Alexander Leidinger

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HOWTO men­tor in the GSoC (ini­tial com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the student)

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.

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