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6 colleges turning out open source talent

Sandra Gittlen | May 3, 2016
Most IT departments have project roadmaps that will require open-source skills, but finding recent college grads with open source talent can be challenging.

5. Western New England University

Heidi Ellis is not a fan of “sink or swim” so she goes to great lengths to ease her students into the open-source community. Each semester, she helps them select a project that is open to student involvement and identifies areas where they could make contributions. Ellis introduces her students to the online community, explains that they are working in 15-week terms, and shares the goal of their participation. For instance, one class contributed written installation instructions to OpenMRS, a global open-source electronic medical record system platform.

By doing this, she says, she helps students avoid getting off on the wrong foot with existing contributors and can observe how they handle themselves in the collaborative environment.

A smaller university like Western New England, she says, provides the unique opportunity to nurture these talents. “Trying to do this with a class of 50 students would be a difficult task; doing it with 15 students is more achievable,” she says.

She teaches students the importance of soft skills such as business and process in the world of open source, helping them navigate tricky aspects of the coding world, including proving your abilities. Students can start with bug verification and bug fixes and then move on to contribute code. By the time they complete their Computer Science or Information Technology degree, which includes open source, Ellis says they are able to step into an open-source job. “Contributions to open source hold huge potential for elevating students above the crowd with respect to hiring,” she says.

Ellis is vocal with local business partners about her students’ knowledge of open source, making it easier for them to identify prospective job candidates. “Our partners understand that our students have the ability to produce something the community wants in the way they want it. That’s a huge positive,” she says.

6. University at Albany

Patrick Masson is firm in teaching students that they shouldn’t wait until everything is perfect to post – a key tenet of the open-source development community. “Release early and release often is a good development practice because it is easier to identify and fix small changes rather than the whole program,” he says.

Masson, who also is general manager and director for the Open Source Initiative, an organization devoted to managing and promoting and protecting open source, says open source has revolutionized teaching. “Students can post their work and get feedback directly from the open-source community,” he says. “We can foster key principles around collaboration and transparency.”

He shares examples of open-source communities with his students, lets them pick one and then gives them questions they can only find answers to by engaging directly with those communities.


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