Wednesday Jan 30, 2008

A Student's Guide to Participation Age - Part III - Your Chance!

Students who wish to contribute first need to find an ongoing project in their area of interest and if none exists, they are always welcome to start. If you wish to contribute to a particular project, like OpenSolaris, Netbeans, MySQL etc, you can always join the mailing lists at the websites of these projects and get to know what is going on. Every open source project has a website where the details and ongoing work is listed. They also maintain a list of TO-DOs where you can get to know what work you can do. In the TO-DO, you can find work right from developing a device driver, to writing a simple help file. And there is no contribution which is not credited. Every bit of contribution to the community has its value. At universities, we have many opportunities open to our students who wish to make it big in this age of participation. For example, GLOSS - the open source community at my university, has been working towards popularizing open source amongst the students and providing them technical support and learning so that they can sharpen their skills and contribute to the communities of their interest. Programs like OpenFoundry, offered by GLOSS enable students to get themselves introduced to international open source communities and work under guided mentorship of industry engineers!

Second avenue to the success in this arena is by participating in competitions like Code for freedom. Winners of such high profile competitions get immediate spotlight in the community. There is plenty of support provided by the organizers of these competitions and they are the best place for the amateurs to start.

Companies like Sun always look for the popular contributors of the communities to recruit for the high profile jobs in their organization. You shouldn’t be surprised if you get to know about 20 odd year guys earning hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in these companies. Invariably these guys would have started their career as open source contributors.

Opportunities always existed in this world. The go-getters always made best out of everything. Winners and icons of today are what they are because they could see the opportunity and knew how best they could make use of it, when others failed to notice. Today we stand a better chance than the icons of yesterdays because opportunities were never this apparent and open. Giving concrete shape to your ambition and hunger for making it big is very simple! With a bit of determination and desire to work a little more than what is asked for is all what you would need to earn yourself a place amongst the “DIFFERENTS”! At universities like mine (SASTRA University, INDIA), which enjoys lots of support from open source giants like Sun and where we already have a vibrant open source community, becoming an open source champ is very simple. If your university still has no rocking Open Source community, what are you waiting for?? Just hit the roads yourself and take the lead! Form one community yourself and pool your friends in.. What will be left after that for you to do is to “PARTICIPATE!”!! :-)

A Student's Guide to Participation Age - Part II - The Action

Call yourself back to the current date, when a very interactive, fast and secure global network of computers in no more a technocrat’s dream but a rock-hard reality! Now the question is what we students have in store for us in this wide sea of opportunities! Answer is simple, “There is something for everybody in here!” In participation age, the outlook of the technologies and people associated with it has very drastically changed. Today, talent and skills are the only requirements to make it big. Amateurs can make into the team of core decision makers of mission critical projects like Linux Kernel or Mozilla Firefox. With almost every important technology, be it operating systems, RDBMS, IDEs, programming languages, business critical process support tools like ERP or productivity suits like office suits, migrating towards community driven open development model, the avenues to show-off your technical skills are almost everywhere. Not to mention, with more than 100,000 projects active on SourceForge alone, one can always find an open source project running in their own area of interest.

The opportunities are not limited to hardcore coders and programmers only. Even people from non-programming or in fact non-computer science backgrounds altogether, are very much in demand. For example, a project to develop Gene sequencing and modeling application would always need contributors from biotechnology and related areas. Right from open sourced microprocessor chips to education support tools for elementary schools, open source community is developing everything, and thus people with knowledge of non-computer fields, especially that of mechanical, electrical, electronics, biotechnology and bioinformatics, finance, languages and artwork are always sort after as consultants to the developers team.

Now the question often raised is how does this model of free and open software work? How is it profitable? Why multibillion dollar companies like Sun, IBM and Google invest so much money in these projects, which finally they don’t even own? What do contributors get in return for all their efforts? There are many answers to these interlinked questions. An open source software model generates revenues via selling professional support. Fundamentally, there are two types of users one can find in this world. First are those who can spend time to save money and there are others who can spend lots of money just to save time. Startups, small and midcap enterprise, computer geeks and educational institutions usually fall in the first group and giant enterprises, business tycoons, and many governmental institutions fall in the second category. The first set of users help in developing the technology by investing their time and skills, and the second set of users invest their money in the community so that the applications can be quickly developed. This way, both the sets of users share a relationship strongly tied by their mutual interest in each other. For example, Sun supports the Apache Foundation, the community which develops Apache web server, Tomcat application server and Apache Derby database management system, in two ways. First it invests millions of dollars in cash to support the contributors. Second it pays its own employees and engineers to contribute to the projects of Apache Foundation. This way Apache Foundation earns enough funds to continue its work, pay to its contributors and organize conferences and meetings worldwide at exotic locations! Continued financial support from companies like Sun and IBM propels the developers at Apache Foundation to come up with better product every release, and a better and free product compels enterprises and business houses to use them. These enterprises and business house which use these open source products in their mission critical applications look for professional support. And there comes companies like Sun and IBM which sell professional support to these customers. As the option of professional support on a high quality, open, free and reliable software falls to be cheaper than proprietary, closed, expensive software and support combo, IT industry has seen many big companies migrating to open technologies. This way open source communities always have money, companies selling support always have customers, and business houses always have better and custom software matching their exact needs! Everyone’s happy, everyone’s winning!!

