Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Inspiring stories from Texas Linux Fest

At the Texas Linux Fest I was particularly intrigued by Amber Graner, who went from a complete Linux newbie, to becoming a Ubuntu User Magazine contributor in one year. She spread a message that everyone, no matter how non-technical they are, can become proficient in Ubuntu. As they progress, they can participate in user forums, educating less advanced users. If I'm not mistaken, she said she recently accepted a position as Ubuntu User Magazine editor, though I haven't been able to find a confirmation of that on the net. Whatever her position is, the magazine is now her day job.

My old acquaintance Janet S., who I first met at the Atheist Community of Austin, was at the Texas Linux Fest too. She is now involved in writing FLOSS manuals -- technical documentation for open source software. And what do you know -- a couple of weeks since TXLF she started a job doing developer documentation for Mozilla.

Amber Graner at the Texas Linux Fest

Amber Graner gives a presentation "A Year NTEU* (pronounced In-to) Ubuntu and the Open Source Community". More pictures from Texas Linux Fest are in my photo gallery.

Those stories are inspiring. While I am not by all means closed off to a possibility of writing proprietary software (if you are a prospective employer Googling me, please be assured of that :-)), I've been thinking there are serious advantages to working in open source. It opens prospects in self-marketing you won't get in closed-source. Quite simply, if you're writing proprietary software, it's very hard to prove to prospective employers that you've done worthwhile, creative things. They have only your word to take for it. And even if you were permitted to show pieces of your code to outsiders (extremely unlikely), they still won't understand the context your applications worked in, the needs they addressed, or technical challenges they conquered.

But if you are writing open source software, depending on how widely used it is, chances are that someone on your prospective employer's team may be familiar with it. Also, its open nature allows you to blog about your work, and answer questions about it in user forums, building your online visibility and reputation.

At the nonprofit I'm currently working for we use Drupal and the LAMP stack -- Linux, PHP, MySQL and Apache -- to build our web application. At the very least this will give me opportunity to openly blog about the problems we are facing, and the ways we are solving them. I'm too busy actually building the application to blog about it yet, especially we as we are trying several approaches and it's not clear which of them will "stick". But I'll have to start blogging about it soon. Drupal is open-sourced, with a huge community seeking answers to their own problems -- thus, lots of social capital to be gained. I'm hoping it may become useful for me one day if, as I suspect, this nonprofit does not secure funding, and I'll have to continue to search for jobs.

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