Beth Hadley is one of the 29 students that worked for Gnome components on this year’s Google Summer of Code. She did a great job in adding a set of music learning activities that enrich the magnificent GCompris children education and playing software even further.
In this interview, she talks about the experience of a first time contributor, her impressions from the Gnome community and her collaboration with her mentor and other GSoC participants!
Tell us a few things about you, your studies, your interests etc.
I’m a sophomore currently studying Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I fell in love with technology when I joined a robotics team in middle school, and I continued programming robots through high school. I chose computer science mainly because I see this field as an opportunity to contribute to any field of study, because software projects are critical to the success of most every project on Earth.
I am also extremely passionate about music; I play the clarinet and enjoy learning about music theory and the psychology of music. I hope to apply my talents to projects worldwide, for I love to travel and experience the world’s cultures. My dream would be to work, live, or study in France (I’m currently learning French).
What was your relation to the FOSS world and Gnome DE in particular before you started the 2012 Google Summer of Code?
I am quite young compared to most of the other software developers I’ve met – I only started college last year, and that was my first introduction to contributing to open-source software. I joined a project at MIT called music21,<span > which is an open-source python toolkit designed to analyze symbolic music. The principal investigator, Professor Cuthbert, is an absolutely phenomenal mentor for me and he provided me with not only the ideas and support to dive into open-source, but also the passion for music and software I depend on to this day. Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but the truth is that I knew nothing about GNOME before Google Summer of Code. I didn’t have much experience with linux, either, actually, before coming to MIT.
In the spring of 2012Marina Zhurakhinskaya emailed the MIT mailing list regarding Google Summer of Code and GNOME, and I was immediately interested! I identified GCompris as a project I could certainly make meaningful contributions to based on my background, and so my love of GNOME was born.
Among the many things that you could submit a proposal for, you chose GCompris. Why is that?
For me, GCompris was a perfect match for my interests and abilities. Upon playing the games, I soon recognized the absence of activities teaching music concepts and theory. In my opinion, exposure to these topics are critical to every child’s education, no matter where they’re from. Since I had spent about 9 months learning about and contributing to a python toolkit that analyzes music, I felt well prepared to tackle creating music activities for GCompris.
What was the greatest difficulty you encountered while developing for GCompris?
Certainly, the greatest challenge for me was contributing to an open-source project while never being able to talk in-person face-to-face with my mentor or fellow co-workers. I’ve never before been in an environment where all communication is conducted digitally, and it certainly required some adjusting. I had to adapt to this new style of development, learn to pace myself, and stay very organized with my emails. Working with a mentor from outside my country was an absolutely phenomenal experience, and he certainly helped guide me as I learned how best to succeed this summer.
Even after GSOC has ended, my mentor has remained a phenomenal resource for me, always chatting on IRC when available and responding to emails, and I’m continually learning new tips and tricks about open-source from him. I’m glad to have been put through the challenge of collaborating electronically with my mentor, for I think we both benefited from the process and I look forward to applying my new skills to future international projects
Did you have any kind of cooperation with Matilda Bernard that also worked on the implementation of new things for GCompris?
Yes, absolutely. I reached out to her at the beginning of the coding period because I knew since we were both learning how best to contribute to GCompris, we could certainly share advice and ideas. We chatted several times throughout the summer, and we even played each other’s games and exchanged feedback. We would always send emails to a central mailing list so that all three of us (Matilda, Bruno, and I) could all see each other’s emails. This was a great learning tool, and I’m very grateful to my mentor for establishing the mailing list!
Since Matilda and I soon realized we were very compatible, we requested to room together at GUADEC and it was an absolutely phenomenal experience. I loved chatting with her about many topics, especially related to GNOME and technology but also including her life story, her home culture, and her aspirations. We keep in touch after the summer is over, exchanging little stories and ideas here and there, and I’m hoping she can come visit me in Boston at some point in the future, perhaps if she attends graduate school in America!
You have completed all six of the initial planning activities for GCompris, bringing a fantastic new music education set to the application. Are you happy with the results?
Thank you for the complement. I would certainly say that I am very pleased with the results of my work, but at the same time I’m always thinking of new ideas, more features to add, and what I could have done differently. In my opinion, no project is ever finished, especially not open source software projects. Of particular note is that I actually received quite a lot of feedback from both my mentor and the GCompris community during the last week of GSOC and after the GSOC deadline. I always welcome new feedback, and I had certainly requested new ideas, but I certainly do have to put in many additional hours beyond GSOC’s requirements for me to be satisfied with the quality of my work. The feedback I’ve received has truly improved the quality of my activities, and I intend to continue responding to ideas as rapidly as I am able.
Although the GSoC has ended, you were one of the very few students that kept on contributing when you asked and got 28 melodies to enrich the application with. I suppose you will keep on contributing to GCompris so I must ask you what your development plans are from now on?
Oh, this is sad to hear that I was “one of the very few students that kept on contributing”. Perhaps many other students were just overwhelmed with classes and needed to catch up. I do expect many to continue contributing, for most of us agree that software projects are never finished. I do absolutely intend to maintain my activities, address bug reports and new ideas from the community. I created ample documentation online, and I sincerely hope that someday someone will see this, become interested, and contact me in hopes that they too can develop a music activity for GCompris. I would be very interested in mentoring anyone who is interested in developing music activities for GCompris. That said, I must remind myself that classes at MIT will start in less than a week and although it was easy this summer to forget the rigor and demand of the school year, I do recall having very little free time during the semester.
I always make time for things I love, but I will most likely not push code as often as I have been these past few weeks. As for my activities and their integration into GCompris, I’ll post on my blog when the next version of GCompris is released. My work is officially integrated into the master repo, but this is not yet packaged and released publicly.
What can you tell us about GCompris as it is currently? What is the importance of such applications and how “complete” would you say it is right now?
GCompris is an extremely well established suite of high-quality educational activities for children, and it is certainly one of the best if not the best free children’s software games available today. I was astounded to learn from Bruno that there are about 3,000 downloads of GCompris daily, and kids all of the world enjoy the games in classrooms, learning communities, and at home. I hope someday to find children playing it in my local elementary school and watch them enjoy my music games!
It is difficult to judge the state of open-source educational software for kids. However, in my opinion GCompris is quite well established with over 100 activities containing instruction of topics as broad as algebra, science, geography, games, reading, computer, and now music. I do certainly believe there are always more options for activity development, and the software will certainly only continue to improve thanks to Bruno’s excellent guidance and the community’s support.
Do you imagine yourself contributing to Gnome again in the context of next year’s Google Summer of Code?
This is absolutely a possibility, as are many things in life ;-) I certainly intend to pursue additional projects in GNOME; when I attended the presentations at GUADEC several domains really intrigued me. I may explore accessibility and/or translations. For accessibility, I have pondered the possibility of integrating some music21 code with GNOME so that users can easily translate music notation into braille notation. For translations, although I personally would not be able to contribute a new language I attended the presentation at GUADEC regarding translations and I was inspired to improve the process and support for translators.
To me it is important to attempt to bring GNOME to all corners of the globe, both through software and hardware. Adding rare languages might assist us in this process. In terms of next summer, however, I certainly can’t commit to anything yet. My true dream would be to spend the summer abroad, for example working in France, and contributing to a software project. We will just see what is in store for me this year!
Thanks Beth! That was really great.
Thank you, and I would also like to thank the entire GNOME community for their help and support this summer. I felt truly welcomed by the outreach team, and when I realized at GUADEC people were actually reading my blogs and finding them interesting, I became even more motivated to succeed. Thanks GNOME! See you in Boston at the summit!
To learn more about Beth’s work this summer, visit: