Sunday, March 17, 2019

[GSoC] Google Summer of Code Frequently Asked Questions

GSoC has its own Frequently Asked Questions. However, students always come up with more interesting questions that deserve a personalized answer. I decided to compile my own FAQs for GSoC based on my past 5 years as a mentor. Some answers may be subjective and reflecting based on the organizations that I have worked with (AbiWord/4 years, OMII-UK/1 year, and Emory BMI/4 years).

Please note that Google can change its policies each year. In case of a conflict, Google has the final say in the GSoC policies (obviously!). :)

10 Years of Blogging with Llovizna

10 years of Llovizna
When I started blogging in 2009 March, I was wondering where will my blog be in ten years. Now, 10 years have passed, and my blog Llovizna still remains active. My blog has always remained a mixture of technological and personal posts. My posts discussed what I learned and also where I have been to. I maintain a list of posts that I like to blog in the future about (Future Blog Posts) and also discuss My Travels. Most of my travels are for conference presentations anyway.

At times in between I tried to separate my personal views into other platforms, and eventually always realized it is too much of work to maintain multiple blogs and platforms. Interestingly, several platforms came and went, thus affecting a few of my posts. I tried my best to fix those broken articles. One notable example is where I used to post my presentations. As it closed down, I had to take down the links and embedded presentations from the posts. Despite all these changes, Llovizna has been part of my life since 2009 for the past decade.
Interestingly, blogspot has survived the 10 years test. Now I am curious to see where my blog will be in 10 more years later. Let's see whether blogspot will continue to survive the test of time. I hope it will, and I hope to write a similar post again in 2029.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


Coffee during a weekend
Weekends - who do not love them? They are a welcome change in a daily routine, to catch up with the other things that are left behind in a tight weekly schedule.

Weekends in Sri Lanka
My perception of weekends, of course, changed with time. During my school days, I had lots of tuition classes during the weekends. As a result, weekends were not really free. Sometimes we had long weekends, thanks to public holidays coming on Fridays or Mondays. Every month had a full moon day, which is a public holiday in Sri Lanka. Weekends were always a welcome change from the daily school days routine. During my undergrad days, I was usually free during the weekends, except for a few Saturdays when we had lectures. When I started working, that was when the concept of free weekends took a full shape. I was free during the weekends except when I had deadlines.

Weekends in the EU

Then I moved to the EU for my higher studies. During the MSc days, we had loads of fun during the weekends with friends that I fondly recall. My PhD time schedule was very flexible. Sometimes I worked during the weekends while having fun during the weekdays. Therefore the differentiation between the weekdays and weekends became blurred once again. Still, weekends were the days I usually went to beaches or movies. I always loved the weekends for some coffee in Portuguese cafes (I miss those Portuguese cafes and their cheap, but quality coffee) or for a stroll in a shopping mall.

Weekends in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

When I went to Saudi Arabia, the weekends consist of Friday and Saturday. But we often worked on Friday due to our international collaborations. Similarly, our work was somewhat relaxed on Sundays due to lack of collaborators present on Sundays from other countries. Therefore, depending on how you see it, the weekends fluctuated between 1 (Saturday), 2 (Friday and Saturday), or 3 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) days in the Kingdom.

Weekends in Atlanta
Now in Atlanta, I spend my weekdays at work. With a routine schedule, weekends have become yet again well-defined. I spend most of my weekend, catching up with shopping, attending to non-work stuff, and listening to some music. :)

Memories of Sri Lanka

It has been more than 6.5 years since I left Sri Lanka. The country that gave me the best of everything. I was lucky to study in arguably the best boys school in the country, and then one of the best universities and departments - all without spending money thanks to our free education! That's great for me as I come from a very humble background. If we had to pay for education, I might not have had this opportunity. I received my undergraduate education from the best of the teachers in my department. Some of my lecturers treated us like their own sons. Does it sound weird to you? Then probably you are not a Sri Lankan. ;) For us, teachers are family! Not a single day, I felt poorly treated in my university - based on the language I speak or my religion. I am a Hindu. But I loved spending Christmas time with my friend's family and enjoying the prayers and family meals. I enjoyed Watalapam (that sweet dessert that only Sri Lankan Muslims have a secret recipe ;) ) shared by my Muslim friends. I enjoyed the Avurudu (Sri Lankan new year) with our (mostly) Buddhist neighbors who were always there for us whenever we needed them! Of course, we shared our Thai Pongal celebrations with them too!

