PSF funding open source projects development: SciCookie

author Anavelyz Perez, Yurely Camacho · calendar ·
Share it: linkedin copy

In this article, we will share our experience in applying for and executing a Python Software Foundation (PSF) grant on behalf of Open Science Labs (OSL), submitted between January and February 2023. The proposal was submitted to contribute to the development and maintenance of SciCookie, a Python tool within the OSL incubation projects.

We'll begin by introducing SciCookie, highlighting its key features and aspects that might interest you. Then, we'll go over the grant application process and share our reflections on the experience, along with the lessons we learned.

What is SciCookie? #

As we mentioned at the beginning, SciCookie is a Python tool designed to provide a Python project template. Its main goals are to simplify the process of creating your projects and save you a considerable amount of time because, according to your needs and planning, it gives you a starting point for the configuration of your project. SciCookie provides several tools that are as up-to-date as possible and adheres to community standards.

SciCookie is mainly based on PyOpenSci recommendations regarding the tools, libraries, best practices and workflows employed by the significant Python scientific groups. The elements we mention are listed as options, which means that you can adapt various approaches in your project, through a text interface (TUI) provided by SciCookie.

SciCookie is available from PyPI and conda. You can also visit its repository at GitHub.

Now that you know a bit about this project, let's tell you about PSF and how it supports the Python community.

What is PSF and how does it support the Python community? #

The Python Software Foundation (PSF) is an organization dedicated to the advancement and improvement of open source technologies. Its mission is to promote, protect and advance the Python programming language. In addition, it supports and facilitates the development/growth of the Python developers community; a diverse and international community.

Among the programs that PSF promotes to achieve its mission, there is a Grants Program, where proposals for projects related to the development of Python, technologies associated with this programming language and educational resources, are welcome. Since the creation of the program, PSF has supported several interesting projects, you can click here to see the list or have a clearer notion of the proposals, and maybe you will be encouraged to apply with new projects or ideas.

You should know that the PSF in the grants program evaluates a number of aspects in each proposal, including the usefulness of the project and the impact on the Python community. In case you want to know more, we recommend you visit the space that PSF has on its website for the grants program.

So far, we have given you a brief overview of the main aspects of the two parties involved: SciCookie and PSF. We will continue by telling you about the grant application, what motivated us, the arranging and assigning tasks.

What was the grant application process like? #

The PSF grant application process was a long and challenging, but also very rewarding. It began with careful planning and research. We studied the needs of the scientific community and found a project that could help meet those needs. In other words, we build on a strong case for the grant.

We were studying the different projects within the Open Science Labs incubation program; where there are a series of approaches and technologies implemented, including Python projects associated with DevOps, Data Science, and scientific projects. The option that was best suited to apply for the grant in our case was SciCookie; because it is a very useful tool and is focused on helping the Python community.

After completing the planning and research, we began the formal application process. This included completing an online form and submitting a detailed proposal. The proposal contains a project description, timeline, budget and impact section. In our case and in order to review each aspect carefully, we produced a file with the responses [1] and filled in the budget scheme (template provided by the PSF). This process was done under the advice of the OSL Steering Council.

In addition to the above, a series of issues were created and edited in the project repository, in order to be clear about the activities to be carried out and the time it would take to develop them in case the proposal was approved.

Once we had submitted our proposal, we had to wait some months for a decision. It was a period of great uncertainty, but finally we received the news that our proposal had been accepted!

How was the workflow? #

With the PSF grant, we were able to start developing and maintaining SciCookie part-time. We worked with some community developers to add new features, improve documentation and fix bugs. This included the creation of a user guide to help enthusiasts and developers to use SciCookie.

In terms of task specification, as we described in the previous section, a series of issues were generated in the project repository, and each one of us handled some of the issues on a weekly basis via Pull Requests (PRs). These were approved by members of the Open Science Labs team, who were also on hand throughout the execution of the proposal.

Being a bit more specific about the follow-up, we had from an initial meeting where we discussed the fundamental aspects of the project and set up what was necessary to carry it out, to weekly meetings to present our progress, to check if we had any obstacles or doubts that did not allow us to move forward. Likewise, each PR was reviewed and if there were any observations, we had feedback on this.

In summary, we can tell you that it was quite a dynamic workflow, where a friendly space was built and allowed us to learn a lot.

Flujo de trabajo

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ivan Ogasawara and to Ever Vino, for their time and dedication. Both are active members of OSL and members of the steering council; they were there to support us and clarify our questions.

Here we tell you about our experience and the collaboration phase.

How was our learning process? #

SciCookie provided us, for the first time, with the opportunity to make such a significant contribution to an open science and open source project. It also allowed us to acquire new knowledge about some aspects and technologies linked to the Python programming language, since at that time, our knowledge was more oriented to the use of libraries, objects, loops, among others.

About this learning process we can tell you that we did not know many things and it was necessary to learn along the way, sometimes this was a bit challenging but, in general, very profitable. Among the anecdotes that we rescued is that, a couple of times, we "exploded" the code and we didn't know why; the cause was that we didn't know the exact use of single or double quotes, double braces, spaces or tabs within the template. But then we were able to move forward and we even made improvements in the workflow of the project.

Regarding the latter, we can certainly tell you that learning curves are always steep. At the beginning you see everything uphill, but when you are familiar with the technology and the tools, everything becomes easier. Daring is always the first step.

On the other hand, if you are interested in collaborating on open source projects, it is vital to have basic knowledge of Git and GitHub version control tools, and to understand their essential commands such as git pull, git push, git rebase, git log, git stash, among others. You may also need knowledge of conda and poetry. We also learned a bit of jinja2 and make, and reviewed knowledge of function creation, conditional evaluation, GitHub workflow, documentation aspects and some of the technologies associated with it.

In summary, the experience of applying for and executing a PSF grant was a valuable experience. We learned a lot about the process, how to develop and maintain a Python tool, what structure a Python library or package project should have, and how to build a community around an open source project. We are also grateful for the support of the PSF, which has allowed us to make a contribution to SciCookie. We feel satisfied with the work we have done and are excited about the future of this tool.

To all that we have told you, we add an invitation to collaborate on open source or open science projects and, if you have already done so, we encourage you to continue to do so. We were often motivated by seeing our PRs being approved, we shared feelings of achievement and new challenges and, most importantly, we were applying what open source promotes: small collaborations make big changes and add to the projects, achieving good and useful results.

After all this, you may wonder about the barriers to collaboration. We dedicate the following lines to describe what we rescued from our experience.

Can you find barriers to collaboration? #

The progress of your contributions depends on you. It is vital to ask questions and not get bogged down by doubts. Often there is someone who can show you that the problem you thought was big was simply a small one, perhaps the code didn't work because it was single quotes instead of double quotes, for example.

From the OSL community we can highlight that it focuses on creating friendly, opportunity-filled spaces where you can share and acquire new knowledge, eliminating barriers and discrimination. Perhaps you can find these same characteristics in other open science and/or open source projects.

That's why we want to invite you again to support and join the diverse Python and open source community. It's an excellent experience and the fact of contributing to something that can be useful to other people is quite satisfying.

In general, collaborating on open source projects is a great way to improve your programming skills, you also have the opportunity to work with other developers and learn from them, get feedback on your work. If you want to support or boost your project, the first thing to do is to get started. Many communities are open to new contributions and innovative ideas.

Leave us your comments if you want to know more about what we have told you in this space :D

[1] Additional note: SciCookie originally went by the name of cookiecutter-python and then renamed to osl-python-template.

Graphic elements of the cover were extracted from Work illustrations by Storyset, and then edited to conform to the article.