Google employs students for summer IT positions

  • Google's fifth Summer of Code will soon begin.
  • The Summer of Code allows students in computer programming to work on large projects by pairing them with groups that need programmers.
  • The program is a good way for beginners to get used to real life programming using open source.
  • Open source programs are free for use and distribution.

This summer, Google will kick off its fifth annual Summer of Code, offering students a $4,500 stipend to work on open source code projects.

Open source programs are intended to be freely available and distributed, said Dennis Brylow, assistant professor of computer science. Some examples include Linux, an operating system like Windows, GIMP, a picture-editing program similar to Adobe Photoshop, and the Web browser Firefox.

In Summer of Code, students work with mentors and mentoring organizations, who run individual open source projects. There will be 150 mentoring organizations involved in this year's program, each of which has one or more projects associated with it.

These projects are almost all either new editions or features of existing programs, and mentoring spots tend to go to well-established programs.

Leslie Hawthorn, who is managing the Summer of Code for the fourth time, said the program is designed to give students an opportunity they might not have otherwise: to work with fellow programmers in a real world situation.

Hawthorn said the idea is to give future programmers the tools they will need in their post-college careers.

"When they have completed their studies, they would be that much better prepared to contribute to computer science," Hawthorn said.

If accepted, students are assigned to projects in small groups, developing one feature or improvement per group. The groups work toward a deadline, but most students continue working on their projects after the deadline passes.

This year's deadline is Aug. 17, and the completed projects will be revealed Aug. 25.

Students who participate one year tend to return, Hawthorn said, either as a student again or as a mentor, although the latter is not mandatory.

"It's not required, but it's certainly really cool when it happens. And it happens fairly frequently, actually," Hawthorn said.

One student who has profited from the Summer of Code is Angie Byron, who now works full-time managing Drupal, an open source program designed for advanced bloggers. Byron described it as the next step up from other open source options, such as WordPress or Livejournal.

"People generally start with something like WordPress," Byron said, "but then they hit a wall where WordPress won't do what they want anymore."

Before applying for Summer of Code, Byron said she had always felt intimidated by open source programming. However, when Google announced the program, she felt that it was geared toward people like her, who had little to no experience with open source.

"I was able to say, 'maybe I can try this,'" Byron said. "Summer of Code was my foot in the door."

Now, Byron works as a "committer," one of only two people who can make changes in the actual code of Drupal, and has co-written a book, called "Using Drupal," which she said never could have occurred were it not for Google's Summer of Code.

Byron said that, with the economy the way it is, some companies are turning to free open source software instead of paying for proprietary software.

However, many other companies are distrustful of open source software, because it is easier to edit than proprietary or closed source software, Brylow said.

"The proponents' argument, on the other hand, is that the more eyes that see the code, the more stable it is," Brylow said.

Brylow, who suggested a project for Marquette in last year's Summer of Code, said there is likely an open source project for almost everything, as long as it's "useful software that people want."

Google will accept 1,000 students into the program, and the application deadline is Friday at 2 p.m. The list of students accepted will be announced on April 20.