Sunday, 19 August 2012

An Unexpected Journey

If you had asked me what my plans for the summer were four months ago, I probably would have shrugged and mumbled something about applying for an internship somewhere. The fact is, I had no idea where I was applying or what I was going to do. Things might have remained the same and another summer might have just passed me by had it not been for one morning in mid March when I decided to apply for the Google Summer of Code ( GSoC) 2012. Little did I know that my plans were about to change, in a big way.

GSoC is an initiative by Google ( I'm sure you could have figured that one out for yourself) to provide a platform for interested students to contribute code to open source organizations. The thing that makes GSoC different is that Google pays you for it. The catch is that you have to be a student pursuing a degree and above 18 years of age. The best part is that it does not matter what degree you are pursuing, which allows for Electronics engineers like myself to work on Computer Science projects. Basically, Google puts out a list of organizations that you can work with every year which you can peruse at your convenience. Once you find a project that tickles your fancy, just send an e-mail to one of the mentors for that org and see how it goes from there. The most important thing that I learned while applying was that it is not about how much you know, but more about how much you are willing to learn and how dedicated and genuinely interested your project . It really is an amazing initiative and if you're interested you should check out this link.

GSoC can be the most interesting, challenging and at times frustrating thing you have ever done. But to any computer geek with something to prove, GSoC offers a portal to develop code that can actually make a difference. The organizations that one can apply to are all incredible open source projects. There were quite a few I had never heard of and so it was interesting to look at such a multitude of good open source orgs that were looking for developers.
 One of the perks of GSoC is that you can work from home. In fact you can work from anywhere in the world so long as you've got a work-permit for that country. So I expected to spend my summer, like everyone else, developing software from within the cozy confines of my house. I expected to learn a lot about programming and code development over the summer. I did learn a lot about that, but I also took away much more. I got a chance to meet new people, experience new cultures, see new cities and landscapes. I got to try out new and exciting things and have all kinds of crazy adventures more than 4000 miles from home.

You see, the organization with which I worked this summer invited me to work at their headquarters at my own expense.It is located on the Swiss-France border, straddled by Meyrin, Switzerland on one side and a quaint French village called St.Genis on the other. The organization is quite well known and has in fact gained even more popularity because of a startling discovery this summer.This summer I worked with a toolkit called 'Geant4' which is maintained and used by the European Organization for Nuclear Research ( CERN ). Every time I think about that last statement, I have to pinch myself to make sure it wasn't all just a very elaborate dream. Either way, it has been one of the best dreams of my life. 

Every year almost 200 students from across Europe and elsewhere are selected to go to CERN as summer students. This mix of engineers and physicists are joined by around 15 students from another program called the CERN Openlab. The Openlab is an initiative by 5 companies including HP and Intel to bring students working in IT to intern at CERN for the summer. This year there was one addition. The people at the Openlab graciously invited me to work on my project at CERN. I accepted the offer without a moments hesitation and have never looked back.

This post was mainly to tell you about GSoC and the ( unexpected )  benefits of the program. I will devote another post to my experience at CERN itself, so stay tuned for that.

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