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[Osdc-edu-authors] Help me identify the boring stuff in this article draft (Stormy's CCSCNE keynote)


I'm struggling here: in the spirit of release-early-release-often, here are my notes from Stormy Peters's keynote at CCSCNE (regional CS edu conference) this weekend.

The title of the talk was "Communities: Open Source and Education Working Together" - and the article so far is mostly "interesting things Stormy said written down in no particular order," which makes it read in a scattered manner.

Help? What's the most compelling stuff in here? I might just be blanking out because I spend so much time thinking about getting professors involved in FOSS that a lot of it begins to sound the same after a while, so I'm curious what grabs the attention of those who don't see this sort of stuff every day.




This past weekend, Mozilla's Stormy Peters delivered a keynote at CCSCNE, the largest regional CS education conference in the USA. "I don't have all the answers," Peters said in her opening. "I want to begin a conversation." When asked to raise their hands, nearly all the CS professors in the audience indicated that they used open source software - but when Peters asked who worked to contribute back to open source communities, only a few hands stayed up.

Some professors seemed hesitant to engage with a new professional culture with such a fast pace and high expectations. Would experienced hackers think working with a classroom was a waste of time? Peters reminded them that open source community members were also intimidated by academia! "The last time we talked with a professor was when we were students," Peters reminded the audience. Both sides are waiting for the other to take the first step.

Faculty can start off on the right foot by contacting communities through their preferred media of communication. "This is usually not Facebook," Peters joked, to laughter from the audience. More commonly it's something like mailing lists or IRC - lowest-common-denominator technologies that are reliable and accessible to everyone. Once you're talking in the right venues, feel free to interrupt people, Peters said. Most open source contributors work on 3-4 projects at one time, so it's your responsibility to make sure your messages cross their radar. If you send an email to the list and nobody answers, find people on IRC and ask them what's up.

Peters stressed the importance of communication. "If you work with open source software... and you're not blogging, you're missing an opportunity for that project to help you out... if you have a conversation about that project, it's really important that you capture that conversation and post it somewhere." Use the vocabulary of the project - if a group calls the members that manage its work "maintaners," call them maintainers, not managers! - and when you ask for help, make sure the payoff is something the community itself will value. An academic survey asking for responses in the name of "scientific knowledge" is likely to interest fewer project contributors than one with a pledge to donate $1 in travel sponsorship to an upcoming developers' conference for every survey response received.

"From the open source side, we're really excited because we need more contributors," Peters explained. When an audience member commented that he wrote tutorials rather than code as his contributions, Peters nodded in assent. "We tend to attract a lot of developers - and we need a lot of them. But we need other types of skills as well."

It's not just projects that need these skills - companies need employees with these them as well, and open source participation can be an edge for students looking for a job. Peters described Mozilla's hiring practices and the incredulous looks it sometimes draws - "you're hiring a new college grad, and you're going to let him work from home?" "Why not?" says Peters. "When they come in on their own, we have no clue on the open source side that they're even students... [these students] know how to find us, talk to us, manage [their] own time effectively." Students with open source experience have public portfolios demonstrating both their technical and communication skills, have been working independently the entire time, and have members of the project to vouch for them on all of the above.

She closed with an encouragement to professors to attend local FOSS events as a good way of getting started. "A lot of the Free Software communities spend a lot of energy and a lot of funds getting people together." Universities can capitalize on this by offering to host FOSS events, bringing open source communities straight to their door.

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