I recently sat down with Chris DiBona to talk about the 15th anniversary of Slashdot. In addition to discussing the joys of heading an email campaign against spamming politicians, and the perils of throwing a co-worker's phone into a bucket, even if you think that bucket is empty, we talked about the growth of Google Summer of Code. Below you'll find his story of how a conversation about trying to get kids to be more active with computers in the summer has led to the release of 55 million lines of code.Chris DiBona: I was hired at Google as their Open Source guy. Nobody actually really knew what that meant. This really incredibly guy, who was my first boss there said, "If you screw it up, I'll let you know." I'm like, "Okay. Sounds good; spread your wings and fly." It took me a couple of months, to realize how serious he was about that.
I did the basic stuff. I made sure compliance was good for Open Source licenses. I made sure that we knew where the Open Source code in the company was, how we were shipping it, and that we were doing it right. We were doing more of the documentation model of compliance, like having proper docs and then responding to requests, which works, but it's not my favorite way of doing it. I decided I wanted to put the compliance stuff online.
During a strategy meeting, where you announce new websites inside the company, I said to Larry [Page], "We need to put compliance stuff up, but I'm also going to put up information on file formats and interfaces into the company." We had a couple of APIs at the time. They're said, "Okay. Sounds good. Oh, we need you to do us a favor." I'm said, "Oh. Name it, sir. You say, Jump, I say, How high?" They go, "Too many students are taking the summer off, or they're not doing computer things over the summer. Can you fix that?" They gave me some numbers, how many students they'd like to see in such programs, and some money. I left the room going, "Gosh, I have to fix computer science now?" I asked some friends in Open Source, "What if I gave you some students? What would you do to them?" We talked it out.
I went back a couple of weeks later, "We're going to do this summer code thing. The first pass on Summer of Code was only going to have 200 students, and Larry Page, in his inevitable way said, "That's nice. But what about 1000 students?" I'm said, "Unfortunately, I'm only one guy." He's like, "Why don't you hire somebody?" So, we doubled it to 400. We were at 1000 in about two years. And that program still persists. When you look at our contributions to Open Source, we've released under Open Source licenses, about 55 million lines of code.
That's across, not just Chromium and Android, but also something like 3400 other projects that we've released, small ones. We've released a lot of code. I've always considered code the coin of the realm. I've mostly been right at that. We haven't been great at promoting that release, so we're going to do some things this year to make it a little more obvious. It's been really good. We've financially supported a lot of people I think deserve it, like the Oregon Open Source lab and Hedge Foundation and Python Foundation, Free Software Foundation, on and on and on. We give away a pile of money to these kinds of organizations every year. We go to a lot of conferences. We sponsor a lot of conferences.
I did a round up in the Middle East and North Africa last year and that was very interesting to see how they're using Open Source and when they're not. There's markets in the world where Open Source software isn't any more expensive than pirating Windows. You'll go to these countries and there's literally not a lick of licensed software that's been properly paid for in the country. in fact, the more corrupt a country, the less likely you'll see Linux in say the government because there will be pathways to insuring that it's not used. It's legislated against, and I'm not going to say it's corrupt, or bribed away, but.... The role of Open Source is really interesting, but at the same time, since you really can't be effective online without using Open Source software, it's this huge force. That's all there is to it.
Even when I was a younger, more idealistic programmer, I always felt that the story of Open Source and free software was one of functionality and not one of ideology. Although the ideology, I thought, was super important and it was something I took comfort in and I like. People didn't care as much about the ideology. You wouldn't see a lot of ideology when you were talking to people who were actually building things for the public. It came down to really functionality. I'd say, "Listen, you can use whatever to ship your software, but remember in the end, if you're the one who has to control your infrastructure, your website, your whatever, Open Source is there for you in ways that commercial software isn't. You have to take that into account." That was an interesting message. I don't know if it was as popular as "Let's kill Microsoft," or whoever else. Functionality isn't exactly the most exciting message, but at the same time, I pulled it off, I think.