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Event report: IIT Madras Hackfest & Release Party

26 Jan 2015

This year started for me with a 3 nights Hackfest workshop at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. While the workshop strayed completely off my goals, the post event commentary seems to indicate that attendees had a good time.

Students were screened for attending based on a general-FOSS questionnaire, followed by their submissions to a set of programming tests set by the mentors. I mentored on behalf of the Fedora Project. Other mentors included Anoop & Kunal (Drupal), Kunal (Wikimedia Foundation) and Nalin (iBus Sharda Project).

Mentors group photo

I began to worry because almost everyone showed up with Windows machines initially, and I had planned intensive exercises with no time allocated for setting up a Linux distribution. However, it wouldn’t have made a lot of sense to dive into programming activity when students were new to the idea of a distribution, command line and installing packages. Which is why I decided to dedicate a whole lot of time explaining all of those things with patience; from my experience, I’ve always had folks quit eventually once they get back home because they couldn’t set up their development environment. At least I got to distribute some fresh Fedora 21 DVDs that way ;)

Kids happy with their DVDs

Half of first night was spent explaining software philosophy, what it means for a project to be FOSS, what it means to be part of a community - that kind of thing, after which I had students install packages required for the rest of the event. I followed it up by an extensive workshop on Git. Most of them picked it up rather well. I would have gone ahead further with explaining colloboration over GitHub and the general workflow, but they seemed too sleepy for another hour of devspeak. 5am!

By this time, I realized that goals I had set weren’t going to be met, so I made a change in plan. Originally, I had thought I’d introduce them to Python and Flask while I pick it up myself (since that’s the stack used in most of Fedora’s infra projects), but this was a complete newbie crowd. I stuck with what I’m comfortable with. After spending time collaborating over GitHub on some projects we started, I had the students pick up Ruby the second night. I explained the concept of programming libraries, how they’re organized and shared, and how they’re hackable. A ruby library I once wrote would solve one of their screening process problems, I showed them how. The second day got me wondering what it’d have been like to have had a mentor help me when I got started, because I remember installing and understanding RVM/Ruby the first time took me two weeks (these kids had it set in minutes). It wasn’t until for GlitterGallery that I tried it again!

Whiteboard Musings

On the way from the airport to the Uni, I thought I’d showcase Shonku, but for the same reasons as I stuck with Ruby, I chose Jekyll. I was a little furious when I learned I’d even have to explain what a blog is, but given that everyone had a Jekyll blog running in a couple of hours, complete with some theme-hacks, I’d guess it was worthwhile.

Happy about the productive second night, I spent the following afternoon arranging cake for the release party. I was dissapointed at most of the major Chennai cake shops not having colors other than pink and green, I definitely didn’t want a Fedora Cake with the wrong colors! As a result, I had to overshoot the requested budget few dollars but I landed a nice one from Cakewalk, complete with a photoprint. Samosas and juice was courtesy IITM.

Cake!

Last night was Release Party and final night. All of us mentors got together in the larger lab to talk about things that were common across any community. I explained students what IRC is, had them lurk around our channels for a bit (and make a complete mess!), and showed them what it means to write proper emails to a mailing list (no top posting, etc). I did a brief introduction to Fedora.next and what it means to the community.

Speaking about Fedora.next

We had an exchange of thoughts, people shared their experiences getting to know about Free Software projects, and the overall atmosphere was pleasant. Our Fedora group left to our meeting room, where I had everyone create a FAS account, showed them around some of our wikipages, and provided them with tips on getting involved better. Finally, in a hope to get them started with Rails, I started talking about designing databases, how APIs talk to each other, and how web apps are structured in general. Well, we did end up cloning GG and setting it up, but I can’t tell how much of that they really understood ;)

All, in all, good fun.

Students: friendly group photo

(Thanks to Abhishek Ahuja for the great photos).