Today I would like to call out Google, and applaud them for continuing to support a wide variety of projects through their innovative Summer of Code micro-funding program.
This will be the third summer Google has offered a $4500 stipend to students willing to work “for free” over a summer on one of more than a hundred qualified projects. They also provide a nominal $500 “mentoring stipend” to the sponsoring project, for each student.
It would be easy to dismiss this is a cheap way for Google to promote development in open source projects from which they take value, while enhancing their reputation among the developer public, and also indoctrinating the loyalty of a bunch of students who will soon be entering the work force.
It is all of those things, but it’s also something wonderful. The list of projects this year number over 130, and the list of students over 900. If you do the math, you realize that Google will spend as much as $4.5 Million on the stipends over those few summer months (the full stipend amount is only paid if the student’s work is deemed “passing” by the mentoring organization). One only needs to look at the breadth of projects being sponsored to realize that while Google may benefit from the net rewards of the program, there are many other organizations and people who benefit as well.
$4.5 Million is a lot of coin, but in the context of the billions in revenue that both come into Google and go out of Google in the form of acquisitions, the money is chump-change. For chump-change, Google realizes it can dramatically affect the development momentum of 130 projects, give 900 students a sense of pride and experience in a team-working environment, and endear the development world to their good deeds. That kind of equation makes this investment a no-brainer for the corporate behemoth.
On a philosophical note, what kinds of cheap yet laudable extravagances can you afford to share with the world? It might be only answering a question on a mailing list, or sharing a bit of tricky source code. Google reminds me that we don’t always have to sacrifice much to benefit much. And our peers will applaud us, too.