Why students and open source?
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
Hacking which was
organized by few enthu students trying to get other students
I started making the
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
Update : A related must-read article is “How to Get a Job Like Mine” by Aaron Swartz.