The ideal GSoC applicant

Erlend Sogge Heggen March 11, 2016

This is our first year participating in Google Summer of Code. In short, if you’re a student with some Rails & Ember skills, you should check out our GSoC profile and consider applying for a chance to do paid work on Discourse under the mentorship of the core team this summer. We’ll be taking applications during 14. – 25. of March. With that out of the way, we’d like to take a moment to explain what we’re looking for in a GSoC student.


Since our admission into the GSoC program, we’ve already heard from a handful of students, and they all ask the same recurring question:

Should I contribute to the project before applying?

Talking to students so far we’ve been a bit hesitant to outright demand prior contributions. But truth be told, we would have preferred it if you contributed to Discourse yesterday.

When the applications start rolling in on March 15th, we’ll keep an open mind and sincerely consider all applicants, regardless of community involvement prior to GSoC. However, while an absolutely kick-ass application might still win through in the end, prior contributions is undoubtedly the best way to get to the top of the pile.

We’re not looking for drive-by contributors

If you see this through the lens of a job interview, it’s a big ask. Basically we want you to put in hours of free work just to have a shot at getting the paid position. That’s the wrong way to look at it though. We don’t think of GSoC as a part-time employment, we see it as a reward for your passion.

Google has gifted us with an opportunity to reward passion, just like Mozilla did with their MOSS grant and as we do ourselves when our budget allows it.

Over the course of a few years, my personal engagement with Discourse roughly went like this:

  • 100% passion work
  • 95% passion work, 5% paid work (one-off paid gigs)
  • 80% passion work, 20% paid work (some regular freelance gigs)
  • 20% passion work, 80% paid work (full time employment)

Most of the paid work I do now is the type of work I would readily do for free, but getting paid enables me to do way more of it. I was perfectly happy at all stages of my engagement with Discourse; which stage you’re shooting for is up to you. The point is, if your level of engagement with Discourse looks like this:

  • 0% passion work, X% paid work

Then we’ll have a hard time working together. We’re just not cut from the same cloth. We’ll have a hard time understanding one another’s drive and motivations. Most critically, we’re not passionate about the same thing.

Are you passionate about Discourse? Please consider applying for one of Discourse’s projects in GSoC 2016!

Notable Replies

  1. As a 10-year veteran of GSoC, I believe at least one pre-proposal code contribution (i.e., involvement with the project before applying) is the biggest predictor of student success. It’s not a guarantee, and it’s possible to be successful without it, but as mentioned in the blog post, it’s extremely valuable.

    1. Mentors and org admins have some level of assurance that you are up for the challenge.
    2. They also see that you care enough about the project to learn a little bit about it and take on a bug. (Even if you’ve done a pull request and it doesn’t get merged!)

    Many GSoC organizations require a contribution before the proposal, but even if they don’t, it’s always a good idea. :slight_smile:

    Good luck to all students!

  2. Can’t wait to sign up for GSoC come tomorrow 14th March, 2016. Thank you Discourse for being there…

  3. Falco says:

    I guess he’s talking about doing Passion Work on your free time.

    I have a full time job (8h a day + plus commute) and I try to help Discourse at night when I get home or on Weekends (between some Dota 2 games :wink: ).

    My wife uses her free time doing charity work, I do open source, my friend study foreign languagues, etc. It’s all about following your passion :heart:.

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