First, let's talk about CDOT. The Centre for Development of Open Technology at Seneca College (CDOT) started in the early 2000s as an effort to institutionalize the growing open source community at Seneca. Interested faculty and administrators met to imagine what we could do collectively in order to support the growth and sustainability of open source at Seneca. We were users of open source, and wanted to become active members of the communities we were watching. It was one of the best periods of organic collegiality that I can remember in my time at Seneca.
Over the next two decades CDOT grew into an internationally recognized centre of excellence. We worked with all kinds of companies, open source projects large and small, as well as educational institutions, government agencies, and NGOs. We hosted events, ran conferences, created courses, helped thousands of students contribute for the first time, sent our faculty and students around the world, published papers, applied for and received millions of dollars in research grants, won awards, hired hundreds of student research assistants, wrote thousands of blog posts, translated software into dozens of languages, reported bugs and security vulnerabilities, authored docs, and contributed untold numbers of bug fixes, new features, pull requests, and code contributions. It's no exaggeration to say that billions of computers around the world include a little bit of code written by a Seneca faculty or student.
During that same twenty year period, open source became the de facto way that all software was built. As it did so, the cultural power of "open source" as a defining feature for who we were became less impactful. When everyone was doing open source, how did a "centre for open source" continue to stand out?
As leadership at the college changed, and priorities shifted, this question moved from being rhetorical to practical. Did Seneca still need a physical CDOT? Should we keep putting our energy into this? When our department moved from the York to Newnham campus, the answer from senior leaders was clearly 'no.'
Because CDOT had always been a "physical and virtual" centre, we decided to embrace a more scaled down, virtual existence. Thankfully, a lot of what we used to need to provide for ourselves (machines, hosting, networking) was now something that everyone doing open source needed. Companies were trying to rapidly expand their userbases and offered free access to open source projects as an obvious way to lure a generation of developers to their products and services. Thanks to the culture of "free" as in "free hosting," it was now possible to rely on third-party cloud services to do open source.
As a result, my work moved to GitHub, which is where most open source was being done. At the same time my open source work also shifted away from research with partners and back into the classroom. I decided to embrace the move to GitHub as a technical and cultural approach to my involvement in open source at Seneca.
In my open source courses, I've focused on having students work across the spectrum of open source projects and communities available on GitHub. Where I used to focus on a particular partner project and code base (e.g., Mozilla), now I embrace the diversity of the students and their interests/skills, leveraging the breadth and depth of what's available across GitHub.
However, we've also needed to fill the gap left by the move away from larger open source research projects. To do this we created some open source projects that we can use to explore what it's like to build, manage, and maintain open source projects ourselves. Our first attempt at this was Telescope, a blog aggregation and community portal for our open source students. Our second big project is Starchart, a custom DNS and Certificate service for the Seneca community.
We decided to put these project under Chris Tyler's paid GitHub research org, https://github.com/Seneca-CDOT. Chris uses this as part of his amazing work as an NSERC Industrial Research Chair, and was kind enough to allow us to work under this umbrella and research funding.
However, recently it's become clear that we need to move to our own open source org. We've run into limits on build minutes shared across all the repos. We've also had issues with not being able to access some of the newer features of GitHub (e.g., Docker hosting) under the legacy org status of Seneca-CDOT.
Josue has been encouraging me to make this move for a while, but it's taken me time to find the motivation. As I wrote this post, I've been reflecting that I likely wasn't ready to cut ties with "CDOT," which was the defining period and project of my career.
However, yesterday we started the move, and Starchart is now under DevelopingSpace, and soon we'll do the same with Telescope. Alex is already trying to put together some documentation and a website for DevelopingSpace, and hopefully soon we'll have more of a presence that I can point to.
Lastly, let me say something about the name. When we started CDOT, Chris created a blog planet for us. It was an amazing thing to see all the posts from faculty and students working on open source at Seneca. Eventually, when blogs and RSS faded a bit, and the Planet software wasn't being maintained anymore, we decided to write our own.
I'd always thought of our Planet as a way to see everyone in orbit around the open source efforts at Seneca. To try and capture that, I named the new system "Telescope." As Telescope grew, and we redesigned things to use tiny microservices, we spun out another project: Satellite (our node microservice API). Finally, when it was time to create our DNS and Certificate service, the most logical name I could come up with was one that played with the idea of providing names for all the projects and services our community is building: Starchart.
So what to name our new GitHub org? It wasn't easy to pick. It turns out that 99.99999% of all names you can think of on GitHub are taken. And when I say taken, I don't mean in active use. Rather, most of GitHub seems to be abandoned accounts and orgs, which were setup to do a weekend hackathon. GitHub likes to claim they have 100 million users, but having recently gone looking through the existing accounts with space-related names, I can tell you that much like our universe, GitHub is mostly empty space, and life can be hard to find.
Eventually we found that "DevelopingSpace" was available, and decided to grab it. I think the name is a nod to the fact that we're building all these projects with "space" as a defining metaphor, but also that we're an emerging community, and helping new developers to find their footing. It works on lots of levels, which is my favourite kind of name.
I have no plans to turn DevelopingSpace into CDOT 2.0. I'm content for this to be something small that meets the needs of all the people who want to help us build and maintain some meaningful software at Seneca.
If you're reading this and wondering why you don't have access to DevelopingSpace yet, it's simply that I'm not going to try and port over accounts for everyone who ever worked on things with us. I have no idea who still wants access. Having said that, I'd be happy to grant you access if you want to come and help us with the code. Let me know via GitHub or Slack.
Anyway, say hello to https://github.com/DevelopingSpace!