Do you speak my language? Education versus open source processes and principles |

Do you speak my language? Education versus open source processes and principles

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I've been traveling between universities and academic conferences and open source gatherings and hackfests for quite some time now. A year ago, I started compiling a list of points of parity and points of difference between the two cultures.

Parity, though interesting, doesn't provide quite the contrast that difference might. So for today, we'll ignore the similar and talk about the things that don't look the same.

Here's what I've got so far for points of difference:

Planning EDU: There is a plan, and it will be followed. Find out what it is and adhere strictly to it.
OS: There may not be a plan, and if there is, you'll probably have to deviate from it. Step up and step in.
If you miss the plan EDU: Whoops. Too bad. While you wait for the next opportunity, use that time to get better prepared.
OS: Hop in anyway--you'll change the plan to accommodate your additions.
Seeking external approval EDU: It takes one 'no' to lose it all. Avoid hearing 'no' at all costs... even if that means you don't tell people what you're doing.
OS: It takes one 'yes' to win it all. Keep asking until you get a 'yes' - it doesn't matter how many 'no' answers you get along the way.
How newcomers learn EDU: Create learning experiences that can be used by as many people as possible. You'll build your next plan off your last successful one—as will others, just starting out.
OS: Every learning experience is a one-off. Successful newbies seek and nurture improvisational apprenticeships.
Dealing with uncertainty EDU: Minimize uncertainty. How else are you going to manage everybody following the same plan?
OS: Be productively lost. Uncertainty spurs innovation by allowing individuals to take advantage of rapidly shifting opportunities.
Analogies for personal development EDU: Climb the ladder to success. The process is a set series of reasonably efficient, stable, tested stages to a known destination.
OS: It's more like parkour. Or free climbing. A grappling hook you can throw around to scale vertical surfaces in whatever environment you're thrown into might be a good idea.
Proving yourself EDU: Once you pass the judgment of a gatekeeping body, you can use your credentials as a pass-card to access many things without further review.
OS: You will continually defend your skills to everyone you come across. Be prepared to show off your actual work, warts and all. And the approval of one body may not count for another, so resting on your laurels (no matter how sweet) is ill-advised.

This list has helped me unblock multiple conversations between people in academia (students and faculty alike) and those in open source environments. Each group sometimes needs help articulating fundamental assumptions to the other.

I know this list is incomplete and likely contains inaccuracies. I would love feedback on it: What do you think of the table? What would you add? If you're not in education or open source, how would your discipline (law, business, medicine, film-making, food production, or any other) compare on these issues?


About the author

Mel Chua - Mel Chua is a contagiously enthusiastic hacker, writer, and educator with over a decade of teaching and curriculum development experience and a solid track record in leadership positions at Red Hat, One Laptop Per Child, Sugar Labs, Fedora, and other Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS) communities. A graduate student at Purdue University, Mel bridges academic research on successful communities with deep personal experience getting her hands dirty building them. These days, Mel spends... more about Mel Chua