Small Coding Wonders

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 Code-in 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 a t-shirt and a participation certificate. Those students who successfully completed three or more tasks have received a small monetary prize as well. But the ten grand prize winners will be flown to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, in June, along with a parent or legal guardian for a four-night trip. As mentioned earlier, there are five Indians who will make that trip.
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 Code-In 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, multi-threading, 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 them with flying colours. Talking about the challenges, 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 saying, “The first, and one of the most prominent 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.”

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