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60 Indian techies make it to Google's Summer of Code

Google Summer of Code competition, in which the online advertising giant based in California, awards students who successfully complete a free software or open-source coding project.

india Updated: Apr 23, 2007 10:40 IST

Sixty Indian youngsters have bagged selections at the prestigious Google Summer of Code competition, early reports indicated.

The Google Summer of Code is an annual programme, first held in 2005, in which the Internet-search and online advertising giant based in Mountain View, California, awards cash prizes to students who successfully complete a free software or open-source coding project.

"This time there are 60 Indians (accepted among the over 900 students who made it from a pool of nearly 6,200 applications)," said sources following the event closely.

Indian names are visible all over the emerging lists.

Last year too, the Google Summer of Code had mentors from India, such as the lawyer-turned-software guru Kenneth Gonsalves and Anand Avati. This year there are Indian mentors such as Baiju M and Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay of open source firm Redhat.com.

Baishampayan 'G0SUB' Ghose, a young geek who was also involved in the project last year, says the "overall experience was great".

"I have been involved with the Free Software community for quite some time, so the whole idea of working on a Free Software project was not new," Ghose said.

"Nevertheless, it was the first time I got paid for working on Free Software and though it should not be the only reason to work on Free Software, I am sure it is a great incentive and helps in getting the best brains together," he added.

Ghosh worked for the Ubuntu Project - though he worked on that even before Google's project - and his project was to create an off-line update tool for Ubuntu so that people with disconnected PCs can also fetch updates for themselves.

"My mentor was greatly helpful and I got support in terms of testing and ideas from the Ubuntu users and developers community too. So overall, it was great. I am still with the Ubuntu project and wish to continue," he said.

Prekshu Ajmera, a fourth year dual-degree computer science and engineering student at IIT Bombay who is one of those selected, said: "My main motivation for taking part is to improve my coding skills and get familiar with what people are actually doing in the open source world. I am an open source fan and I always want to contribute to it."

Ajmera says the main topic on which he worked the most was not selected, but fortunately he had done enough groundwork so that at least one of his applications got selected.

"No doubt, I was extremely excited after that. Another motivation is, of course, the handsome stipend that Google provides," he said.

His project is "Virtual Classroom plugin for Gaim". Using the free software/open source cross-platform messenger client Gaim, Ajmera will work to create an e-platform.

"A professor could then add the students as 'buddies' in his own classroom group on Gaim. Whenever he runs a class, students can connect to it. The main features will be a whiteboard where the professor can draw and write and use the chat facility (through Gaim). He can also show them some videos if required," he said.

Said Ghosh: "The problem with most Indian students was that they had negligible or no prior experience of working in a distributed and decentralised environment. Moreover, I have seen that students usually can't work on their own initiatives. They need somebody to actually tell them what to do and how and only then they do the work."

He said it would have been new to the students, besides writing non-trivial code or adding to industry grade applications for the first time.

"But many Indian students have done exceptionally well, like Prashant Mohan and Anant Narayanan, who got accepted into four organisations last year and this year too.

"The problem I see is the lack of practical experience and any exposure to 'real world' development tools, languages, etc. Once they acquire that knowledge, they can perform at par with international students," said Ghosh.

What should India do? His advice: "May be we can modify our curriculum a bit and introduce things that impart practical experience to students.

"Free Software is the best way to go in this regard since technologically it's far better than proprietary technologies and also it's far better in terms of community support and availability of codes that the students can read and learn from."

Ghosh said India itself could organise programmes like the Summer of Code and mentor students on a smaller scale.

He added: "The NRCFOSS (the government-funded National Resource Centre for Free and Open Source Software in Chennai) has already taken some initiatives in this regard that are excellent, but the results are yet to be seen."

Google has altered the programme time-line quite a bit and has introduced a 50-day pre-coding period just so students can learn more about their project communities, "which is an excellent idea".

"I am sure that will help students in getting to know more about the mechanics of the Free Software development model," added Ghosh.