you develop, we can hack. An open source software (OSS) has its source code available under an open source license. The good part is that the best minds in the world work on these projects to make them better!

The thing about students contributing to open source is that there's no money involved. You get to learn, but you need to know a lot of things beforehand before you even think of starting your contributions! That being said, the biggest motivation for a student to start contributing to open source projects is the GSoC (Google Summer of Code).

$ 5000- You read that figure right. That is exactly what you get for successfully completing a project. Now that I have your attention, let me tell you it's not easy getting the project. People may say they just want to 'contribute', or they may say they love to improve the products they use everyday, but I can assure you that the stipend is the most important thing that got their attention in the first place. (Please find me someone who did not apply for the GSoC, in spite of knowing about it, for an organisation they have been contributing for!)

That being said, note that the amount should just serve as motivation. The main purpose of a GSoC project is to get the young and budding programmers involved in open source projects for the long term. Believe me, if you just go in for the money, you just might not be able to complete the project, and a deserving candidate would miss the opportunity! Technically, you do not have any obligation towards the organization to continue working after the project is over, but do you think abandoning them would be right? But don't worry though, their work would not stop if you pull out! However, wouldn't you want to improve your own code? Or do you prefer to leave it in until it gets modified to something else and when you do a 'git blame' months later, you don't even find your name anywhere!

Coming back to my case, my gaming laptop has always prevented me from submitting even a single patch (believe me, FIFA is addictive...) So, I decided to get my mother's netbook with an Inter Atom processor, incapable of running even the very basic of the games I am addicted to. The result- I managed to stop gaming and getting used to a slow laptop, which can do only one of the following- live streaming, photoshop, browsing the net.

I eventually decided to contribute to e-cidadania, which is coded in Python/Django. It's a relatively new organization and there were not many bugs listed in the tracker. I chose one, and put in the mailing list that I would like to work on it once the server containing the documentation was back online (I agree, that's not really a good way of introducing yourself!) Meanwhile, someone (with a nick whoeverest) got it assigned to him in the irc!

That made me sad as there was nothing else to work on and I didn't bother about open source for another three weeks. I watched some movies, completed a Python course in Coursera and wrote a few blogs related to the college tech fest. I also participated in a C++ competition (and realized my programming has become too Python-ish) and then two more competitions in HackerEarth (although I stopped after doing one problem each!)

When I opened it after a long gap of three weeks, I found that there had been no activity on the bug, and promptly sent a mail to the mailing list asking for it to be assigned to me, which did happen (open source communities are very efficient, mind you!) I had made my mark in the community, but I had to do something more now...

And that was to actually code and solve the bug, which I did pretty soon, and it got merged even sooner! You can have a look at it here (my FIRST merge! Yay!) I can not possibly explain the joy after that patch was merged!

Just half an hour before the selected organizations were announced, it occurred to be that life may not be that easy, and how I would cope if e-cidadania didn't make it through. Well, e-Cidadania didn't get selected for Google Summer of Code 2013, and it was a bit disheartening, and it seemed that I would have to start over again if I needed to make it through. I have explored more organizations after that but no matter where I go, what I do, I still come back occasionally to drop by at the irc of e-cidadania for a simple 'hi'. It is just that e-cidadania feels like home!

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