[Linux-aus] Young people and FOSS in Australia

Russell Coker russell at coker.com.au
Tue Feb 15 11:54:32 EST 2011

Apology noted, so I won't mention that part.

On Tue, 15 Feb 2011, Mary Gardiner <mary at puzzling.org> wrote:
> 1. Focussing on getting young people to speak at LCA (or OSDC)
> One possibility is a separate student track for, say, major project or
> honours students who did FOSS work and released their code. Perhaps
> targetting students at universities local to the conference.

What is the reason for getting young people to speak?  Three possibilities 
seem apparent to me:

1)  To get more active members of the Linux community.
2)  To help students on an academic career path.
3)  To get new ideas and new input into the way things are going.

> Couple of things to address:
>  1. lead time. An LCA talk would really need to be a planned outcome of
>     the project, which means getting the supervisors on board at the
>     beginning of the year.

What would be really good in this regard is university projects being released 
under the GPL or BSD license.  When I was at university they seemed to have a 
strong policy against projects that were usable.  All suggestions of 
assignments that could be used in production were rejected and the university 
had a policy of owning copyright on everything, "if you develop something that 
can be sold then we'll share royalties with you".

If students can work on projects that are usable under a free license then 
they can decide to give a talk for LCA or other conferences without further 
involvement of the university.  If the projects aren't usable and aren't free 
then there's nothing that can be done.

>  2. the talk itself. Honours students are accustomed to giving
>     academic-lite talks, which will bore an LCA audience. It's a
>     different genre of talk. Maybe have some kind of preparatory
>     speaking session for them?

Honors students are typically at least 21 years old.  Given that the youngest 
ever speaker at an LCA was 13 it seems to me that 21 isn't that young.  We've 
had lots of people who are about that age give talks at conferences such as 

Perhaps we should ask Elizabeth Garbee and other people who have given LCA 
talks when <18yo what could help encourage others to do the same.

I believe that honors students typically have done a standard 3 year 
undergraduate degree (which typically involves little or no public speaking) 
and a 1 year honors course.  If that's the case then they probably aren't 
accustomed to giving any form of public lectures.  For someone to get any good 
practice at public speaking by the age of 21 they need to either have a 
special interest in such things (maybe being on their high-school debating 
team etc) or have practice at speaking at the beginners group of their local 

Also as an aside I've seen a few talks by people who are that young fail badly 
at other free software conferences due to being unable to cope with the 
pressure (it's not a problem I've seen at LCA).  So it seems to me that you 
can't just take inexperienced people and give them a main lecture room.  Maybe 
start with a mini-conf talk and then move up to being part of the main program 
after they demonstrate some skill.  It's not good for the speaker, the 
conference, or the delegates for someone to die on stage.

Also I'm concerned that if we try to get speakers who aren't motivated by the 
fact that they are working on something that they think is cool and want to 
share with the world then the talks will lack in quality.

Enthusiasm is very important for a good lecture.  This is why the Tinmith guy 
is one of my favorite speakers from LCA.

> Ideally there would be follow-up of some kind to try and get them back
> the next year as attendees. 25% off next year's ticket? Simply a nice
> mail in October saying "that conference you spoke at last year? you
> could totally hang out this year too."

Why would that be necessary?  If they aren't convinced that LCA is a great 
conference after attending one then there's plenty of other people who are 

> The major thing I think lacking here is what to do with any student who
> gets super-excited. Where, in Australia, do we currently point them?
> "Start using Linux, and, um, when you find a bit of it you don't like,
> join an IRC channel and start hassling for commit access" probably isn't
> the right response here.

What currently happens with non-free software?  Perhaps we should compare with 
what companies like MS do.  If they do anything other than giving away cheap 
and sometimes free software to students then I must have missed it.

I agree that we can help get the information out there.  But I didn't find it 
so difficult to get involved in 1992 and it's surely become a lot easier since 
then!  Are there people who have enough skill and enthusiasm to get involved 
in development but who can't work these things out?

For people who are strictly users there is more obvious scope for improvement, 
but we aren't talking about users when we talk about LCA speakers.

> Also our conferences have shit timing for students. OSDC clashes with
> final exams. LCA clashes with family holidays and international students
> not being in AU, and to top it off most self-supporting students are
> working fulltime across it. An August event would really be ideal.

What age are you talking about here?  Family holidays are only an issue for 
<18yos.  People in the 18-21 age range don't want family holidays and 
typically don't have children of their own.  For <18yos attending LCA it's 
probably going to be LCA as a family holiday (EG the Garbee family).

> 3.2 LUGs

One thing I've suggested in the past has been that people who want to get 
involved can research some issues that are of general interest and then give 
talks at LUGs.  I can think of many Linux topics which are of interest to lots 
of people but which can be researched to a sufficient degree in a matter of a 
few days of fiddling with the software (I would be happy to offer suggestions 
to anyone who's interested and to review lecture notes for accuracy before the 
talk).  But there doesn't seem to be interest in this.  Maybe the beginners 
are too intimidated by the main LUG audience.

Australian LUGs provide a demanding audience.  The level of technical skill is 
great and people ask really hard questions.  A few years ago I gave a very 
similar talk about SE Linux to LUV and to the Cambridge University Computer 
Security group.  The LUV audience asked more difficult questions.  IMHO if you 
can give a talk at LUV and at SLUG and get a good reception at both then you 
are ready for LCA.

russell at coker.com.au
http://etbe.coker.com.au/          My Main Blog
http://doc.coker.com.au/           My Documents Blog

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