Every mentor in the GSoC has a different way of handling students. Here is what I do.
The student introduced himself to me as requested by our soc–admins in the initial mail to our students. He looked up in which timezone I am (public info) and presented his timezone (and rough location) to me. That is nice. He also offered different communication channels (basically EMail and IM).
I confirmed what he looked up, and presented what I did in the past GSoC in which I participated so that he has an idea if am new to the game or not. I told him that quick/short questions are better asked via IM, while long explanations or questions are better handled via EMail. I also gave him a rough overview when he can expect quick answers from me and when I am not available.
Following are some questions I asked him, so that I get an impression about what to expect and that I can plan a bit (some of those may already be told in student application, but I prefer to have everything in one place):
- From when to when do you intent to spend how much time for the GSoC?
- Any holidays / non-availability planned during the GSoC?
- Any university–stuff (exams/lessons/…) during this time (the uni has higher priority than the GSoC for Google)?
- Anything else in parallel of the GSoC (some paid work, taking care about ill (grand-)parents, …)?
- At what level of knowledge do you see yourself regarding computer-science/programming/OS-concepts (relative to other students and relative to the topic)?
- How do you want to start about the project (where do you want to start, what do you intent to do… just a quick overview… a bit more than saying “I add X”, but not as far as copy&paste of code examples)?
More important than that (IMO), is to give an idea what is expected from the student:
- you have FreeBSD–current installed (on a real PC or in a virtual machine)
- you give me a report about the status each week (“did nothing” is also a valid report, it gives me the info that you are still alive and did not lose interest in the GSoC)
- if your schedule changes in a significant way, give me a little notification (e.g. “I can not do anything next week”)
- if you spend more than 30 minutes with a problem, prepare an email with the problem description; if this preparation did not solve your problem, send me the mail (if you solve the problem 5 minutes later, no problem, I prefer to get a mail too much than to have you stuck with something for an incredible amount of time)
A mentor does not know everything, off course, so the student should be subscribed to hackers@ and current@, and if there is a specific list which matches good to the project he is working on, then to this mailing list too. This allows the mentor to tell the student to send a mail with the questions to one of those lists without much preparation to receive all answers.
Another helpful resource is the FreeBSD kernel cross-reference. For some people my doxygen generated docs of parts of the FreeBSD kernel may be helpful (put unfortunately not a lot of doxygen–markup is within our source code).
I also told that he shall prepare himself that I will ask him to send a reference to a patch of his work long enough before the GSoC ends to an appropriate mailing list, and that comments from there regarding changes he must or shall do are not something bad, but a way to improve the result and/or his skills.