Two days before the BMS College Information Science Department Fest called "Genesis 2007", I received an email from a couple of students asking me to talk about "introduction to open source". Apparently, they were frantically looking for a speaker. Since I'm not the right person for this, I agreed to come only if they didn't find someone else... and I ended up going there on Friday.
The talk was supposed to be an introduction for a day-long session on Open Source Hacking which was organized by few enthu students trying to get other students interested.
I started making the presentation on the midnight before Friday, so I didn't have a very polished presentation, but I had something reasonable. The title of the talk was "How to make money from coding (or Why Open Source)". That should get their attention.
15 minutes before the talk, there were 2 students in the hall. I wanted to start the talk on time and decided to start without much crowd anyway. My sore throat was troubling me and I was coughing every two minutes. Anyway, I started off with a funny anecdote. It flopped. Oh boy.
Then, I decided they're not warmed up yet, and recovered quickly. 15 minutes later, the 225 seater hall was full. Phew.
An hour later, they were still all there, they were asking lots of questions and they seemed genuinely interested. I hope the students do take FOSS software seriously, if not for the freedom and open source aspects, at least for their own career aspects which I detailed out in the talk. (And I'm sure once they're hooked, they will later "get" the freedom and open source aspects.)
Why do I say that? Well, it comes down to the first question in the Q&A session - "How to get into Yahoo!?", and I replied "Well, do you want to know how I got into Yahoo!?". A unanimous yes. I told them the MySQL story, the Python story and few other tidbits. Now, they're really listening. I pointed out that I didn't have any special skills, just the knowledge of these two open source software got me the job at Y!, and it saved me from a service industry job (no offense meant, just a personal preference).
Next question: "Any regrets in college life?". It caused a flashback in my mind on Atul's words : "There are two times you innovate in your life - one is when you are a student, the other is when you retire." Back then, I didn't believe him. Now, I do. So, I told them "I haven't yet regretted not scoring well in college. This is the only 'free time' you have, so use it well." I got lot of smirks and "oh, please, we have so much to study" looks. I said "Two years later, I'll see how many of you come back and tell me I'm wrong."
Then, after the session ended, a few electrical students said they wanted to get into the software industry and don't know where to start. I told them that some of the best programmers I've known are from a mechanical background, so that's okay. You should prove your skills, that's all, your background shouldn't matter, although it may be difficult to get your first job because you're not a computer science student. Then, a telecom student. I was happy about this guy because he said he wanted to remain in the telecom domain but learn coding really well, I said that's a very good decision he's taken and told him to see open source projects such as Asterisk and OpenMoko. He said "I'm in my final year, just 8 months to go, am I too late?" I said "8 months is a really long time, you're not late, you just have to start now." (8 months is a long time when you think about it, but it seems to fly away so soon).
After that, students headed towards the computer lab where I gave a crash course in using subversion. I had to get back to work, so I didn't stay for the rest of the day, but I heard there was a "good response" from the students.
In the end, I don't know if anyone was inspired about FOSS or not, but I did see that few students absorbed the fact that knowledge and projects are going to get them good jobs, not just marks (of course, you do have to have a decent score), and working on FOSS projects is one way to achieve that.
P.S. If you've read this far, and you're interested in learning how to contribute to open source software, then you're in luck, because the foss.in community event is coming up soon. You can start right now by reading Atul's latest post on foss.in.
Update : A related must-read article is "How to Get a Job Like Mine" by Aaron Swartz.