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Fedora Students Contributing – Live or let die?

Fedora Students Contributing is about to get ignored to death.

And maybe it should be, or at least put in to suspended animation. Let me explain why I think this might be the right option, if the program doesn’t get what it needs.

So what does the program need?

More sponsors who provide budget and people.

People to collaborate openly with the community to make a professional event occur. Students get reimbursed for what amounts to three months of hackfest during their time-off-school, so it’s potentially more complicated than an ordinary open project and benefits from staff time of the sponsors.

Without these additional sponsors, I’m not sure it is worth our continued investment. In this case, the us is both the Fedora Project and Red Hat. Here’s my thinking about the whole picture.

The way my team at Red Hat works is pretty simple. We look for ways to make relatively minor investments – a portion of one or a very few people’s time + some budget – in ideas that affect the fabric of community and help projects we think have the potential for a higher return through open collaborations. That reward/return goes many directions, and some of it will splash back at Red Hat. A tiny bit, it’s an OK investment but maybe not worth as much as the ones that show a much bigger splash back at Red Hat. Bigger splashes also mean more goodness for everyone else because of Red Hat’s commitment to sustainable free software upstreams.

Last summer running Fedora Summer Coding (later renamed to “Fedora Students Contributing”) took a large investment of time and energy from me. So far, my efforts to find others to invest by providing more budget and/or assistance haven’t turned out very well. The best I’ve been able to do is take existing Fedora contributors and stretch them even thinner. That is not sustainable and it’s not providing a greater return splash for the investment.

What we accomplished last year was to get ten to twelve projects through the process. It is likely they would have been the projects we tried to get through Google Summer of Code, were we in that program. Our previous years had seen that many projects, so we were successful at getting an equivalent set of projects and mentors paired with students. That’s pretty great to pull together in a few short months.

But in the end it wasn’t any better than we did under Google’s program, with a lot more investment from Red Hat. So, from a Red Hat perspective, not really worth continuing if we can participate in the Summer of Code instead. Similarly, for Fedora we had a lot of community effort put in to running a program from scratch, much more work than if we’d been in Summer of Code in the first place. From a Fedora Project perspective, it makes more sense to put energy in to GSoC.

By comparison, other communities were able to pull the sponsoring money together, and do it with a  nice connection to an ecosystem of sponsoring companies who also use the open source code being worked on. For example, the Ruby Summer of Code looked good. They were able to put together ten times the funding pool than we did, and I reckon there were a few people who devoted some time to making the administration and project management work. Something to aspire to and a nice example of the summer coding model.

So we proved it could be done in Fedora and there are mentors and students and administrators willing to do some of the hard work. We took care of the need for mentors and students in getting projects done for 2010. If some other organizations with budget and people’s time are interested, we’re here to start talking about doing it again.

Meanwhile, we can take our efforts and put them in to running our program for Google Summer of Code.