Interview with Chad Windnagle
One of the most exciting areas of involvement for Joomla has been the participation of young Joomla programmers in Google Summer of Code. Their work has helped to make the software better, and has contributed to numerous articles in this magazine detailing their projects. Chad Windnagle has been coordinating this effort for the past couple of years, and he kindly took the time to sit down for an interview...
Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you live, and your areas of involvement in Joomla.
I am a recent college graduate and I was raised in a small town in Upstate New York. In mid-2013 I made the big move from the small town to a small city in Florida called New Smyrna Beach. It's a family beach town just south of Daytona, and about an hour from downtown Orlando.
My Joomla involvement has taken quite an interesting course over the past seven years or so. I learned about and started learning Joomla when I was in high school in 2008. I later ended up participating in Joomla’s Google Highly Open Participation Competition, and was named one of the runner-ups of the overall program. Since that time, I’ve been involved in a few official workgroups like documentation and the Joomla Resources Directory. I also made a habit of attending and eventually speaking at various Joomla Days around the United States, and attending Joomla! And Beyond in Europe.
I’m still active with a few groups, I’ve worked on things like the JIssue Tracker and the Joomla Framework on and off, and I still regularly contribute to the Joomla Resources Directory team. On top of all of that, my passion over the last two years (since 2012) has really become all about Google Summer of Code.
What is Google Summer of Code?
Google Summer of Code is this great program designed and funded by Google and their Open Source Office that has a goal of engaging college students of any age in contributing to Free Open Source Software (FOSS) projects. The program works by giving FOSS organizations like Joomla (and it’s parent organization, Open Source Matters), some authority in selecting and mentoring college students.
The student’s ‘job’ for the course of about 3-4 months is to develop a comprehensive code-related project. Google pays these students a reasonable salary for their ‘labor’ over the months in the form of two stipends. In essence, Google pays students to work for Joomla. We’re the boss, but Google is the paycheck. Students are able to learn valuable skills like working with teams, project management, project planning, communication, and learning the sometimes-tricky-art of contributing to an open source project.
What is the history of Joomla’s participation in the Google Summer of Code program?
Joomla has a pretty long history of working with Google Summer of Code (GSoC). I’m not clear on all the facts or details, but I know that Joomla started participating regularly in GSoC in 2005. I believe around the time of Joomla 1.6’s release there was a period where Joomla did not participate (I believe in 2010 and 2011). Following up our inactivity for those years, we were able to get involved again starting in 2012. I think in total this makes about six years total that Joomla has participated in GSoC.
What has your role been in reviving participation of the Joomla community in GSOC?
My role has been to simply be involved in management, planning, and oversight. Starting in 2012 when I was asked if I was interested in participating in GSoC I really had very little experience with the program. I was lucky enough to be able to go to valuable resources like Elin Waring and Mark Dexter, both who had some past GSoC experience and get some great advice and help.
Specifically I’ve found myself doing things like writing the official application to Google, helping moderate / manage the ideas list, and try to coax mentors into joining us. On top of that I’ve been the author of a number of blog posts, articles, announcements, mailing list posts, twitter posts, and Skype discussions just trying to keep everything ‘running’.
What are the essential elements to making GSOC a success?
I think the most important elements are dedicated students, mentors that care, and a community that is excited about what we’re doing and wants to help. By partnering with Google we’re able to always get a great selection of students, but when it comes to finding mentors, this is a difficult challenge. We need people who are technically capable and can make the time to help students when they need it.
That said, the program would be in rough shape without all the volunteers who aren’t mentors who contribute by offering to test, manage, and give feedback to students on mailing lists. All in all, there’s a lot of pieces to that would be hard to replace in the program.
Tell us something about the young people who have participated -– where do they come from?
Well first it's important to mention that all GSoC students are young at heart, but not necessarily in their 20s! I don’t have stats on the program pre-2012, but since then most of our students have actually come from Europe and Asia. Countries like Sri Lanka, Italy, Romania, and India.
The students themselves are always interesting to get to know and learn about. I’ve been able to meet a few students in person at various events and for me learning about their culture, where they are from and the cultures, religions, and environments they come from is very fulfilling. In 2012 we actually had two students get married, to each other! We didn’t see that one coming!
What concrete innovations for Joomla are a direct result of GSOC research projects?
There are so many it's hard to name just a few. I think in 2013 alone there were a number of projects that were included that are making the lives of developers and users easier. There was a project to update Joomla with modern form field types using HTML5, and add in microdata that can have dramatic improvements in search engine rankings.
On top of these ‘core’ contributions GSoC is pushing the boundaries of how the organization might be handling Joomla “distros” and extensions that are useful, but maybe not essential and how the project might maintain those things. So there’s a lot of different areas of the project that really get impacted by GSoC.
How can students and mentors who are interested get involved?
Students shouldn’t hesitate to start trying to get involved now by checking out the ideas list and then posting on the mailing list to help solidify an idea into a real project. They should also start trying to learn about Joomla’s contribution process; they can do this by getting involved in some simple things like bug squashing and writing docs. All these little things add up to us seeing a student as being interested in the project, learning about our software and how it is built, and our community and how it operates.
Mentors should check out this blog post I wrote and put their name and contact info into this form. This will help me keep a list of everyone who wants to be involved and help me get them set up to join us this year. For contributors who are interested being mentors, they should consider themselves skilled developers, familiar with Joomla and the contribution process, and be prepared to have a lot of fun this summer working with our team!
I also encourage anyone, including potential mentors to help work on our ideas list by contributing their own ideas (as long as they fall in the guidelines posted!). The best way to get community buy-in on some of these ideas is to be involved from the beginning!