Learning in a HFOSS Community

Over the Columbus Day weekend I attended the GNOME Montreal Summit with my Software Engineering class. The Summit was a hack-fest where GNOME developers and contributors get together to get things done. During this summit, we met many GNOME developers and contributors. Many of the developers took time out of their schedules during the weekend to talk to us. They spent time showing us ways to improve our current development process, like using jhbuild. The director of GNOME also took time out of her schedule to talk to the class about licensing in GNOME, and why OSS is so great.

Besides just interacting with the GNOME community during the days at the conference, we got to interact with them at a couple social events. The community members were very welcoming to the class as newcomers, and included us in their activities. It was a great experience to get to collaborate with the community both in a development environment, as well as in a social setting.

In general, learning in an OSS community is very different from learning in a typical class. The knowledge that I have acquired while working on the MouseTrap project and interacting with the HFOSS community has taken the theoretical applications from class and applying them to a real situation. I have learned how to effectively search for answers on my own, without having the answers told to me in a lecture. I have spent a lot of time searching for answers on wikis and online documents, and learning how to extrapolate answers to my problems based on the solutions I found online. This skill will help me in my future professional life, as I will not have the answers to my problems lectured to me. Being able to learn on my own, and solve problems based on existing solutions will be critical to my success in the future.

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Getting Started

This class is going to be different from a typical class in the way that we are approaching our topic. In most classes, when students are working on a project, it isn’t a real project. The teacher normally designs a project, and the student work on their own to complete that task. This class is taking a different approach, as we are going to actively participate in a real project that’s out in the community. Most of the time, students work together, but their work stays local to the group. Everything we do in this class will be public to the community, as we will be posting updates on the wiki, and actively working with community members.

Joining into a FOSS project is fun, but challenging. When I first stepped into the Mousetrap project, it was a little scary to start making changes to the code. I was worried that the work I was going to do wasn’t up to par, or that people in the community would be harsh to a newbie. Once I started working on Mousetrap, I found that to be quite the opposite. Fellow students, and people in the community were always willing to offer help when needed, and were never judging to me as a newbie. If there was something that didn’t seem right, someone simply asked, but they never got upset. It has been a great experience jumping into the project, and I truly enjoy working with the community to revitalize the Mousetrap project.