Google today launched its Highly Open Participation Contest at the Open Source Developers Conference in Brisbane, which is an initiative to get high school students involved in open source software.

The global program is an analogue of the Google Summer of Code program (SoC) and is targeted at high school students. From today, students will be able to select a task from the contest’s Web site to enter.

Tasks will be sourced from 10 open source organisations — including Apache, GNOME, Mono and Python — covering a variety of disciplines and will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.

Leslie Hawthorn, open source program manager at Google, said: “the difference that we’ve had here [compared to SoC] is that we’ve opened it up to other types of work other than just coding. So students can also work on documentation projects or user experience research or making training materials.

“We wanted to give students a variety of options to work on. Because students who were not necessarily the best of coders could get a chance to experience open source development and then maybe get their feet wet in coding later on.”

The students will not have individual mentors like the SoC program but Hawthorn said there would be a more community-orientated process, with subject matter experts making the final judgement.

Hawthorn said the 10 projects were chosen because they had a relatively low barrier to entry, they would remain accessible to less technical contributors and Google already had a relationship with the projects in a previous SoC.

The total prize pool for the contest is US$250,000, with the winners receiving a trip to Google’s complex in Mountain View, California.

The winners would not be flagged for Google recruitment, Hawthorn said.

“It’s more an initiative to help our friends in open source find new contributors and to give these students the opportunity to start get job skills now, than it is about looking for employees,” she said.

High school students aged 13 and older are eligible to enter. Winners will be announced on 11 February, 2008.