[Linux-aus] Young people and FOSS in Australia

Mary Gardiner mary at puzzling.org
Tue Feb 15 12:43:40 EST 2011

On Tue, Feb 15, 2011, Russell Coker wrote:
> 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.

My focus here is (1) and (3). I am in fact dubious that academia really needs
more people, for reasons that would be mostly be tangential here, so I do not
personally have much interest in (2).
> 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".

Indeed this is true and should be a concern for FOSS advocacy, that the
intellectual property of university students is being tied up. This is true of
PhD work done at my university.

> > 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 
> convinced!

This (and some of the material I snipped) is probably a disagreement in
premises. Here's the premises I was working from:

(1) core volunteers, both developers and community leaders, in FOSS in
    Australia are aging.

    To take me as an example, I've been involved in community leadership in AU
    for about eight years. Many of the people I was on the SLUG committee
    (2002–2003) with were roughly the same age as me and there was significant
    activity by people in their early 20s. LCA 2001 (and I think 02 and 03?)
    were organised by a similar age group at least in part. Now the bulk of
    work is still being done by people the same age as or older than me, that
    is, very late twenties and older.

(2) the influence of people currently in their early twenties on the industry
    will grow as they get older. If Linux Australia/LCA/FOSS in general
    declines in interest to these people, our contact with the direction of the
    IT industry in general will eventually fall away.

(3) the FOSS industry is a good source of employment in IT and is rewarding and
    it would be nice to share that with new developers

So, having said all that (and some premises there can be disputed), I would
tend to argue that if Linux Australia isn't providing events and advocacy that
are appealing to 18–25 year olds (who are otherwise especially passionate about
IT, I don't mean the general 18–25 population) then Linux Australia has in some
degree a problem.

> > 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.
> 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.

This is a misunderstanding (probably my fault, as previously the mail really
wasn't intended for a wide audience): not *all* the proposals are to do with
getting LCA speakers.

This propsoal was more about getting users/developers in the 18–25 age range
(say) more broadly.

> > 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).

Well, perhaps my experience doesn't generalise very much but let me clarify.

I lived away from home to attend university. Summer holidays were my only
substantial opportunity to spend time with my family and holidays were
therefore precious. This was a significant problem when it came to attending
LCA from 2001 to 2004 (which is part of why I didn't attend in either 2002 or
2003).  So, to make it more specific: I was talking about university students,
but perhaps largely rural, regional and international university students, for
whom summer time may be more likely to be leisure time that is specifically
spoken for by family and friends.

And certainly the point about self-supporting students seems valid. I funded
about half my university education through working summers. (The other half
working semesters too, but summers are disproportionately profitable.) Very few
summer jobs have provision for leave right in the middle of them.


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