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Google 'Code-In' Calls on K-12 Students To Become Open Source Developers

Google wants to get middle and high school students interested in open source software, and the company is betting that a new "outreach contest" that includes cash prizes and a grand-prize trip to the Googleplex in California will appeal to budding programmers.

Google's new "Code-In" competition, which gets underway Nov. 22, presents 13- to 18-year-olds with eight tasks, ranging from refactoring code and interface design to such not-so-techie jobs as writing and editing software documentation and developing marketing materials. For every three tasks they complete, the students earn $100, up to a maximum of $500. Ten grand prize winners will get an all-expenses-paid trip with a family member to Google's Mountain View, CA headquarters. The trip includes a tour of the sprawling Googleplex facility and meetings with some of the company's engineers.

The contest is designed to introduce K-12 students to "the many kinds of contributions that make open source software development possible," Google said on the contest Web site. Carol Smith, program manager for Code-In contest, said it's her company's way of both supporting the open source community and seeding the workforce of the future with tech-savvy job candidates.

"It's important to us to get students involved as early as possible in software and technology, and specifically in open source development," Smith told THE Journal. "We believe that students exposed to it at an early age tend to stay with it. We've seen a lot of studies recently saying that there are going to be more jobs available in technology industries than there will be people to fill them. This is one way to get more people thinking about working in this area."

The "Code-In" contest, not to be confused with Google's "Summer of Code," which targets university-level programmers, is strictly for K-12 students. Participation is free, and Google has opened the contest to students all over the world. The company is currently translating the rules into other languages, Smith said.

Student participants will work through tasks suggested by leading open source organizations, which will serve as student mentors. This year's task list includes:

  1. Code: Tasks related to writing or refactoring code;
  2. Documentation: Tasks related to creating/editing documents;
  3. Outreach: Tasks related to community management and outreach/marketing;
  4. Quality Assurance: Tasks related to testing and ensuring code is of high quality;
  5. Research: Tasks related to studying a problem and recommending solutions;
  6. Training: Tasks related to helping others learn more;
  7. Translation: Tasks related to localization; and
  8. User Interface: Tasks related to user experience research or user interface design and interaction.

The Code-In is actually the second incarnation of the contest, Smith explained. The original pilot, called "The Google Highly Open Participation Contest," ran in winter 2007-2008. More than 400 students participated in that competition, and Google said it's hoping to double that number with the Code-In. A list of the grand prize winners of that first competition is available here.

Google is inviting any of the mentoring organizations that participated in that contest to apply to mentor students in the Code-In. The list of participating organizations will be announced Nov. 5. The previous list of mentor groups included the Apache Software Foundation, Drupal, GNOME, Joomla, MoinMoin, the Mono Project, Moodle, Plone, the Python Software Foundation, and SilverStripe.

So, why open source?

"Google has been using open source software for many years," Smith said. "All of our machines run on Linux, for example. You might say that we're giving back to the open source community by encouraging student developers."

The contest ends Jan. 10. Contest winners will be announced Feb. 14.

More details and contest updates are available at http://code.google.com/gci.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Palo Alto, CA.

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