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Contributing to free/open-source software is one of the best ways to learn how to be a better hacker, both technically and ethically.

Most devs end up using a huge amount of open-source code in their projects, so giving back to these projects only makes sense.

That’s the main idea behind the Google Code-in, a contest for teens to jump-start their participation in open-source software.

From the contest site:

Google Code-in is intended to help students who may have wanted to get involved in open source but didn’t know where to start. By working through the tasks created by participating open source organizations, contestants will be given the opportunity to engage with the open source community and get involved. The participating open source organizations gain the benefit of additional contributions to their project, often in important areas that may get overlooked for whatever reason. It is Google’s not so secret hope that the student contestants of today will be long-term contributors to these and other open source projects in the future.

The contest starts today and runs through January 6, 2014. Google and its partners provide small, concrete tasks; teens choose tasks that interest them and earn points for each task completed.

At the end of the contests, Google’s partners (a group of 10 open-source software organizations) will name grand prize winners — two winners per company, so a total of 20 winners.

The prize is like a nerd’s Golden Ticket trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory: Each student and one parent or guardian gets a trip to Google’s Mountain View HQ to hang out with Google engineers, tour the campus, and participate in an awards ceremony. Get out of bed, Grandpa Joe!

Tasks will involve work in a few areas: Code, documentation, QA, UIs, and research/marketing/community management.

Pre-college teens 13 to 17 years old can register now; participation is free of charge.

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