Little did I know a week back that I was to give the closing keynote at the last FOSS.IN ever. FOSS.IN 2005 was my gateway to the open source community and hence has been special to me. Since then, except 2007 when I was in Germany, I have managed to attend FOSS.IN every year. In the closing keynote, I shared my experiences and learnings from being part of the open source community for about half a decade now. Below is a short transcript of what I spoke. Slides are on slideshare and here.
I pondered a bit as to what would be an appropriate content and structure, given that it would be the last talk at the last FOSS.IN. After some thought and poking around, I settled on sharing my experiences with being part of the open source community. I also wanted to make a point regarding the politics that gets attached automagically with most conferences in India. A bit of self-introspection led me to close in on three main characteristics that I have acquired and developed by being part of open source projects and interacting with the community.
As kids we question anything and everything. Kids ask questions that we, as adults don’t bother to. Something somewhere definitely went wrong. Curiosity and the urge to explore seems to be inversely related to age. What we forget is that there is pleasure in exploring and finding things out. Check this short 10 minute teaser “Pleasure of finding things out” by Richard Feynman [youtube video]. The book is a highly recommended read too. Curiosity is the fuel for all inventions and development. Open source encourages one to explore the details and cultivates self-learning capabilities – a trait which the world’s “education” system fails to induce in individuals.
Sharing and Collaboration
Computing and computers have evolved from Pascal’s Adder to today where we are constantly on the look out for power sockets. Over these years the term “Hacker” emerged. Hacker is any person who likes to explore details of a system and extend their functionality as opposed to most people who prefer to learn the bare minimum. Hackers love to share and collaborate. Not the type of collaboration with an evil back-door plan. There is nothing unethical about hacking. A simple example are the Bulletin Board Systems that existed in the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, where “hackers” usually restricted by geographical boundaries or within universities logged in, shared information and collaborated on ideas. Very much similar to today’s globalised user forums and mailing lists. A typical example in today’s setup is github. One feature that stands out is the “fork” feature. It allows you to share and collaborate in a true global sense. This is the true spirit of open source. Thanks to Claudio who pointed me to this example. Bottom line – “Sharing and Collaboration is the key”.
Fun and Friendship
Over the last 5 years, since FOSS.IN 2005 I have participated in various conferences like Freed.in, GNUnify, FOSSMeet@NITC, Barcamp Bangalore and many more. I have made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun. Its such a good feeling to know the availability of a couch to sleep in most parts of the world. This by far remains my top take away. Bottom line is to have fun in whatever you do. I quote Randy Pausch – ” Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress. When you’re pissed off at someone and you’re angry at them, you just haven’t given them enough time. Just give them a little more time and they almost always will impress you.” I recommend seeing “The Last Lecture” video followed by reading this book.
And one more thing
Preach CULTURE of Free software.
NOT the politics / philosophy
Before you go bonkers over my statement, hold your fire until the end of this post. In 2006, I had been to many colleges preaching the GNU philosophy, the 4 freedoms and all the “correct” terminologies like “open source” , “Free software” etc. I would have talked to atleast 1000+ students creating awareness. I do respect the freedoms and the philosophy of GNU/Free Software. But this is not what you go around preaching when you are talking to students. After many workshops, I started to feel something was wrong. Change of strategy was needed. I started talking to students about specific projects and making them curious about specific technologies, introduced them to opportunities in Google Summer of Code, encouraged them to explore, share and in general have a lot of fun. This completely changed the game. As examples, two students Madhusudhan and Santosh, who in 2007 were doubtful about their abilities, today are rockstars in their own way. I can name a whole bunch of folks like this who deserve more than a “Great going folks! Keep it up.”
Its time for #OperationPayback
Most conferences in India are often pounded with negativities and politics. In the end all that matters is what the participants take away from a conference. If a conference has managed to stir up a little amount of curiosity on a certain technology, helped you share information, discover something new or meet like minded people and network, it is a good sign. FOSS.IN has done that to me over the years. When I requested the audience to stand up if they have explored a piece of code that they have never looked at before, shared some knowledge with others or met atleast one new friend this year or at any of the previous editions of FOSS.IN, there was not a single soul in my vicinity sitting down. Hats off to Team FOSS.IN to have made this happen. Thank you and bye bye FOSS.IN. You will be missed…
* Apology – a formal written defense of something you believe in strongly
** Pictures were taken from a few presentations I attended over the years, CC licensed – flickr. Links will be updated soon in the slides on slideshare.