If you're a post-secondary student, 18 years or older, you have a golden opportunity this Summer. Contribute to an open source project that you care about, and get paid to do it. Once again, it's Google Summer of Code (GSoC) time, and open source organizations are beating the bushes to find the best ideas and applicants.
The GSoC has been an annual tradition since 2005. Google partners with mentoring organizations and offers students stipends for successful completion of open source projects. Students get a stipend of $5,000 USD and the mentoring organization receives $500. Students get a $500 stipend after coding begins on May 1st, a $2,250 payment after a successful mid-term evaluation, and $2,250 after the final program evaluation. Oh, and don't forget the t-shirt.
Students have from March 26th through April 6th to apply to the mentoring organizations. The mentoring organizations rank the proposals, and then the accepted proposals are announced on April 23rd. The community bonding period runs from April 23 to May 21. See the full timeline for all the specifics.
If you qualify (you're in college, you're older than 18) and have some coding chops, then the next step is to find a mentoring organization that fits your interests. If you're a Linux and open source user, this should be relatively easy to do.
Have a look at the organizations that are accepted to the Google Summer of Code. They range from the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) to the XMPP Standards Foundation. The Linux Foundation is also a GSoC 2012 member as well.
In all, Google has accepted 180 projects. Several Linux distros are mentoring this year, including Fedora, Debian, openSUSE, and Gentoo. A couple of BSD projects are participating as well. But if distributions don't float your boat, there's also Drupal, Drizzle, the GNU Project, Inkscape, KDE, Git, GNOME, GIMP, the Oregon State University Open Source Lab (OSUOSL), and many other fantastic organizations.
Each organization will have an ideas page, though students aren't limited to the ideas that are put forth by the organization. If you have an idea that's got you excited and will benefit the project, you should talk to the organization's mentors about that. Note, organizations should list their mentors and how to get in touch with them. You absolutely should get to know the mentors from the project early on, if you don't already. Students who are already involved in projects are likely to have a leg up, since there's more of a chance that they'll stick around after the coding.
You should also read the do's and don'ts for students. A lot of this is post-acceptance (don't disappear if accepted, don't do last-minute code drops, etc.) but they do give some good tips that might help you make the cut.
Once you have an idea, you need to write up a proposal and submit it to the mentoring organization. Projects should have an application template that helps you in writing the application. A word to the wise, a good application coupled with good communication and some demonstration that you can code will go a long way. Students that don't provide a good application have little chance of being accepted.
If the "getting paid to work on open source" thing isn't enough to convince you (and seriously, why not?) contributing to GSoC has some additional benefits.
First, it's a great chance to learn how to contribute to a FOSS project. If an organization does mentoring right, they'll help you with everything from learning to communicate within a project to the nuts-and-bolts of actual contribution. You'll learn more about how getting features accepted into a FOSS project works. You'll get feedback on your code in a structured setting. And, one hopes, you'll have fun doing it.
It also goes almost without saying that it's a great resume builder, too. You'll be able to point to successful completion of a project (assuming it's completed, of course) and that you've been able to work well with an open source community. Those are going to look good to a lot of employers.
There's also the bonus of actually doing something good for a project you care about, too.
And finally? Well, it beats flipping burgers all summer, doesn't it?
Seriously, if you're a FOSS-friendly student with some coding chops and a free schedule this summer, I hope you'll find a mentoring organization and apply for GSoC. The deadline is April 6th, but smart money is on the applicants that don't wait until the last minute.