The competition that became a hobby — Open Source Software is the way to go.
November 28th, apart from being my sweet sixteen was also the start of Google Code-in, a competition for high school students around the globe to contribute to Open Source projects by completing small tasks. These range from setting up skeleton node projects, bug finding, design and of course adding features and fixing bugs.
The prize is a trip to California — and I had my eyes set on it since day one and started mindlessly grinding out tasks. I started off fairly competitive, as after all there were 3500 other students from around the world who were also competing for the fifty spots that would get them to California. The organization I was working with was Sugar Labs, the organization that builds software for One Laptop per Child. It seemed a good fit for me, as I love education. ❤
However, near the end of the event I had lost the competitive edge. I started contributing more casually and became less concerned with completing Code-in tasks. The turning point was when I worked on a port from GTK+2 to GTK+3. Three days are given per task — this task became overdue for me twice and I also asked for an extension. It probably would’ve been a considerably smarter move to simply give up on the task (which is not penalized) and move onto other tasks. Because of this I had given up on the competition as I believed myself to be too far behind — while that may have demonstrated poor character, it was an awesome decision. I learned music theory through one of their projects and practiced my written Chinese for the first time in years on top of the 30 pull requests I made.
Should any of you choose to do Google Code-in, I recommend not worry about the competition. Being actually interested and invested will make the experience better for yourself and raise the quality of work you do. Remember that quality is just as important as quality — the average GCI winner completed about 35 tasks while I was at 24. Especially in high school, the accomplishment doesn’t matter as much as the experience. What you learn will stick a lot longer than a couple lines on your resume. Code-in however, does an exceptional job at awarding students who had the right experience with open source software, and I can’t wait to meet my amazing mentors in California.
Open Source contribution is a rewarding experience, an easy way to become a better developer and meet new people. It’s the perfect way to gain practical experience, and I can say that this has been one of the most educational experiences I’ve had. From a person who’s gained most of her experience from Hackathons, open source contribution is much better for learning to write quality code and to see your work in action.
To close, I’d like to direct you to a few organizations and projects that could benefit from new contributors!
Also, I’m currently working around that Gtk problem, but if you have a more straightforward solution, please send. Here is the StackOverflow question in subject. Again, send any comments or jokes or cute pictures or stuff to firstname.lastname@example.org .