Friday, January 03, 2014

Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit

The Google Summer of Code mentor summit happened on the 19th and 20th of October last year.  It has taken me this long to find enough time to sit down and write something about it.

I have been a mentor for the summer of code since its inception.  I have mentored a few students to a successful conclusion.  I don't really take any credit for this, the students did all the hard work and made things happen.  All I did was provide some guidance now and then.  It has been a great experience not only helping someone new work on NetBSD but also get some great outcomes for the NetBSD project.

Every year Google bring a couple of mentors from each of the participating organisations to their Mountain View headquarters for a summit where mentors can share their experiences and learn from each other.  It also is a chance for Google to say "thank you" to the mentors for their efforts in helping make the Google Summer of Code work.  I had been wanting to go to one of these summits for a long time but just did not have the opportunity to leave home for all the previous ones.  Finally, I was able to put my hand up to go.

I arrived in California a few days early so that I could get over the jet lag and catch up with other NetBSD people before the mentor summit.  As the time got closer to the mentor summit the hotel started filling up with mentors, you could see a lot of t-shirts from previous Google Summer of Codes which helped identify the mentors.  One of the great things I found early on was the sense of community.  Other mentors would recognise the t-shirts and start chatting to you.  I remember one time I was wandering around the hotel and another mentor said "oh, hey, you are a mentor too! We are going off to the computer history museum.  You want to come along?" - they guy didn't know me at all but was happy to invite me along on a trip.  I also ran into another mentor waiting at a bus stop and, like me, was heading into San Francisco for a bit of sight seeing.  We chatted on the bus and train about our projects and what we had done for the Summer of Code.  It was good to be part of such a friendly and inclusive bunch.  All through the summit the most common questions seemed to be What project are you from?  and Where are you from?

The summit itself started with a get together around the hotel pool on Friday night.  From that point on I felt totally looked after.  The people from Google had organised everything, be it food and drink friday night, to buses to and from the Google headquarters, all the food, drink and coffee one could wish for there and also the party saturday night.  It was great to be so spoilt.  A big thanks to all the Googlers who put all that together.

At first the summit itself was a bit hard to get my head around.  I am used to conferences where the schedule is fixed in advanced and you pick what you want to listen to and then find the room.  The summit is very different to this, it is an "unconference".  The first thing I realised is that it is important to actually vote on the talk proposals that were put up well in advance of the summit.  Anyone can propose a talk and the proposals that get the most votes get a room to hold that talk, the number of votes garnered determines the size room so it is important to vote (oops, I didn't).  The next is the time and location of the talk can be very fluid - if the time or location doesn't suit it can be changed on the day so checking the board with the talk locations on it regularly is a must.  Once I had the concepts sorted it was not so bad, I attended some very interesting talks.

The summit was over all too fast and now I am looking forward to attending another one.  It is truly a unique experience and one I can highly recommend.

As a footnote and on a totally different subject, travelling with a device that has GPS is such a boon.  I feel far more confident in wandering around know that I can easily work out where I am and how to get back to home base.  I have an android phone and was using OSMAND+ which allows me to navigate without needing an internet connection unlike a lot of other mapping apps.

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