“Where is Open Source World?” you may rightly ask. Lets start with OSCON, the Open Source Convention, now running in Portland. In a few minutes, I’ll be headed out the door (I live in Portland) to join the flock at our temple, the Oregon Convention Center, where we’ll listen to our priests and priestesses.
IBM is here, along with Huawei, Capital One, Home Depot, and the NSA. OSCON is more a creature of FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) than ever. That’s because the Global U (aka GRUNCH if you’re a Fuller fan) runs on open source, thanks to a “design science revolution” chronicled in its early stages by Revolution OS (a movie documentary).
In the early years, Open Source meant geeks without specific expectations could hack on projects and contribute them, gaining some level of notoriety. Ward Cunningham (whom I met up with yesterday along the hallway track) invented the Wiki, the basis of Wikipedia. Linus Torvalds came up with the missing monolithic kernel, rounding out the GNU project (GNU is not Unix) to give us Linux, and Larry Wall invented Perl. E-commerce, so called, booted itself on what we called the LAMP stack: Linux (OS), Apache (web server), MySQL (database) and Perl (or other “P-language” such as Python or more likely PHP).
That’s where the story trails off for a lot of people. Supposedly Linux was poised to take over around the time of the “dot com” bubble (think “browser wars” and the emergence of Java), which burst (no more Netscape), leaving some thinking open source had failed. In fact, the opposite occurred: big business, including and especially IBM, embraced open source.
That’s why the common wisdom inside the open source community is that “open source won”, but in a paradoxical way: it provided the shared guts and components for a new level of closed software in the cloud. Open source gave us containerized micro-services. Today’s geeks play in a vast rack space of unseen hardware, spinning up services as they please, through Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. With these huge amounts of computing power, they tackle machine learning and push finished products out to our smartphones.
All this happened rather quickly, in the space of one lifetime, with the GNU crop of geeks, who started the revolution, now facing old age. The enterprising assisted living facility will not assume geeks have tired of fiddling, and will provide maker spaces, along with courses in Kubernetes, just like at OSCON. The older geeks want to tackle world problems. IBM is promoting natural disaster anticipation, relief and response as a worthy challenge. I went to their booth and asked about unnatural disaster prevention, such as war. The kids were receptive, and gave me a T-shirt.
What I sense is missing from the Open Source World is a lot of robust on-ramps. The code schools are private businesses and none of the government agencies seem to see it as their mission to catalyze knowledge acquisition among the public. I asked the NSA people if they still had Crypto-Kiddies or whatever they called it, a website with little clubhouse codes and puzzles. That curriculum could be extended.
Someone in government should be thinking how to educate the lay public. In my day, that meant subsidized, or even free, training. These days, learning to code is more likely to mean loans and payback from job earnings. That’s limiting though, as it means unless you’re already planning to make a career out of what you’re learning, you’re unlikely to dive in.
The mind-broadening glue language aspect of a Liberal Arts education does not yet permeate through computer science or software engineering. However that circumstance may be about to change. We have entered the age of social media and social engineers, a term long used to inspire fears of dystopian Big Brother societies. Engineers are under a lot of pressure to not be narrow minded. In gulping the open source Kool-aid, GRUNCH (i.e. world business, the Global U) has imbibed a lot of memes about freedom and transparency, as well as generosity and responsibility. These may be reduced to buzzwords in some shops, but the codes of conduct are there, with activists and community organizers ready to point out when they’re not followed.
When engineers with people skills and some degree of social responsibility, turn to the challenge of passing the torch, they’ll inevitably come to education as a primary aspect of including new people, as participants and contributors, not just as consumers. To take one example, I see the Truckers Exchange as a community building application for containerized micro-services. I envision truckers understanding the guts of the software and coding from truck stops, using social media. Lots of business mobile fleets will be fanning out across the globe, many a source of video, followed by fans in a position to kick start various scenarios. Global development is exciting work when made participatory and open. Stay tuned.