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.

Pictures from Texas Linux Fest are in my photo gallery.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What I got out of Texas Linux Fest

This is a bit of old news, but My "official" writeup of Texas Linux Fest was posted on GeekAustin.org, an Austin website that chronicles tech-related events in Austin, and puts geeks in touch with networking and learning resources.

Elze's wrap of Texas Linux Fest

I won't repost it in my blog, since it concerns people and topics that are of little to no interest to whoever might be reading my blog.

Going to events like that isn't exactly educational for me -- presentations are not my learning style. When I want to find out about a new technology, product, methodology, or trend in software development (like agile programming), I google it, and jump around from page to page, fishing out relevant bits of information from each one. Presentations are sequential in their nature, which has the unfortunate effect of causing me to tune out sooner or later. In any presentation there will come a moment when I won't see how a particular tangent the speaker went off is relevant to the topic; sometimes I will need to chew over a new piece of knowledge before I can build on it; yet the presentation does not stop, does not let me mull over what was said, or jump back to connect a new bit of knowledge to a previous one. So sooner or later I get off track. (Presentations where I don't lose the thread of thought are even more of a waste of time, because they mean I know the subject -- at least at the level of complexity the speaker is presenting it at -- so well that I'm not learning anything new.)

The reason I go to conferences like this, then, is to find out about people's career paths in areas that interest me (I'm not just speaking about open source here, but also about science fiction and writing). Even if they don't have paid jobs in my area of interest, I still want to hear how they incorporated their passion for the subject into their working life. Even better if they integrated it into their day job, or carved a space for it apart from their day job.

There were some people like that at the Austin Linux Fest -- more about them in my next post.