[Linux-aus] Young people and FOSS in Australia

Russell Coker russell at coker.com.au
Tue Feb 15 14:59:33 EST 2011

On Tue, 15 Feb 2011, Mary Gardiner <mary at puzzling.org> wrote:
> 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.

Is this happening to a degree that is problematic?

In the 90's there were hardly any people involved with Linux who were more 
than 30yo.  The people who were seriously involved in Linux in the 90's are 
mostly still involved now - this is a good thing.  A large number of people 
have been doing the same Linux related work for 10+ years - this on it's own 
is also a good thing as we don't want to lose talent.

Naturally if you start with a group of young people and don't have a high 
attrition rate then you end up with the average age increasing.

If someone compared the number of 22yo people who are active in the Linux 
community and the number of CS graduates and found that the portion of CS 
graduates using Linux was decreasing then I would be very concerned.  But 
people who do things well continuing to do them well for 10 years isn't a 

In terms of active participation if someone is doing a job then it does 
discourage others.  I think that most people have had some experience of a 
club that has had the same president for ~10 years with a resulting lack of 
participation from others.  Sometimes it's good to step aside for a while and 
let others get the experience.

> (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.

Yes, but I'm not convinced that is happening.  When I was in my early 20's no-
one was being paid to do Linux work, even Linus getting sponsorship from DEC 
was considered to be unusual.  Now there are lots of job adverts for Linux 
positions.  Someone who is studying CS can make a reasonable choice as to the 
career benefits of using Windows or Linux in their spare time.  When I studied 
CS there was no apparent career benefit to using Linux.  I was considered to 
be eccentric for claiming that there ever would be serious commercial use of 

> (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

What do we need to do that's not being done by job adverts?  I just checked 
http://www.seek.com.au/ and found 4,911 adverts matching "Linux" in Australia, 
2,799 matching "Windows", and 160 matching "Mac".

I'm sure that uni students are doing such searches and getting the same 
results!  If all other things are equal a smart career-focussed student will 
put the most effort on where the most jobs are.

Of course our community may benefit more from students who don't care much 
about money, assume that they can earn as much as they need doing what they 
enjoy, and use Linux because it's FUN!

> 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.

Are there people who are passionate about computers who can't find out about 
Linux by themselves?

I ran my first Linux server because it was the cheapest way to go.  Cheap 
hardware and no OS cost.  Linux is still the cheapest and you can find 
suitable hardware in a rubbish bin.  Presumably there are still poor uni 
students running Linux servers because they can't afford anything else.

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


For non-developers I agree it's a problem.  Maybe one way to start is by more 
promotion of Computer Bank etc.  I don't have many ideas for this.

> > 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.

Fair point.  I guess that summer holidays are bad for people like you but good 
for people like me.  I wonder whether there are more people like you or like 
me in the pool of people who are potentially interested in attending LCA type 

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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