POSSE, Day One

Some observations about POSSE Day One, in no particular order.

* * *

Dave Humphrey and Chris Tyler are really awesome at what they do. It’s no accident that they are leading the pack when it comes to teaching students about open source development.

* * *

When selling POSSE to various professors, it’s not necessarily important to sell the open source idea. If the professor is excited about open source, that’s great, but the big point is that open source is a means to an end, and that end is “teaching students to work in a big codebase”.

This is not a purely theoretical concern; it’s a real problem, and it is frustrating to industry. Even Microsoft has this problem. When students don’t learn how to be “effectively lost” in a large codebase, they have a hard time fitting into the workplace.

We have the solution to this problem. It requires professors to do more work than they’re accustomed to. Can we find the professors who are willing to do that work, and give them the tools they need to do that work? That’s the 64 dollar question.

* * *

Matt Jadud just introduced us to the idea of legitimate peripheral participation — a notion articulated by educational theorist and practitioner Etienne Wenger.

It’s funny: I’ve been going around preaching this exact message, without ever having had the “proper” words for it. I talk about “on-ramp” projects every chance I get as a way to build the contributor base, and I am delighted to discover that there’s actual research that supports my experience and assertions.

Which, by the way, is crucial as we wade into the world of academia. I may have a reasonable amount of street cred in the open source world, but in the world of academia, I’m a college dropout and a nobody. In academia, appeal to authority reigns supreme. When I can make a point, and then point to personal experience to support that point, and then carry in an armload of reference materials to further support that point, then I feel like I’ve got a much better chance to be heard.

* * *

POSSE is a great idea for computer science professors — but it might be an even better idea for technical writing professors. I’ll definitely need to look into this.

* * *

Quote of the day from The Mel (the Biblical paraphrase is mine): “Whosoever asketh for help, verily they ought offer to document that help. And whosoever offers help, they ought require the help to be documented. Thus do newbies become contributors, rather than annoyances.” Amen.

POSSE, Day One

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