My memories left me with a strong association and fondness towards my country. Time passed, and now my memories are also filled with the memories of me in 6 other beautiful countries where I lived. Still not a single day I felt bad about Sri Lanka (opinions about the politicians do not count as an opinion about the country). OK, maybe only when I had to apply for a visa. Unfortunately, Sri Lankans need a visa to go to almost anywhere, except maybe around 40 friendly countries. :) I hope that improves so that we all can move around freely.

I love Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, and I want everyone to be the same, despite their current location. We all originated from that island. :) One common mistake many Twitter users do when talking about Sri Lankans abroad is using a broad brush. Some of us have spent most of our lives in Sri Lanka and have a loving relationship with the motherland. Others have escaped the war and may have bad memories. Some are born abroad and never had the chance to experience anything Sri Lankan beyond what is taught by their parents. They may not even hold a Sri Lankan citizenship. So our opinions are shaped by our different experiences - some of us are lucky to have good memories. We received the best in our country - we had fun. Others may not. Don't check the Twitter location and judge someone as diaspora just because he/she is currently in a foreign country. It does not help your argument.

Ideally, I want everyone with SriLankan origin to associate with SriLankan identity strongly. It does not matter even if you never had a SriLankan citizenship. SriLanka was not a perfect country in the past. But which country was? We all had our faults. I don't want our next generation to be divided and live in hatred. If your parents/grandparents are from Sri Lanka? You are Sri Lankan. Did you lose someone you love to the war, terrorists, or the military? Still, you are Sri Lankan. I have seen vast divides between the Sri Lankan communities in countries such as France and Switzerland. We (including we personally and our elected leaders) must act to reconcile. I think, with a strong distributed presence of Sri Lankans globally, we will have a collective advantage, if we all work together, rather than spending time attacking each other or discrediting each other. I am just a person online sharing my opinions. But I hope I share some positive vibes on the Internet.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

[GSoC] What if the project idea that I am working on doesn't get into the final list?

I have received this question in the past and recently. I decided to post my answer as a blog post for future references.

A student asks, "There are like 11 project ideas for your organization. Based on my observation, I see that you have received only 4 - 6 final projects accepted, despite having 10+ project ideas. Now I work hard for a project idea, and what if you guys decide not to select the project idea because that idea is not important to your organization? Will my hard work go wasted? So is this pure luck?"

I decided to leave a detailed answer as the primary organization administrator for GSoC/Emory BMI.

tl;dr: Work on your project idea and be the best. Avoid worrying about the selection process.

The long answer: One thing I can assure is, most GSoC organizations select students. Not project ideas. As much as I know, GSoC organizations (including us) don't list project ideas that are not the priority to them. That means, all the ideas have near-equal priority (of course, there will be minor variations among the project priorities).

In the worst case, I have experienced in the past once when 2 of the best students apply to the same project, the mentors tried to encourage the 2nd best student to apply for another project in the same organization. Every organization is different, and every mentor is different. So don't quote me on this with another organization.

Wearing my ex-GSoC student hat, my advice to current potential students is, try to be the best among the organization's potential applicants. Remember you also can apply for up to 3 projects if you are worried a lot. I have been a GSoC student 4 times successfully (now you can be a student only twice. But those days, no such limitation).  2 out of 4 times, I applied to more than one project. During my first GSoC as a student (2009), I applied for 2 projects in the same organization. The mentors choose one project  that was the most relevant for them among the 2, I applied. In 2014, I applied to 3 different organizations and 2 chose my proposal (and of course in that case, mentors try to contact you to find your first option, or sometimes agree upon themselves which organization should accept you. You can of course work on only one GSoC project at a year. No exception).

Now, my only worry as an organization administrator that Google may not give the maximum number of slots we (open source organizations) want. Google has a limited budget and a number of students in mind. It is around 1000 students. Therefore, many organizations do not get the number of students they want. Of course, we always can ask for one additional slot than they offered. But still, there is no guarantee. I ***guess*** we will get 4 - 5 slots this year. But that is just a guess. But I strongly believe, we will get at least 2 slots. Definitely not possible to get 11 slots. That means, some of our ideas won't have students working on them as a result. But that is life. ;)

To answer your comments on the discussions in Quora on GSoC: Take them with a grain of salt. Many of them i) are subjective, ii) plainly wrong despite their high up-votes iii) often come from someone who has never been a student or a mentor, iv) based on limited experience, or v) outdated as GSoC has changed its rules during the past 15 years.

Now, stop worrying and focus on working on the project ideas. Optimism and hard work go a long way! Make sure to do your research and show your talents to the mentor. We can only choose one student for a project idea, and naturally, that goes to the best candidate.