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Interview with Kushal Das on free, three-month programming course
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When Kushal Das helped found the Durgapur, India, Linux users group in 2004, he was struggling to find a teacher who could show him the open source ropes.
"During that time," Das said in a recent presentation at PyCon 2014, "there was almost no one to tell us what exactly to do with this thing called Linux, other than clicking randomly."
Today Das, a Fedora contributor, CPython Core developer, and member of the Python Software Foundation board of directors, has become the mentor he once wished he'd had. Since 2008, Das has spearheaded "I Know What You Are Going To Do This Summer," a free, three-month programming course taught the open source way. And yet again this year, Das and his band of volunteer instructors will help an international group of novice (but motivated) students understand the basics of open source development—always in the hope that graduates will go on to join open source communities. Class begins June 29.
More than 40 students participated in last year's program. This year, enrollment has skyrocketed. Das took a moment to tell us why.
What are your goals for this summer training program? How have these goals evolved this year?
For both users and contributors, we try to provide a guided path for students on this journey. If I were to list down the goals point by point, it would look something like:
- teaching communication guidelines in the FOSS world
- teaching development models and collaborative practices
- teaching system design and the architecture of software, with the help of real life projects that can help the students in their daily lives
This year, we will be pushing more on the development front for the students. Contribution can happen in any form, but as the majority of the students participate in order to learn programming, we will push more on that part. This also means more homework for the students!
How have you altered the program this year? What have you retained from previous years?
We are actually keeping the baseline of the training the same, but focusing on smaller details in different sessions. Last year we taught documentation first and the rest on top of it—which was a big success, so we will be doing more documentation this year during the sessions.
We use source code management systems in these trainings, and we might do more on that this year. The plan is to teach mercurial first, then teach git as a tool for source control management. We want our students to have enough basic knowledge to start working on any project. People will use their own personal favorite technologies, but we will try to showcase what can be useful.
Enrollment in the program seems to have increased this year. Is that true? Why do you think it's gaining popularity?
Actually, last year we saw a huge increase in the number of participants. We had more than 60 registrations and more than 40 participants attended every session. This year, the current registration is a huge leap from that. We already have more than 400 registrations, and we are hoping to have at least 50 percent of the students attending sessions regularly.
Past students from this training are doing a great marketing campaign for this year's course. A proper message to different social networks and FOSS mailing lists helped to reach out to more people this year.
You're also trying to increase the number of guests lecturing at this year's seminar. Who will be lecturing, and on what?
Guest lectures are going to be more organized and vibrant this year. We are hoping to have guests from different parts of the FOSS ecosystem present as guest speakers. I do not want to give out any names, but I am sure that we will have some prominent names from the Linux and Python worlds. We will also have guest sessions from past students who themselves became upstream contributors.
Have you heard from previous graduates? What have they been doing with the knowledge they've gained from your program?
Previous graduates are the most precious outcome for us. This training does not end in three months but becomes a life-long friendship between people from different projects. We are in constant touch with those past students who are currently working for many big industry names. They keep contributing to upstream projects and also to the training by putting new ideas on the table.
Most of the students are actually working in various parts of the industry and a few are also working on their own startups. The smiles of those students make us keep going year after year.