First, my co-worker John and I ran the Red Hat booth at the RPI Spring 2010 Career Fair. We were there for a little over four hours and by the end of it I had all but lost my voice. As one might expect at a school like RPI, every person who came up to speak to me (except for a biology major) knew exactly what Linux was, and the majority of them ran or had at least tried Linux themselves. Ben Boeckel, a current RPI student as well as Fedora contributor, dropped by so I got to say hi to him at the career fair as well.
A couple of days later I drove back out to RPI to give a talk on how to get involved in Fedora at the Rensselaer Center for Open Source meeting. Professor Mukkai Krishnamoorthy, one of the directors of RCOS and a much-beloved RPI CS professor, made all the arrangements for the talk. Now, the Rensselaer Center for Open Source is an initiative to support RPI students in researching and developing free & open source software (a list of the students’ current and past projects is behind the link.) I really wish this opportunity had existed while I was a student! The mission of the initiative as put by alumni Sean O’Sullivan who provided the funding necessary to start it:
We have a duty to our fellow man to improve life on this planet. While technology has always been a huge enabler in improving quality of life, we now are at a point where, through open software and open content, these improvements can come at close to zero cost, opening up opportunities to all… particularly in Third World situations, but also in government and consumer applications, open source solutions can cut through economic, political, and social divides, and enable people to simply get the job done. This center at Rensselaer may very well become a model for accomplishing this.
So, what a great group to talk to – what an opportunity! It seems like the RCOS mission and Fedora’s values have a lot in common. So, I had a little under an hour to talk about Fedora. There were around 50 folks in the audience, mostly RPI computer science students. I had a box of swag to give out (thanks to John Rose and the NA Ambassadors!) – two T-shirts, 40 Fedora discs, pens, buttons, etc. I set out all of the swag except for the t-shirts on a table before the talk and had the students come up and grab what they wanted – making sure they had the right arch media. Then at the beginning of my talk, we decided I would give the two t-shirts to the two folks who were the first to ask good questions.
The talk was thankfully very interactive – I was reminded of why I had loved RPI so much, because of the students – their curiosity, willingness to speak up, and their smarts made giving the talk a lot of fun! The students asked really good questions. We didn’t get through all the slides but I think that’s okay, the side-discussions we had were worth it. Here’s how the talk broke down:
- What is Fedora? I talked about Fedora’s mission statement – why we make it in the first place – and how Fedora is both an operating system and a community of folks who put that operating system together. The main point I kept bringing up here is how we always try to work with upstream, and why forking off in most cases causes problems.
- Why Fedora? Here I tried to focus on what makes Fedora different than other Linux distros. I walked through the four foundations of Fedora with examples of how we exemplified each. At the beginning of this section of the talk I noticed I was starting to lose folks (I’m not the best speaker but I’ve learned to be more mindful of the audience) so I told them they should wake up and to help them do that I was going to make them answer questions! One question I asked was about what kinds of things Fedora does to make sure it’s legally redistributable. We ended up having a good conversation on software freedom, codecs, patents, etc. and folks definitely perked up as I kept asking questions.
- What kinds of projects happen in Fedora? – this section was really a survey of arbitrarily-selected groups within Fedora, with a listing of some of the current projects that team was focused on (or at least, as the wiki indicated they were working on. ) We were running out of time at this point and the next section was way more important, so we really blew through it quickly.
- Get started! – I put together four steps to get started becoming a Fedora contributor – and a couple of students asked about this in the earlier parts of the talk so I was glad I had this section prepared:
- Get an account
- Find a team and a task
- Stay connected to the community – read planet Fedora and post on there! Tell folks what you are doing!
- Ask questions! Don’t be afraid!
I was really happy to see how many women were in attendance. I was also pleased at how many questions the students asked. One question that came up which provided some comedic value – a student asked, “Hey, does RPM still suck?”
I asked him, “Well, why do you think it sucks?”
He replied, “Dependency hell!”
“Hmm… I haven’t had issues with that in a long time. When was the last time you used an RPM-based distro?” I asked.
“Red Hat Linux 6.”
“I must have been in middle school back then…. I think a lot has changed in that time period!” I responded and everyone laughed.
Does RPM suck? I’ve not had any issues with it in a long time. I heard someone say, “‘You know I always heard it sucked but I never really tried it.’” It’s kind of sad perceptions like this linger for so long, but I guess it means we need to have these discussions to make sure folks know where we’re really at.
Anyway, 6 or 7 folks came up to me afterwards so I was there talking to folks for about 30 minutes afterwards. I ran out of all of the swag I brought except for a few 32-bit live media discs (everyone wanted 64-bit.)
Here are my slides – they are licensed CC-BY-SA 3.0:
By the way, if you want to follow the RCOS student projects, they have a project dashboard (the dashboard itself is an RCOS project as well!, thanks to Graylin Kim for the link). You can also follow the students’ blogs at the RCOS blog planet, http://rcos.cs.rpi.edu/.
(Thanks to my colleague Jon Orris for coming by to show his support and for taking the photos of the talk!)