Reflected Pensiveness

beneath the leaky pipe of thought.

Seasons of Code

with 3 comments

When I joined the Fedora Project last year, it was a pretty big deal to me. A college freshman, I’d used Linux for a few years and enjoyed it but never really contributed anything back upstream except for the occasional automated bug report.

A year later, I’m very glad I got involved in open source. But I know plenty of very smart people about my age – oftentimes people I think would be even better at this stuff than I am – who don’t join projects or contribute back upstream for no reason other than that it’s not easily accessible for them.

I’ve been sort of monitoring a student from my old high school as he works on his senior thesis. The project is improving security for Sesame. Some of the first questions he started asking his thesis mentor made it pretty clear that he wasn’t sure where to start or how contact project members. Moreover, I’m not entirely sure that he was clear on how open source development even progresses (c’est รก dire, he had never been outside of the Cathedral).

I remembered my own thesis project which involved a new type of spam detection that I built as a plugin of sorts to SpamAssassin. I remembered how confused I was about open source projects too, and now I’m wondering: if someone makes a conscious effort to open up opportunities in the open source world to students, especially high schoolers and younger college students, could we make:

  1. A significant boost in the number of people interested in computers who manifest that hobby in the open source world (in other words, can we increase our contributer numbers?), or
  2. For those that don’t necessarily become contributers, can we at least get them to try Linux? Consequently, since that’s one of the strongest demographics in terms of driving the computing market (a statement I’m completely hypothesizing with no hard numbers), can we make a dent in the consumer world where more developers support OSS or, at the very least, Linux releases?

When I thought of this, the first thing that came to mind was Google’s Summer of Code. But this is a summer thing and it usually targets pretty complex tasks. It also costs money. What if there was a web community where hackers could post jobs of various difficulty or depth with the intent of having students pick them up? There would (probably) be no payment involved, but I have a feeling that lots of students who need projects for school or who are sort of curious but have no obvious point of entry to the open source community would be happy to pick up small tasks if they’re spoon fed to them (at least in the beginning). Course instructors/professors could even use these postings as projects for their classes which have a real effect in the world – that’s perhaps the best case scenario that I could think of.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Just an idea.

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Written by Matthew Daniels

August 6, 2009 at 6:12 pm

3 Responses

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  1. that’s exactly what your people need.

    Jackson

    August 7, 2009 at 9:29 pm

  2. Oh, absolutely. I’m glad you see where I’m going with this. You might even get some Firefox plugins or new web functionality out of it, yourself.

    Matthew Daniels

    August 8, 2009 at 5:04 am

  3. Amen. When I was in college, I had the same frustration: why was it so hard to get my classmates started?

    We’re working on this, though. http://teachingopensource.org, there are a whole bunch of professors and open source project leaders trying to find ways to lower the barriers to entry for students – for instance, by offering classes where contributing to open source is actually your homework assignment, guided by a professor who’s also an open source contributor. (Yeah, they’re a bit rare. That’s why we did http://teachingopensource.org/index.php/POSSE this summer.)

    One thing that’s missing at TOS, though, is the student voice. I’d love to catch you on IRC sometime (I’m mchua on varous #fedora-* channels) and get your thoughts on how that could happen. There are a few other college (and late-high-school) students with similar thoughts. We should… talk.

    Mel Chua

    August 20, 2009 at 9:26 pm


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