SMALL ‘COD­ING’ WON­DERS

OpenSource For You - - FOR U & ME - By: Diksha P Gupta The au­thor is as­sis­tant edi­tor at EFY.

Scene 1: The Na­tional Em­ploy­a­bil­ity Re­port 2011, pre­pared by em­ploy­a­bil­ity as­sess­ment com­pany Aspir­ing Minds, says only 17.45 per cent of the engi­neers roped in by the IT sec­tor are em­ploy­able na­tion­ally. Scene 2: Five stu­dents un­der 17 years of age win Google’s Code-In 2011 con­test.

Th­ese two sit­u­a­tions are rather con­tra­dic­tory in na­ture and show the two ex­tremes of the In­dian tech­nol­ogy world. But both are true. In a na­tion like In­dia, where such em­ploy­a­bil­ity re­ports grab the head­lines, Gau­tam Gupta, Ab­hishek Arora, Gau­rav

Narula, Aneesh Do­gra and Shi­tiz Garg very well know how to make a mark of their own when it comes to world-class com­pe­ti­tions like Google Code-in. Th­ese five boys are amongst the ten global grand prize win­ners of the con­test.

The Google Code-In con­test for pre-univer­sity stu­dents (aged 13-17) finds thou­sands of tak­ers in In­dia and many win­ners too. The 2011 con­test had five out of ten win­ners from In­dia. The idea of the con­test is to en­cour­age young peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in open source. For many stu­dents, the Google Codein con­test is their first in­tro­duc­tion to open source de­vel­op­ment. For this con­test, the com­pany works with sev­eral open source or­gan­i­sa­tions, each of whom has ex­pe­ri­ence men­tor­ing stu­dents in the Google Summer of Code pro­gramme, to pro­vide ‘bite sized’ tasks for par­tic­i­pat­ing stu­dents to com­plete.

As many as 542 stu­dents from 56 coun­tries par­tic­i­pated and com­pleted an im­pres­sive 3,054 tasks in the con­test. All stu­dents who took part in the 2011 edi­tion re­ceived who suc­cess­fully com­pleted three or more tasks have re­ceived a small mone­tary prize as well. But the ten grand Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia, in June, along with a par­ent or le­gal guardian for a four-night trip. As men­tioned ear­lier,

Par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Google Code-In con­test has not just been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for th­ese young­sters but also paved the way for a fu­ture in tech­nol­ogy. Shar­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence of the con­test, Gau­rav Narula said, “The whole ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing Google CodeIn has been amaz­ing. I got to learn more about open source, pro­gram­ming and about con­tribut­ing col­lec­tively. I came across some out­stand­ing tal­ent dur­ing the course of the com­pe­ti­tion and made great friends. The as­sis­tance from the men­tors and pro­gram man­agers, round the clock, was a big ad­van­tage dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, with­out which it would have been im­pos­si­ble to carry on with the tasks. It was thrilling to see the leader-board fluc­tu­ate ev­ery now and then dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, which kept all of us en­gaged through­out.” Aneesh Do­gra shared a sim­i­lar view. He said, “It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence. The men­tors were awe­some, I learnt a lot of stuff, I came across a lot of

chal­lenges and solved a range of tasks, which in­cluded bug fix­ing, vul­ner­a­bil­ity dis­cov­ery, fuzzing, mul­ti­thread­ing, etc.”

Par­tic­i­pat­ing in a con­test of this stature must have been fun for th­ese young lads but it surely could not have been an easy task. The boys had to face some com­pletely new chal­lenges, but seem to have ad­dressed Gau­tam Gupta said, “I was com­pletely un­fa­mil­iar with the open source projects I was go­ing to work with dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion. I had ab­so­lutely no ex­pe­ri­ence with Limesur­vey or Yii, nor did I know any­thing about libav or zzuf. All I had was a lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence with An­droid. This con­test changed all of that. I got an op­por­tu­nity to work on awe­some pieces of soft­ware and to col­lab­o­rate with cool peo­ple. An­other chal­lenge was time, par­tic­u­larly when I par­tic­i­pated for the sec­ond time. Since I was in the 10th stan­dard, I was busy with the ac­tiv­i­ties and tests hap­pen­ing in schools. But when you’re pas­sion­ate about some­thing, you achieve it.”

Shi­tiz Garg is proud of his win today but re­calls his chal­lenges I faced was get­ting used to the projects I was look­ing to par­tic­i­pate in. Ini­tially, I wanted to work for LimeSur­vey, but later got in­ter­ested in MoinMoin and VideoLan as well. I had no ex­pe­ri­ence with the de­vel­op­ment side of any of th­ese projects. Thank­fully, the men­tors were more than willing to help me through their code base and de­vel­op­ment process. Apart from that, stay­ing con­sis­tent was an­other chal­lenge, as 57 days of con­stant tasks is a lot of work—es­pe­cially when you’re bal­anc­ing it with school work. I lost a lot of sleep over the com­pe­ti­tion but af­ter I achieved some ini­tial success, I couldn’t stop.”

With th­ese re­sults from In­dian stu­dents, one would think that the coun­try’s kids are get­ting per­fect guid­ance in open source tech­nol­ogy, which is not true. Ask Gau­tam Gupta and he re­veals the true pic­ture. He says, “Open source ex­po­sure in school is rare, but I like to open source any­thing that I make. I like to at­tend meet-ups hap­pen­ing near me, where I get to meet many open source lovers and learn about new and in­ter­est­ing tech­nolo­gies.”

Shi­tiz Garg had a sim­i­lar opin­ion. He said, “Hon­estly, we don’t get any ex­po­sure with open source tech­nolo­gies. I do not know any open source soft­ware fa­nat­ics in my school or around my neigh­bour­hood. Some of my class­mates and friends are in­ter­ested in tech­nol­ogy and in var­i­ous projects, but they’re not re­ally into open source.”

But th­ese kids do not want to be de­terred. Th­ese prodigies are now delv­ing deep into the open source soft­ware ecosys­tem and are en­joy­ing it too. Ab­hishek Arora, one of the youngest win­ners of the con­test, says, “I am greatly im­pressed with some of the open source or­gan­i­sa­tions I have worked for. One of th­ese is the Sa­hana Soft­ware Foun­da­tion, which is out to save peo­ple dur­ing emer­gen­cies through its open source dis­as­ter man­age­ment soft­ware. The soft­ware has been suc­cess­fully de­ployed dur­ing the oc­cur­rence of var­i­ous dis­as­ters through­out the world. This noble idea of work­ing for hu­man­ity im­pressed me a lot. Sympy is an­other great open source soft­ware al­ter­na­tive to MAT­LAB, which I like.”

Con­tin­u­ing to speak about his love for tech­nol­ogy, Ab­hishek Arora is now plan­ning to be­gin a Linux User Group at the school level to spread aware­ness among his fel­low stu­dents. He says, “Even though the con­test has ended, it has opened up a plethora of op­por­tu­ni­ties to help me con­tinue work­ing for th­ese open source or­gan­i­sa­tions. The con­test was a great start­ing point. I am cur­rently in­volved with Sa­hana Soft­ware Foun­da­tion and Mar­ble.”

Aneesh Do­gra as­pires to take open source tech­nol­ogy to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level. He says, “I would love to work on a project that solves some real world prob­lems.”

Aneesh Do­gra

Gau­tam Gupta

Shi­tiz Garg

Gau­rav Narula

Ab­hishek Arora

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