Open Source Enters The Classroom
As open source becomes increasingly important to enterprises and consumers, a growing number of educational institutions are adding classes or programs that focus on this discipline. Yet some channel executives worry these initiatives are inadequate to meet business needs and are concerned their companies will continue to carry most of the technology’s training burden.
Nobody debates the need for more education on open source. Almost a year ago, more than half businesses surveyed used and contributed to open source, according to a Black Duck Software report. About one-third make it easy for employees to begin or join their own open source projects, the study said. With the arrival of the Internet of Things (IoT), open source skills are in even more demand – for both development and support, said Dimitri Miaoulis, partner in Elmwood Park, N.J.-based managed service provider Baroan Technologies, in an interview.
The gradual addition of open source classes is welcome, but educational institutions must ensure they teach students the skills that businesses want by speaking to corporate leaders to gauge their immediate and future employment needs, he said. Students should welcome the opportunity to learn open source skills and software, added Guy Baroan, president of Baroan Technologies.
“Open source has been growing for many years and it is a good alternative for some of the solutions that are out there. It’s very stable. If you go into school and you learn about anything that is too watered down and too mainstream, you are one of many and you have to compete as one of many,” he said. “By learning open source, now you’re making yourself a little bit more defined and a little bit more valuable. Anything they can do to differentiate themselves is beneficial.”
Open Source 101
Educational organizations take differing approaches. Some heavily invested in open source, creating specialized centers with full-time, dedicated staff. Others offer ongoing courses, while some provide continuing education programs for professionals or interested consumers.
Seneca College’s School of Information and Communication Technology, for example, houses the Centre for Development of Open Technology, where students and dedicated faculty develop and research open source software by collaborating with others in the open source community and businesses. In fact, Professor Chris Tyler is about halfway through a $1 million renewable five-year grant for research that focuses on foundational software for energy efficient computing platforms ranging from Raspberry Pi to datacenters, in partnership with Red Hat Canada.
The Rochester Institute of Technology extends its FOSS@Magic minor in open source and free culture across departments: Administered through the RIT School of Interactive Games and Media, it involves both RIT’s computer science and liberal arts departments, and focuses on software development, legal aspects, maintenance, and coding.
Other educators provide more standard classroom and online fare. Portland State University has a four-credit course on open source development in the Unix environment, while the Department of Geography at Hunter College of the City University of New York and Hunter Continuing Education offered a five-day professional course in open source GIS this year.
MOOCs (massive open online courses) gives students and professionals access – often free – into additional open source training. Last year, for example, the Linux Foundation disclosed plans to develop a free MOOC with partner edX. Udacity, Udemy, and Coursera, among others, offer an evolving menu of MOOCs on various open source and other topics.
In typical colleges or technical institutions, curriculum designers are too far removed from the workplace. While a degree is valuable, the education many students get has little to do with the tasks and responsibilities they’ll face once they enter the workforce, Baroan told Talkin’ Cloud.
“There’s a big disconnect with what the business community needs. If we go and we’re dealing with graduates from a school we want to know we can bring somebody on and they already have basic level technology knowledge — networks, infrastructure, wireless,” he said. “You’d be amazed at how little they know when they come out — and they spent thousands and thousands on their education.”
Educational institutions are heeding companies’ call to deliver employees trained in open source. With channel organizations’ growing reliance on open source to support clients, it’s vital that classroom curriculums mirror real-world scenarios.