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Fedora comes to University - Coimbatore Contribution Camp Report

18 Nov 2014

At my University in Coimbatore, we run a tech{know}logy club, where we try to talk about interesting things in technology that normally isn’t covered in the classroom. We had a set of freshers join our club in August through the induction program. On Software Freedom Day in September, they were introduced to the idea of FOSS, open source communities and how it’s possible to contribute to them. When I went to Hanoi for our Ambassadors meeting, I decided to host a contribution camp in Uni sometime this year. Here’s the wikipage which has all the essential bits.

Background week

My friend Manjush and awesome (fresher) junior Sachin did a great job gathering a bunch of interested freshers and other students in our digital library for a half week before the camp took place. On the first day, they helped with installing Fedora (and other distributions of choice) onto the participants’ computers. They spent another day explaining what packages are and helping install the important ones. I showed up for the last two days and helped with Git and Jekyll.

Day One - Thursday

All of us agreed that the best way to motivate folks towards the camp was to screen a movie at our Auditorium. We were expecting 70, but were delighted to be able to host 180 students for Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz .

Movie Screening Poster, courtesy Anirudh Menon

For those initiated to the world of Free Software, the Startup Community, and DRM oriented arguments, the movie was a reminder of Swartz and the role he played in shaping part of our world. For the rest, they got to hear about terminologies, ideas and people they could later go and Google. Overall, the silence in the hall towards the end of the movie touched me. We invited everyone to join us for Day Two, and many did.

Day Two - Friday

We wanted to be less theoretic, so we structured our sessions that way. We expected 40 people, 45 showed up. I think if not for Google Club’s mindless discussion about landing jobs by marketing Google products, we would have had a larger attendance. Abhishek Ahuja started the day, speaking about FOSS in general - what it is, why bother, how it affects him. He followed it up with FOSS alternatives to popular software.

Ahuja talking about an interesting GIMP plugin he once discovered Sachi?raw=truen went next, he provided a rather neat introduction to the popular GNU/Linux distributions and the history/community behind them. One interesting thing he did was talk about desktop environments - something people get to hear about often but don’t really understand. From what I could understand, the audience was confusing distributions and desktop environments.

Sachin presenting various desktop environments

I’m actually quite proud of those who attended - the sessions were held after class because we didn’t have much choice, and it’s tiring for freshers who have to wake up early for Yoga classes and walk all the way to our session hall. I didn’t want them to sit and listen to us in hunger, so I arranged for snacks with the money I had asked Tuan to allocate for this event. Anyway, after a quick break, we were back to the sessions.

I’ve seen Manjush try the most distributions, so we had him speak about his timeline of the various GNU/Linux distributions he tried. At least to me who’s spent enough time doing tech support for my peers with respect to installing distributions, it was an entertaining talk. He spoke about problems with installation, problems with lack of language support, problems with community, problems with bundled software, problems with licenses and every other kind of problem one can think of. I was proud when he said he eventually settled on Fedora since it gave him everything he wanted.

Manjush talking about his difficulties with distributions he previously used

I did the last session: Fedora A-Z Guide (partially due to time constraints). Now our University provides us with some hurdles: fresher’s don’t get to use laptops, lab usage is fairly restricted, and girls can’t hang out past 7.30pm (after which anything we want to do happens). So I tried to pick up the non-technical bunch of areas, or areas with less technical intensity, while making sure they have the opportunity to participate over their smartphone. I explained how Wikipedia is everyone’s encyclopaedia, and how they can host their own. Through this, I tried to excite them about the power of a collaborative community, and how they can start contributing with whatever existing skill they have. Some students seem to have gone back home and edited few Wikipedia pages as well :)

Yours truly running through the A-Z guide

Day Three - Monday

Come final day and we had a new set of faces. The attendance was 40. The demand seemed to be the Fedora A-Z guide, so I went over it once more, this time talking about fewer topics, but with more depth. For example, I showed them the badges project, traced a badge to the trac and showed them how the badges are designed and how they evolve. That seems to have gotten them pretty amused, because I met at least 3 people who said they’d like to contribute to badges.

Next up, I went over the hands-on bits from my FOSS 101 workshop at FOSSASIA Phnom Penh and SFD Hanoi. We had a brief look at Fedora and Mozilla’s contribute pages, OpenHatch and CodeTriage. I explained how we communicate - mailing lists, blogs, issue pages, IRC. I explained ettiquettes to follow when one is interacting with a community. It looked like a lot of people related with the usage of SMS lingo and hyper-exclamations (sigh, teens) - I got to see a lot of giggling and smiling around.

Good Procrastination and Bad Procrastination

After the usual snack break, it was time for my final presentation. When I asked a faculty for feedback on Day Two, he felt we were getting a little too technical for the freshers, and that we should do a funny/inspiring session. So I did one called “Good Nervous and Bad Nervous”, and it pretty much rocked :) I brought up lots of experiences from my personal life, what I learned from little things my friends in the Fedora and FOSS community taught me through their words and actions. I look forward to polish it and do the talk again sometime, or maybe even blog it.

So.. that’s the most of our camp, and we’re meeting again this evening to help people with any problems they have in getting started. I’ll be running a survey for the attendees later this week, and if the results seem interesting, I’ll share it.

Closing Notes & Thanks

  1. Although I’m excited about the enthusiasm everyone displayed, I wish the overall technical aptitude of the attendees was higher. I have another semester left here, I’ll try my best to fix that.
  2. I’ve started a reimbursement request on the apac trac (#161) for the food - I’ll upload bills and supply reports today.
  3. I’ve run out of swag now, so I need to figure out something before my Fedora Project workshops at IIT Madras in early Jan
  4. Thanks to: Manjush who kickstarted the sessions, the week prior to the camp. Sachin, our wizard first year who helped out pretty much everywhere. Proud of you! The University, for not making the permission process too much of a hassle to me. Everyone who attended, spoke or blogged.