GSoC 2014 application
Octave's application for GSoC 2014.
GNU Octave (http://www.gnu.org/software/octave/) is a free numerical computing environment largely compatible with Matlab. John W. Eaton began the project in 1992 and remains the primary maintainer. Development is quite active with more than 20 volunteers currently involved. Octave is also widely used in teaching, industry, and research. It has gained attention as the recommended tool for a number of distributed online courses such as Stanford's machine learning course LINK.
GNU Octave has an extensive core of functions useful for computations in several fields, such as numerical analysis, optimisation, signal and image processing, and control theory. Its sister project, Octave Forge (http://octave.sourceforge.net/), helps in speeding up development, increasing user contributions, and testing code before it is included in GNU Octave's core set of functions.
Recent and ongoing improvements include a GUI and just-in-time compilation capabilities, both of which started as GSoC projects.
Organization home page url
Main organization license
If you chose "veteran" in the dropdown above, please summarize your involvement and the successes and challenges of your participation. Please also list your pass/fail rate for each year.
If you chose "new" in the dropdown above, have you applied in the past? If so, for what year(s)?
Yes (2011-2013). In those 3 years, we were told that rather than a separate project, we would instead be accepted under the umbrella of the GNU project and in the post-session, advised to still apply for independent organization in upcoming years.
Why is your organization applying to participate in Google Summer of Code? What do you hope to gain by participating?
Octave has participated during the last three years as part of the GNU project. Due to the success of those experiences, where many members of the Octave community helped mentor the students, we are trying again to enter GSoC as a participating organization.
We hope to establish collaborations with talented new contributors. We also want to raise awareness of Octave in the free software community.
Google Summer of Code represents a unique opportunity to bring new perspectives to the Octave community. As a somewhat older project, we benefit from having new and younger contributors among our developers. Our past record of retaining GSoC participants as contributors to the Octave project is mixed but we hope to improve in the future by engaging more effectively with students during both the application and mentoring processes, setting clear standards for what is required for acceptance, and maintaining those standards throughout the project.
Did your organization participate in past Google Summer of Codes? If so, please summarize your involvement and the successes and challenges of your participation.
Yes, we participated in GSoC each year since 2011 under GNU and in these last 3 years, 9 students have contributed to the Octave project through GSoC. Additionally, we have been a mentoring organization for the European Space Agency (ESA) Summer of Code in Space (http://sophia.estec.esa.int/socis2013/) through which we had 3 more other students. Students working with us have made valuable contributions all of which is live and in our main source tree. These contributions covered many different areas, improving Octave's usability in functionality, undertaking such tasks as adding just-in-time compilation support, geometric integration algorithms, and finite element modeling capabilities.
The challenges are managing very diverse problem domains and finding people who are competent in all of them. We have not had trouble keeping students interested, although we have seen lulls in their productive output a few times, which were always thankfully remedied with a little prodding.
Summarizing, we have previously mentored a total number of 12 students through different programs, all of them a successful experience which created useful code for the project and community. Because of this, we believe that Octave is a suitable project, capable to mentor students.
What is the URL for your Ideas page?
What is the main development mailing list for your organization?
What is the main IRC channel for your organization?
#octave in Freenode
What criteria did you use to select your mentors for this year's program? Please be as specific as possible.
Each project includes at least one core Octave developer as mentor. These are proven, veteran members of the project, active in its development, and familiar with the code base.
GNU Octave is a project with applications in very diverse domains so each project also includes mentors with expertise in the related field. All of these have previously contributed with code, have commit access to either Octave or Octave Forge source tree, and are active in the mailing lists. Most also keep a constant presence in the IRC channel.
What is your plan for dealing with disappearing students?
First, make all reasonable efforts to accommodate the student and make them feel welcome. We will engage the students frequently by email and IRC, provide prompt response to student queries, and expect periodic status reports from mentors about the project status. We will also encourage the student to participate in the public mailing list and IRC channel, with or without the mentor. Their progress should be regularly applied to our source tree, if necessary in a feature branch. All of these have shown to be effective with students in previous years.
Should this fail and the student disappears for unforeseen reasons (which we hope will be very unlikely, since it has never happened before and nobody vanishes without good reason), make reasonable attempts to contact them via alternative channels up to a private phone number. If more than 2 weeks have passed without a response, we will analyse the code submitted thus far, and prepare it for integration into our source tree.
What is your plan for dealing with disappearing mentors?
Distribute the workload among the remaining mentors. The mailing list is active enough and questions almost never go unanswered. Reassign the student to a backup mentor. In the worst case, the project admin can become a mentor for the student until another backup mentor is found.
This situation should be infrequent and we hope to prevent it by selecting mentors with proven involvement in Octave or other free software projects. The vast majority of our mentors have been involved in Octave development for several years, and new new mentors with be paired with more experienced ones.
What steps will you take to encourage students to interact with your project's community before and during the program?
We will encourage them to join us on our IRC channel and mailing list. We will set clear expectations on the minimum frequency of email progress updates of every two to three days. Longer updates should be done on a blog and aggregated at http://planet.octave.org
Everything should be completely open. Almost all interactions with the student should be public, e.g. contacting the mentor should happen in the public IRC channel or CC the maintainers mailing list.
Our annual conference, OctConf, will be held in the summer. Students will be invited to attend and present on their work. Last year's OctConf had several such student presenters.
For some projects, there may be way to bridge them directly into industry projects. We hope that we can increase student participation this way.
What will you do to encourage that your accepted students stick with the project after Google Summer of Code concludes?
We will constantly merge their code into our codebase, and GNU Octave is a project with many test users that give constant feedback on new features and bug reports. We will forward these to the students so they get the feeling of doing something that is being used by others, and that is useful to the community from the very start.
In addition, students are likely required to use Octave during their academic year and even during their professional careers. As such, they are prone to stay involved with its development, even if at a lower lever than during the summer.
Finally, we organize a developers summit during the summer and have in previous years funded ourselves the travel of students to it. This strengths the relationships between community members and the new students. While only one of the previous students have become a core developer, several continued with occasional contributions, and have always given a prompt reply when the subject is their original work.
Are you a new organization who has a Googler or other organization to vouch for you? If so, please list their name(s) here.
Yes, GNU can vouch for us.
Are you an established or larger organization who would like to vouch for a new organization applying this year? If so, please list their name(s) here.