Open Source Research at Seneca

Last Thursday, David Agnew (President of Seneca) and Gary Goodyear (federal Minister of State (Science and Technology)) announced that Seneca college had received one of 12 NSERC grants.  The grant is specifically targeted to Seneca's Centre for Development of Open Technology, to help us grow our involvement in open source, and to help local businesses do the same.  If you don't know, NSERC grants are a big deal, and it's a huge honour to have received it.  It was also a lot of work for those of us applying!  But it's paid off, and I wanted to say something about what it means for Seneca students reading my blog.

The grant brings $2.3 Million in funding over 5 years, and is meant to be combined with funding from industry partners.  It will allow us to fund research and co-op positions, like the 9 students who are working this summer on various open source projects.  It means that we can take more of the work we do in the open source courses (OSD600, DPS900, OSD700, DPS911, SBR600, etc.) and have it grow into larger projects, working directly with local industry partners and the open source community.  We've known how to do this for a while now but didn't have the resources to make it happen.  Now we do.

One of the things I thought was key in the announcement of this grant is that the government, Seneca, and our partners all understand that working on open source is the best way to gain industry experience as a student.  I've written about this many times before, but I'll say it again: if you want to work in software, you need experience.  And getting experience means getting a job, but a job needs experience...unless you get involved in global, collaborative, large scale development as a student before you have a job.  The way to do this is to contribute to open source projects.

I've had students come to me with all kinds of crazy ideas about what open source means.  Many have this idea that you can't have a job or make money with open source.  We wouldn't have this grant if that were true!

“Our government supports innovation because it creates jobs, improves the quality of life of Canadians and strengthens the economy,” said Minister Goodyear. “We are supporting this project at Seneca College to strengthen the competitiveness of small and medium-sized businesses, and enable young Canadians to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.”

...

"This funding is an important acknowledgment of the valuable, innovative research taking place at Seneca,” says Seneca College President David Agnew. “Building on a reputation of excellence in the open source community, this will help create graduates who have learned not only through hands-on experience, but through applied research that is changing the way we do business.”
The jobs of tomorrow are here today, and they require that you know how to:

  • work with large, legacy code bases measured in millions of lines
  • know how to collaborate with co-workers, both in person and electronically
  • understand how to maintain existing code vs. starting from scratch
  • know how to leverage existing technologies and tools
  • know how to manage software release cycles and project planning
  • know how to solve real world problems vs. made-up assignments
  • know how to leverage the open web, and its ways of working
    I think current examples are good, so let me give you one.  The other day I was catching up on industry news, and noticed this article on cnet news:

    Mainstream microprocessors have been 64-bit for years. Operating systems have followed suit. Now it's time for a program used by hundreds of millions of people to make the leap: Firefox.

    Programmer Armen Zambrano Gasparnian announced the first 64-bit Firefox builds for Windows on Friday, offering an FTP site for those who want to download it. But the software isn't for mainstream users yet.
    That guy making the announcement for Mozilla about the first 64-bit enabled builds of Firefox, know who he is?  He's a Seneca grad who got involved with open source and now has an amazing job as a Release Engineer with Mozilla Corporation.  How did he get hired into such a position out of school?  He worked on this stuff while he was still a student.  He took our open source courses and got involved with the right projects and the right people.  He got the experience he needed while he was at Seneca in order to jump right into industry, where he's now doing cutting edge work.

I could tell you many similar stories, but the story I'm most interested in at the moment is the one I'm going to be telling about you in 2-3 years.  My question right now is this: how do we get you, current Seneca student, working on the cutting edge of industry via open source?  We have ways to get your career started early if you're willing to get involved with what we do.  Your first chance to do this comes in September.  Will you be signed up for the open source classes?  If so, we've got some amazing opportunities to discuss with you.