Monthly Archives: October 2010

Lessons from the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit

A few quick thoughts about the Google Summer of Code Mentor Summit, which I attended last weekend.

Google Summer of Code is a program, run by Google, which encourages open source development by paying college students to undertake summer coding projects with various open source projects. I co-mentored two projects for WordPress, and was one of the lucky few from among WP’s fifteenish mentors to get a trip to the Googleplex in Mountain View.

The Summit was organized as an unconference. On Saturday, attendees proposed session topics on a big scheduling board, and indicated their interest in other suggested sessions with stickers. This being a supremely geeky conference, I didn’t understand about half of the session titles.

A few takeaways, in no particular order:

  • Process matters. A lot. Probably 2/3 of the sessions I attended were devoted to project workflow: version control, code review, various kinds of testing. Probably some of the focus on process is due to the fact that it constitutes common ground between even those individuals whose software projects are quite different from each other. But I think it also speaks to the importance of workflow that really works, especially in the decidedly non-top-down world of open-source development communities.
  • WordPress seems pretty far behind the curve in terms of development infrastructure. Take version control: WordPress is the only project I heard about all weekend that still uses (or is not in the process of moving away from) centralized version control like Subversion. Git seemed like the most popular platform (there was a whole session on migrating massive project repos from SVN to Git, which was probably my favorite session of the weekend). I came away with lots of ideas for how the WP and BuddyPress development processes might be improved (and, more importantly, why it might be worthwhile to pursue these ideas), which I’ll be working on in the upcoming weeks and months.
  • More generally, I came away realizing that WordPress devs (and probably other kinds of devs, but this is what I know!) have a lot to learn from the way that similar software development projects are run. I was part of some extremely interesting conversations with core developers from Drupal and TYPO3 and was really, really impressed with the way the way that their development workflow informs and enables better software. Some WordPress fans have a tendency (sometimes joking, sometimes not) to disparage other projects like this, an attitude that can prevent us from learning a lot from each other. That’s a real shame, and it’s something I’d like to rail against.

I met some great people and learned a lot at the Summit. Many thanks to Google for footing the bill, to WordPress for selecting me to go, and to Stas and Francesco for their cool GSoC projects!

Joining the BuddyPress commit team

This weekend at WordCamp NYC, John James Jacoby announced that I, along with Paul Gibbs, have been promoted to core committers on the BuddyPress project. Needless to say, I’m honored and extremely excited.

For my academic friends who might not know what this means, here’s a (very brief) description of open-source development model used by WordPress (and, by extension, BuddyPress). Anyone who downloads the BuddyPress software can view and modify the source code at will. Likewise, anyone can report bugs, suggest enhancements, or file actual patches (small bits of code that, when added to the distribution version of the software, fix bugs or add features) on the BuddyPress bug tracker, which is the communication hub for the developers who work on the software. However, only a small handful of individuals can “commit” to the “core”. In other words, while anyone can submit code for consideration, only core committers can add those patches to the version of the software that is distributed via Being added as a committer means that the existing committers (Andy, John, and Marshall) trust and respect my work enough to, in effect, hand me the keys to the car.

It’s a very cool thing for me because I don’t have any formal background in programming or in software. Before roughly the spring of 2009, I had only a smattering of programming knowledge, and had never cracked the hood of WordPress or of BuddyPress. My work on the CUNY Academic Commons plunged me deep into the world of WordPress development. I found a natural home in the BuddyPress community, which is full of smart people thinking not just about how software works, but also about how it can enhance the ways we engage with each other online. I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been promoted to this position if I hadn’t been willing (and encouraged) to share, whether it be the free time I’ve spent writing patches for BuddyPress, helping others out on the forums, or writing code that is freely available (and supported with a smile!). It’s a testament to the fact that the extra effort it sometimes takes to share and to do one’s work in the open can come back to you many times over.

I’m looking forward to the next stages of BuddyPress development!