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Re: my annual complaint

From: Thomas Lord
Subject: Re: my annual complaint
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2009 12:56:49 -0700

I left out that host orgs are supposed to 
benefit from internship programs but not
in terms of getting a windfall of cheap labor.
Rather, they benefit because a good internship
program helps the host organization to 
to better understand itself.  It's like holding
up a very honest mirror in front of the host.
It's a challenge to the hosts self-perception
and pretensions.   It's challenging, and fun.

At least back in the stone ages.


On Tue, 2009-04-14 at 12:51 -0700, Thomas Lord wrote:
> On Mon, 2009-04-13 at 21:32 +0200, address@hidden wrote:
> > I don't agree with your negative asessment of the GSoC program on
> > several grounds; but I do not really have time nor inclination to
> > discuss this now.
> That's fine.
> > Regardless of that, there are two questions I'm going to ask you. First,
> > do you really think that the GNU project can realistically gather the
> > $50000 for a GSoC-like program? (Ignoring the various GNU projects
> > participating as organisations on their own -- if you want all of these
> > to go for an alternative program too, the sum required would be more
> > like $300000 or so...)
> I don't have a crystal ball so I can't tell.  
> All that could happen is to try.
> $50,000 is less than 10% of what the FSF raised in
> at least one recent year I checked.
> $300,000 would represent a huge increase in
> funds raised but I don't think it is the FSF's job
> buy all of those other projects back from Google.
> $50,000 is not an easy amount of money to raise, no
> matter how you slice it but I would *guess* that
> the FSF could do it *if* it prepared by articulating
> a clear case for why it is desirable and what will
> be done with the funds.
> It would take some careful thought.  For example,
> GSoC has the *practical* benefit of imposing 
> very little administrative cost on the FSF.  An
> in-house program would consume extra resources.
> By the way, what do you think of the format of
> GSoC?  Is that the best way to do it?   Aside 
> from the Evils of Google generally and the 
> surveillance and viral marketing to students
> specifically, the format is something else I don't
> like about GSoC.   It is too easily gamed by those
> in it for money rather than a good student experience.
> Even for those in it for a good student experience
> it is a lousy structure.
> I think that students miss out by not taking an 
> internship in an actual workplace.  I think students
> miss out by not having a larger number of older
> people around keeping an eye on their experience.
> I think when students go off the rails in a GSoC
> project it is frustrating and tragic that they
> aren't in an environment where people around them
> can try to get them back on track.   Thinking back
> to good internships I experienced when I was younger:
> much of the value of the experience was outside the 
> main work whether it was socializing with more senior
> people in the field, or talking "around the water cooler",
> or joining a group to attend a lecture and discuss it
> after - that kind of thing.   GSoC instead rewards
> students for learning to be semi-anonymous worker
> bees with an Internet API rather than well rounded
> participants in an intimate professional culture.
> > Second, do you really think that without the popularity of Google in
> > general and GSoC in particular, we could find many good student
> > candidates?
> That would depend on what the FSF proposed to do with
> the money (and on how well it advertised the opportunities).
> > I know that for the Hurd at least, the GSoC project is *extremely*
> > beneficial, and unless you can propose a realistic alternative, dropping
> > out is indiscutable.
> I guess that I'm old fashioned because where I
> come from, way back in ancient history, what you
> just said there is a sure sign of a very suspect
> internship program.
> The perfect summer internship gives the student
> the opportunity, the tools, and access to the 
> teaching to *possibly* and *with a little luck*
> accomplish something great.   The same internship
> tries to put a little gentle pressure on the student
> to work seriously and at least try to be useful.
> But there are higher priorities than those:
> A good internship program gives a student a chance
> to begin to see and experience the profession they
> are working towards and to understand it better
> (something GSoC utterly fails at).
> A good internship program gives a student a chance
> to develop professionally and as a human being.
> The very last thing one wants to hear about an 
> internship program - at least where I come from - 
> is that it is important to the success of the
> project into which the student is hired.
> It is supposed to be the student's chance to
> shine, not a chance for the host project to form
> a reliance on the student.
> In fact, if a manager says "We don't have enough
> workers here and we're almost out of budget.  Let's
> ask the firm to give us a student intern," then
> that is a red flag warning that (a) that manager 
> should not be allowed within 20 yards of a student
> (b) that project is in trouble, quite possibly through
> mis-management.
> Where I come from, when people tell stories about
> "internships from hell" the story often includes 
> elements about managers who decided to rely on interns
> for something critical.
> A good internship program is supposed to be a 
> professional duty (of the host organization) - 
> the main goal is to "pitch in" on education.
> A good internship program is supposed to be a
> way to share the wealth.  E.g., a successful
> project has been coming in under budget or the
> revenues from it are doing surprisingly well
> so there's a choice:  give everyone a tiny bonus
> or buy a nice pool table for the break room
> or take everyone on a field trip to wine country
> for a "team building retreat" (get drunk and have
> fun) or ..... nah, let's host an internship.
> Alice over there has a free enough schedule and
> a good bs-cutting demeanor to be the student's 
> boss.  Bob, down the hall, has a couple of months
> before his XYZZY project gets crazy busy and he's a 
> great teacher to stick his head in every now and
> again.  4 of the folks on the team went to the 
> university down the street where we can recruit
> so there's plenty of shared culture around.  The
> student can minimally just help fix simple bugs
> in the new FrooBaz driver but if they look like
> they can handle it, give them a shot at the 
> SpingBrt module (and, if they blow it, Carol will
> get to it in September).
> I don't mean internships are supposed to be
> ecstatic and painless experiences.  Not at all.
> Perhaps the student will run afoul of Difficult 
> Dave who doesn't like anyone.  Maybe the student will
> waste too much time listening to the ramblings of Eccentric 
> Elaine. Those are realistic working conditions
> and in this case - the student's first exposure
> to such things - there are other adults watching
> out of the corners of their eye to give some
> gentle guidance and help the student navigate.
> None of that is present in the GSoC format.
> Saying "project X will have trouble making progress
> without the cheap labor of students" is pretty 
> much the opposite of what I think of as a good
> internship program.
> And what about reporting?   If there's to be 
> reporting to a third party about the performance
> of an intern it's supposed to be (in the stone
> age I come from, at least) to the teachers closest
> to the student in the student's academic life - 
> teachers being the professionals in the situation
> who are supposed to use those reports to the benefit
> of the student.  How in god's name we get from there
> to a system of reporting that amounts to tattling
> to a prospective future employer is beyond me....
> Hey, give a bad report about your student in GSoC
> and, gee, maybe you're hurting their future employment
> opportunities even though the real reason for the 
> fail was that the student's parents were going 
> through a messy divorce which you would have known
> if you interacted with the student other than on the
> "X-dev" mailing list.
> I believe you when you say that asking the Hurd
> project to not use GSoC is beyond discussion.
> I'm sure it is.
> That makes me sad.
> I should just be resigned to it:  let's just
> redefine our profession being a kind of anonymous
> human-hosted web service with a mailing list
> API that you feed in sub-market (and sub-living) 
> wages and get out needed code.
> Maybe these kids are learning everything they
> really need to know, after all.
> -t
> > -antrik-
> > 
> > 

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