Getting selected for Google Summer of Code 2020 @ SunPy (OpenAstronomy)
An Ode to the Sun
I don’t remember much of my childhood. I mean, most of us don’t, but I have a particularly poor memory.
One of the earliest memories that I do remember, however, is my mom getting me this thin blue picture book from the Sunday flea market.
There was this strange orange-yellow orb on the cover that got my attention.
To my seven-year-old self, the book didn’t make sense. The sun was supposed to be a big ball of fire in the sky. I think we had an agreement over this. Now, what do you mean by this fusion-fission jargon? And what in the world are nuclei? More importantly, how am I supposed to pronounce this word in the first place ?! We must excuse seven-year-old me for this aberration.
To my mom’s credit, she simply asked me to read more. To the thin blue book’s credit, it simply said that nuclei were like bricks but really really really small. They made up the sun.
“So far so good.”
Fission was breaking these bricks, Fusion was joining them.
“Hmmm, cool, if you say so.”
Like when a firecracker explodes, it produces energy, fission does so too!
* Imagines Diwali fireworks * “Yep. This ain’t that difficult to wrap my head around.”
Oh, and by the way, in Fusion you get these bricks together real real close it produces more energy apparently. *Chapter ends*
“But Firecrackers, when mushed together, don’t explode! This makes no sense!”
It’ll be years before I would finally understand nuclear fusion in all its magnificent glory. I say years because it hasn’t happened as of yet. :)
This is one of my fondest memories. All those summer days I spent reading encyclopedias; all those science projects; reading about plants eating the sun through this process called photosynthesis and instantly being enamoured by biology; reading about glucose (that sweet sweet molecule) and being fascinated by chemistry (though chemistry would later haunt my high school years); learning that math could serve as a bridge between all these seemingly unrelated ideas. And the ecstasy. Oh lord, that dopamine rush when you finally understood a concept!
All of it started on a cosy Sunday afternoon with that thin blue book about the sun.
Fast forward a few years, now in my sophomore year pursuing a Bachelor of Tech in Computer Science and Engineering, I am a nervous kid who thinks he knows nothing. I mean take away stack overflow and what am I but a pretender? Surrounded by tech overlords conversing in bash commands where I struggle with C pointers. : )
I got to know about GSoC from my seniors (my college has a pretty cool GSoC participation culture) and I decided this was it. This would be my tech redemption saga!
All I needed now was an Org.
And to get over my dread of open source and imposter syndrome. Yeah.
And here my struggle began (continued, formalized?). I couldn’t understand **any** codebase. In retrospect, mostly because I felt that a mere mortal wasn’t competent enough to understand this holy cypher written by them tech titans. I tried at least ten different orgs. Lurked in their chats, texted so many people asking for guidance. Never actually implementing any of their suggestions though.
After a few months of going nowhere and on the brink of convincing myself that GSoC wasn’t gonna happen this year, I happen to find myself on the Python Software Foundation’s GSoC site.
“Friends of the PSF: OpenAstronomy ”
Hmm, seems interesting….
SunPy, for Solar Physics. Might as well check out its good first issues. Some docstring fixes about sorting something by dates, which I somehow understood. I go to my friend’s room, nervously asking him about making PRs (Because I was too dumb not to learn git beforehand), git commands and stuff.
And just like it, magic happened. I made my first real PR!
It didn’t solve the issue and the maintainers had to make suggestions in the comments, effectively solving the issue themselves. But it was my PR! I made this! And so, in December 2019, the sun, which got me started in STEM in the first place, came back in my life when I needed it the most. SunPy took me in with open arms. Whatever I do in my professional life in the future, whatever I make, whatever I achieve, it would be because of the guidance given by and more importantly the kindness shown by, the SunPy community to that novice, hacking away at sorting by dates.
Five months later, I can’t fathom how much I’ve grown. From a kid too scared to read code, lest he is confronted by his incompetence and inability to understand it, to actually founding my own organization for wildfire data analysis! More on that, sometime else :)
Google Summer of Code, with all the prestige and praise it gets me, would be the first major milestone in my professional life. But that doesn’t matter. SunPy has already given me so much.
Skills, a loving community, a sense of purpose and most importantly, confidence and peace of mind.
Looking back, I can’t describe what rush of excitement I felt as I clicked on that green button asking me if I wanted to make that PR.
I do know what went through my mind right after I clicked on it though.
“sunpy-bot, what in the world is a changelog and what do you mean this PR doesn’t have it? Oh Lord, did I break something already?”