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LinuxCon Logo The kid was the western suburbs of Pittsburgh, strolling up to the Red Hat booth on day two of LinuxCon North America with his dad in tow. 17 and a senior at West Allegheny High School in Imperial, PA, this young man had an interest in studying computer science and had come to LinuxCon with his father to get the lay of the land.

At this point, you might think the story would be about how we walked this young man through all of the different education options Red Hat participates in, including our University Outreach and Red Hat internship programs, and he left with a glowing confidence about the open source future before him. And indeed, that is pretty much part of what went down: my colleague Tom Callaway spoke at length with this student about those very topics. But while Tom was shaping future minds, I also had an interesting discussion of my own with the boy's father.

I spoke to several students at the booth over the course of the week--more women than men, I was pleased to observe--and while they all do represent the future of open source, that designation was not just limited to them. Anyone can come into open source and free software development and find their passion there.

The dad, interestingly enough, worked for a major IT consulting firm, so he was clearly no slouch in tech side of things. But what the father was not so clear about was the revenue stream for open source businesses.

It may seem kind of a slam-dunk for those of us in the biz, but the truth is there are still a lot of people in the world who don't understand how free and open source software works. Or, at least, some aspect of it. They may understand, for example, the benefits of open source collaboration (the old "many eyes make shallow bugs" chestnut), but not grok the difference between open source revenue models versus open core/freemium models.

I was happy to share knowledge with our visitor and there is now one more person in the world who understands how companies like Red Hat, SUSE, and Canonical can make a living.

More importantly, it dawned on me that we, as members of our various communities, still have a ways to go to enlighten and educate people about open source. That which seems obvious to us is really not, and we can't make the presumption that even if someone is at an event like LinuxCon (or OSCON or SCALE), they may not feel like they understand all they need.

Working with the younger generation is amazing and rewarding, but the same benefits can be reaped when we show any generation the joys of open source.

About the author

Brian Proffitt is a Manager within Red Hat's Open Source Program Office, focusing on content generation, community metrics, and special projects. Brian's experience with community management includes knowledge of community onboarding, community health, and business alignment. Prior to joining Red Hat in 2014, he was a technology journalist with a focus on Linux and open source, and the author of 22 consumer technology books. 

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