Google Code-in (GCI) is a contest that helps encourage teens (13-17 year olds to be exact) to participate in the wide world of open source development. KDE, an organization that focuses on the development and distribution of free and open source software for desktop and portable computing, has been a proud GCI mentoring organization for the last four years. Dennis Nienhüser, one of KDE’s mentors, discusses his experience with the program below.

How does one become a contributor to Open Source? Some start with the wish to fix that certain annoying bug in their favorite software. Others want to extend it by adding a new feature. However one arrives, the path to completing a seemingly easy task is often not clear. Where's the source for that button? How do I make my changes take effect in the software? Finding the right path can be a frustrating journey many are not willing to endure. Google Code-in (GCI) aims to help out; pairing prospective teen contributors with mentors from established open source organizations ultimately builds a path to successful contributions.

To increase motivation, GCI is organized as a contest. Pre-university students 13-17 years old from all over the world can choose from a large pool of code, documentation, research, quality assurance and user interface tasks. The pool is created by the mentors of the participating open source organizations who continue to add to it throughout the contest. A task is a set of work in one of the above five categories that can be completed in a short time, taking approximately a few hours to a day to complete. In addition to self-contained tasks, task series are also created where similar work is split into several tasks or related work is split into sequential tasks. This way all sorts of work can be converted into manageable pieces for open source newbies.

However, GCI is not meant to be a way of distributing work. It’s more of an ongoing communicative event — students and mentors exchange ideas, collaborate, and task after task gets closed. The core of the contest involves choosing a task (or several tasks) and completing it during the seven week contest. Afterwards, the number of successfully completed tasks is summed up. One completed task earns the student a certificate. Three or more qualifies the person for a groovy t-shirt certain to make their friends jealous. Students who are among the 20 top performers win a trip to Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California.

A successful GCI for a student means finishing tasks -- fortunately they're fun to work on. Maybe even addicting! Why else would someone work on tasks from dusk till dawn? Our industrious students added documentation videos for all sorts of KWin effects, updated KGeography to show recent changes, and polished KStars features. A new touch typing course for the US English keyboard layout and keyboard layout files for more languages were created for KTouch. Python support of KDevelop was extended in a series of tasks, and Amarok got several new testers to verify bugs. The Trojitá email client got a couple of usability improvements. All sorts of new features found their way into Marble, among them are extensions of KML support, polishing of the new Cloud integration and initial support for tours. Inner and outer planets of the Solar System are now shown as well as the Moon with its phases. There were 115 Marble GCI tasks alone, a considerable portion of the 259 total closed tasks for KDE. At the end of the contest Mikhail Ivchenko from Russia and Benjamin Kaiser from Australia each completed over 40 tasks and were selected as KDE’s two grand prize winners, earning them a trip to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

A big thanks to all of our hard working students and mentors.  We are hopeful KDE will be able to participate in GCI again later this year!

By Dennis Nienhüser, KDE Mentor

Are you interested in participating in Google Code-in this year? Keep an eye on the program website for important dates and information.