Click here to go to the final part of Student's Guide to Participation Age: Part III, Your Chance! 

A Student's Guide to Participation Age - Part I - Prologue

You might find the title very tongue in cheek :-) But anyways.. Read On!!..

Societies and communities are children of communication. Their shape, size, behavior and scope depends only on the way its units, that is, we the people, communicate. The very basis of a society or a community is inter-individual communication for fulfillment of mutual interests. They have evolved with evolution of mankind and its intelligence. And in every age, technology played a crucial role in defining how we communicate and thus directly impacting our social life and structure.

It was not long ago (not even 250 years ago!) when most of us lived all our life in the confinement of hardly couple of tens of miles of the place where we were born as there was no swift means of transportation and traveling was difficult. World for us was indeed a small place back then and community meant handful of people who were invariably either neighbors or relatives. But then one fine day in the recent history, automobiles hit those dusty roads which were once trodden only by tough hooves of horses and oxen. World suddenly became wider and bigger and certainly more interesting. Things got even better when automobiles became a commonplace and aircrafts started to clutter the skies making men, women and avian alike. Cross culture interaction was happening everywhere and societies were developing varieties in it! You could have tuna in Shanghai and salmon in Morocco because logistics was no challenge anymore! Soon everyone was talking over the telephone and mobiles made every individual available 27x7 making his or her physical location almost immaterial. Mails took not even a day to cross the mighty Atlantic and thanks to cable T.V, everyone knew what is happening in the other half of the world! We had limitless communication channels made available to us and distance, which once tested endurance limits of swaggering explorers, was being ridiculed every day. World seemed a smaller place once again, very much like how it was 200 years ago. But we never have enough of innovation do we? This time innovation was the Internet. Email, Instant messengers, web pages, information was everywhere and every soul was communicating via this novel channel. Silently, mankind stepped into an age, where information was no constraint. Commonsense was skewed so as to take information for granted. Silently, mankind left the much celebrated legacy of industrial age behind and with much pomp and show we entered into the Information Age.

But the story I am about to tell you is not of the age in which static web pages coded in HTML flooded the cyberspace oozing information from every direction in almost all conceivable genre. The story is about that age in which content on the net was being created daily in volumes exceeding any measure ever known to the history in form of blogs, discussion forums and mailing lists. This is the age of Googles and Youtubes and Wikipedias. This age got everyone working together, collaborating over the network and giving birth to innovation that virtually redefined the term 'INFORMATION'! Yes! This story is of the new era of collaboration and mutual exchange of expertise facilitated by the network. We are talking about the Participation Age.

When the dot-com “bubble” busted, it had a devastating effect on the technology business oriented around the web. Many companies went out of business and venture capitalists, who invested their millions into the dot-coms and what was called the “information highway”, suffered enormous losses. The root cause of this mishap was the overestimation of pervasiveness of Internet and miscalculations of the reach of computers. But no mistake in the history of mankind would have been a bigger blessing! Little did anyone know, that the billions which were then giving sore throats to the IT industry, were actually spent in paving path for a new beginning. In less than three years, we witnessed the revival of Internet oriented businesses. But this time Internet had better bandwidth, more number of users and better hardware support. Technologies like PHP, Perl and Java which powered the last avatar of Internet had also matured and nascent technologies like AJAX, XML, Ruby etc had made their maiden entry into the developers arena. The web became more and more interactive day by day and the traditional “Request-Serve” model started to blur. One fine day we all realized that Web 2.0 was here and this time, it was here to stay!

 Click here to go to the next part of Student's Guide to Participation Age - Part II, The Action


I am Abhishek and I work for Sun/Oracle! In this blog, I share my interest in systems, solaris, linux and other technologies :-)


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