Summer of Code: is it all about the money?

This is the text of a mail I sent earlier today to gentoo-dev mailing list:

I know this is going to stir up quite some discussion, but I do think
it’s worth trying requesting it at least.

In the past two years we had quite a few applications from students that
were already full-fledged Gentoo developers. I sincerely would like that
this year we put as a rule that Gentoo developers cannot partecipate in
Summer of Code as students for Gentoo.

I’m not asking to penalise Gentoo developers are students. But I
sincerely think the main goal of Summer of Code is to allow new people
to enter the scene of Free Software, to understand how Free Software
projects work and so on. Gentoo Developers are already pretty well
“inside” this world.

I think it should be a self-made decision to abstain from applying as a
student for what you already partecipate in, but as such concerns don’t
seem to be widespread (at least as the last two years shown), I’m asking
for a formal decision to all the developers. If that is requested, I’m
even willing to bring this in front of the council.

Gentoo’s ranks are quite reduced nowadays, and a few persons have shown
conerns about our current recruiting methods being able to judge clearly
technical and social skills, as well as the time one is ready to pour
into the project. I think SoC could be used as a pretty good recruiting
method: as you are going to work quite a bit with the student, you can
easily judge availability and technical and social skills. Leaving SoC
applications open to developers means wasting this opportunity.

There are many other organisations partecipating, I think it would be
quite feasible for Gentoo developers wanting to be a student SoC to
choose another one, in which they are not involved already. Yes it’s
easier for them to do something for Gentoo as they are already
contributing, but that is not the point of Summer of Code, the point is
to introduce new people into projects, not giving money to people to do
what they already do.

And just to take a stance, even if this request is to be rejected, I’m
not going to mentor a student that is already a Gentoo developer, for
sure.

So to be clear, I’m not trying to look down to anybody, I don’t even
want to stop people from being paid for their work. I just wish that we
can focus this opportunity to improve the Gentoo project as a whole.

I knew it wasn’t going to be accepted unanimously, but I sincerely thought it was more based on personal views rather than focusing on the “who get the money” idea.

And this makes me wonder, is it all about the money?

When I heard about Summer of Code the first time, I was still a student myself, but I didn’t even consider it, because I was already a free software developer. Not successful (I don’t consider myself successful even now), but a free software developer nonetheless.

I think Summer of Code is of great value for students with no real-world development experience. During the summer, when they have no classes to study for, they can find a job, not much for the money, but more to get some real world experience. Rather than going in a software company that is half empty because of summer, needing someone to keep track of the simple bugs that come during the time, they can enter the Free Software scene, mentored by already active Free Software developers.

I think the choice should be already appealing on its own, the money would just be an extra incentive so that, for instance, the parents can’t say they are not doing anything to bring back at least some money.

I sincerely can’t see how does it make any sense to rely on this money for who needs it, and would otherwise need to move some time from Gentoo to a day job. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel very much empathy for those who has to use spend more time on the day job rather than Gentoo, I am one of them, but we’re talking about students here.

If one can afford to be a student nine months an year without having a job, it’s not for the three months during the summer that he has to focus more on the day job than on Gentoo. Either one can afford to study and work (not paid) on Gentoo all year long, or has to be doing a dayjob the rest of the year too, thus is more free during summer. I can’t understand how it can be possible that “magically” by giving someone €3000 (which is not much a big sum for most people, I’d say), they can stop needing a dayjob for three months, focus more on Gentoo, and then resume the school.

It might work as “extra” money, and it might be quite appealing. But then, can one just make a little more effort, take a pause from Gentoo if he needs to, and choose a different project to be a student of during Summer of Code? Learning to work in a different environment, which is one of the goals of SoC after all.

Or is it just a matter of getting money easily, doing something you would have done already?

7 thoughts on “Summer of Code: is it all about the money?

  1. Well there’s always the factor of “taking money for something you would have done for free anyways” and I couldn’t blame anyone for it.But I agree that the actual focus of the Summer of Code is different and that, to bring some fresh Gentoo blood in, reducing the SoC offer to non-Gentoo-devs is the right decision. Not because anyone does not want to see a fellow dev getting money but because that money should be used to “bait” someone new.

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  2. I actually didn’t know money was given out so I certainly never thought it was about the money! I totally agree though.

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  3. The some debian folks think that there are conflicting goals: get someone ‘new to floss’ integrated enough to complete a possibly smaller project vs use someone already part of the floss world who know 80% of the required skill leading to a more valuable completed project but who may work on his/her other floss work. It begins here:http://lists.debian.org/deb

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  4. Isn’t SoC meant to replace summer jobs like flipping burgers? Minimum wage over 3 months doesn’t pay much either.Given the choice, I’d rather a talented student dev be able to work on Gentoo full-time during those 3 months than have to flip burgers or serve lattes during the day.

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  5. Remember, too, that Google is a US company and the average US college student finishes a 4-year program with about $19000 of debt (source: http://www.finaid.org). This is $4750 a year, so the $4500 that a student can make from three months of GSoC _is_ a substantial amount of money to them.

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  6. It might be a substantial amount of money to help repaying that but.. can you expect anybody to keep on _just_ with that? I sincerely doubt it myself.But I’m not saying that the money in itself is not important, I’m just wondering if the money is more important that the experience. I’m sure there are tons of opportunity for students to get more regular income during the whole year. And don’t tell me there is no way to keep up with both working and studying. Sure there might be no easy way to work, study and take care of free software, but that does not look, to me, like a good reason to get the slot someone else should be getting.I’m not saying that people already involved in open source should not try their luck with SoC. I just wish they tried to accomplish both goals by trying for a _different_ project. There are hundreds of organisations in SoC, choose a different one!

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