My open source morning

I am currently at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. The conference is a gathering of about 2100 technical women (and some men) with a mixture of technical content and soft skill/career-building workshops. While there are about 900 students in attendance, there are also numerous heads of academic and industrial research labs.

Before getting into the open source track sessions I attended, I have to address the keynote by Duy-Loan Le. It was completely amazing and only wish it was longer. It comparable to a talk I heard from Maya Angelou in its eloquence and inspiration.

After the absolutely amazing keynote, I attended two panels in the open source software track. The first one addressed was an introduction to open source development the surrounding community. The moderator was Natalia Vinnik, Yahoo! Inc. and the panelists were Sara Ford from Microsoft/CodePlex,Olga Natkovich from Yahoo! Inc./Apache/Hadoop and Stormy Peters, Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation. The main points touched on were:

  • There was a very brief declaration that “free” and “open source” are largely interchangeable terms and it’s best to observe community practice. This elicited a lot of muttering and disagreeing from the back of the room, but there wasn’t a lengthy discussion.
  • Education support and resources for teachers are available. I didn’t catch the urls, but GNOME has some resources.
  • There are many corporations involved with foss development and support such activities. This includes Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Google. It is a strong resume builder.
  • A huge draw to foss development that people like collaborating and the projects produce high-quality code.
  • The main skill needed is English. There are lots of non-coding opportunities such as bug reporting, logo design, usability improvements, etc.

The second panel addressed how foss can be a career path. The moderator was Cat Allman, Program Manager at Google, and the panelists were: Jenny Han Donnelly, Senior Engineer, Yahoo! Inc.; Margo Seltzer, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Harvard University; and Sarah Sharp, Linux Kernel Hacker, Intel.

  • **See tomorrow for a big announcement**
  • Just today there were 593 job postings with the keyword open source on
  • Community development teaches you communication skills, particularly when interacting with people with less than polished social skills.
  • Jenny comes from front-end development, so is used to view-source, open source was a natural progression (YUI)
  • Lurking is encouraged, excellent learning tool
  • Margo’s research group builds a lot of system software, likes people with foss experience.
  • Women are too hard on ourselves, need to be ok with making mistakes and with those mistakes being public.
  • Women often expect an invite, foss doesn’t invite but expects volunteers; women just need to be aware of this
  • Mistakes can be great in foss because more people are there to identify and help correct them.
  • Any environment where they treat you like an adult and allow you to be flexible will create better work.
  • Understand the difference between free speech and free beer.
  • Open is not a defined business model but can be used with different models.

Sleepycat was offered an example of how a career can be built off foss. It was profitable from day 1, never took outside investment and only product was open (Berkley DB). When it started getting popular and more features were requested and payment was offered.

Q & A brought a question from some Raytheon employees about whether foss can be secure or just be riddled with malicious content. The response was “security through obscurity is no security at all.” Emphasizing that proprietary software does not mean security. This didn’t seem to be completely accepted by the Raytheon employees.

What I really wished I had asked during the sessions is how academic research can be best be moved into foss development. I think of this as I have thousands of lines of Python and Java sitting on my machine from my PhD work. My research group has a new project starting to try and address this, Sound Software. It’ll be interesting to see where it leads.