Wednesday, 19 November 2014

GSoC Reunion Recap

The GSoC Reunion was a really great experience for me. I travelled from Edinburgh for the event. It was wonderful chatting with so many different FLOSS enthusiasts all in one place and I made lots of new buddies who I’ll definitely keep in touch with.


On the first day, Google rented out a theme park for a few hours, letting us go wild. We successfully fought the urge to be sick on the rides as they spun us around. Afterwards, we were invited to the San Jose Tech Museum where we got to listen to Linus Torvalds speak about the qualities of good code. The museum’s exhibitions were very interactive and I especially liked the one which demonstrated how ice hockey protective equipment is designed for goalies. I hadn't realised how sophisticated it is!


An "unconference" was held across Saturday and Sunday, and I really enjoyed the sessions I attended. For those who have never been to an unconference, it’s much more interactive than a typical conference talk. People ask questions and make comments throughout, making it a discussion. It’s definitely a format I can get on with!


One conversation which had begun around ending misogynistic trolling on internet dating sites got really interesting because it quickly developed into two groups who were each keen to address sexism from different angles. One group focused on online sexism and the other on sexism at conferences and other events. The latter group went on to discuss establishing a universal code of conduct available for FLOSS projects to adopt if they choose, while the former group considered developing software to deal with abuse on IRC. Everyone got so engaged that we chatted until the notetaker's wrists were sore from 2 or 3 hours of typing. It was incredibly heartening to see so many men who are interested discussing these issues in one place. I have never seen anything like that before in my life! It takes quite a lot of objectivity and emotional intelligence to be able to stand up for the rights of a group you aren’t part of.


Another session was led by a Googler and we discussed the potential pitfalls of publishing work in the public domain. Laws vary widely around the world, and there are places where the work may unintentionally remain under copyright protection. That is a compelling reason to use free or open source licenses. There have been few landmark court cases since FLOSS licensing came along, so it’s difficult to be certain what things will mean in practical terms. That session made me quite interested in learning more about copyright law.


On Sunday, there was a talk on The GNOME Foundation’s Outreach Program for Women (OPW) which was well attended. I learned that projects have to demonstrate their commitment by finding funding for a student before they can take part. I think that is a good idea, but it is a shame that there are not more sponsors available so smaller projects can get involved. Hopefully as OPW continues successfully helping women get started in open source development, more companies will step forward as sponsors.


I am always keen to talk about accessible software, so I initiated an unconference discussion on the topic in one of the rooms. Although that session was not well attended, those who were there had a lot to say and were very engaged with the idea of establishing a common interest group for accessibility developers. Get in touch if that sounds interesting to you too.

Finally, we got to visit the Google Headquarters on the final day of the reunion. We didn’t get to tour inside the offices, but I at least got a peek at the famous indoor slide… Maybe next time I’ll get a chance to go up to the top.

This post can also be found on Google's Open Source Blog.