Open source beginnings, from classroom to career

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What I've learned from the open source way

During my second year at Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (SNDT) Women's University, the first of its kind in India as well as in South-East Asia, I attended a workshop on Python and Orca by Krishnakant Mane. My classmates and I were novices to free and open source software (FOSS) and astonished when we saw a visually impaired person using a computer with the same ease as we did.

I was aware of Linux and had learned the basics of Unix as a freshman, but I had never used Ubuntu, which I thought might be command driven. It had a great interface and there was a lot of new technology for us to learn. That day not only was our class introduced to a new world of open source, but so was the university as a whole. 

All departments began to include open source software in their syllabi and the operating systems on the computers in the labs were shifted to Linux. At the SNDT Matunga campus, 95% of the students chose and the rest started using different languages like PHP for their last year projects.

A career takes shape

I decided to aspire to work only in Python in my career. First, I approached Krishnakant Mane to help me dual boot my system with Ubuntu and Windows. He fully explained Python concepts to me and mailed me the "Byte of Python" e-book. Not long after, I started working on my first open source project in May 2012: GNUKhata. It is backed by Comet Media, NIXI, and NMEICt followed by ICFOSS, and it is undertaken in IIT Bombay.

To begin, I watched a live demo and downloaded the source code. Then, I joined the two mailing lists: one for users, who want to stay updated on its functionality, and the other for developers, who want to take part in contribution and want to know about the technology behind the project.

That's the freedom open source has to offer—anyone can contribute to the work. I learned how to create tickets (tasks), commit (declare the completion of tasks), and push the changes in the repository for others to see/have/use. Funny things like sprints, where we code back to back without much sleep for a few days, I enjoyed. And, all problems we encounter can be asked to the mailing list anytime. There are even IRC channels in which hackers from all over the world help each other in debugging and solving errors without knowing anyone personally.

Because the source code is always open, it is necessary to write documentation as you go, so that in the future when others want to make changes they can do so by finding out how the code works. Plus, we have the freedom to do so from any part of the world.

Continuing FOSS education

I am taking a FOSS course from Anna University in Chennai, and in my continued efforts in this field I have come across the following impressive, open source technologies:

  • Pidgin is a chat messenger that is very secure and supports Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, and many other chat systems. OTR (off-the -record-chat) is the private chat system in which the conversation is authenticated by two or more concerned parties and it is only visible to them.
  • Creative Commons licenses are avaliable to help you choose the right way to attribute and authenticate any of your FOSS work (this applies all the license conditions of FOSS).
  • Diaspora* is for Facebook-lovers who want a FOSSbook. There is wall for every user and private chat, but the page has to be refreshed manually for every message. You can also contribute to Diaspora*—which is a newly developed project and will soon have modifications.
  • Rasberry Pi, a credit card sized ARM based computer board, connects to a keyboard and functions like a normal computer!
  • Spoken-tutorial offers various FOSS tutorials which IIT Bombay has undertaken for online studying. You can learn the basics for all FOSS software by viewing the online videos or tutorials.

Read more about my FOSS workshops here.

Adapted from Open Source life, published under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 India License.

Trupti is a FOSS evangelist. She completed her graduation in Computer Application from SNDT University, is currently studying MSc in Free and Open Source Software from Anna University Chennai, and is working on the project GNUKhata in IIT Bombay under Krishnakant Mane.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 India License