Free Software For a Small Country: Part Three - Spreading the Love

I have been told many times by managers, government officials or educators that “we have no FOSS here”, therefore “nobody knows FOSS”. This is just not true. In every country I have visited: FOSS is there. There are people who know it and use it. Look for them.

The people may be in your banks, in universities or in industry. Locate them and organize them or allow them to organize themselves.

Form a mailing list for FOSS people. Allow them to join the list and start communicating and creating an online community.

Start to form local user groups of people that want to learn more and people who wish to share experiences, ideas and issues. Set up Wikis to discuss these issues.

Set up local software repositories (and repositories of “Free Culture”: things useful and licensed under the Creative Commons -- including music, pictures, books and other information. Ask librarians (most of whom are FOSS advocates) to help categorize and organize the information.

Ask these people to help you train others, and to extend the training of themselves.

Set up a computer “train the trainer” program.

Once you know how to train people at any level; start to “train the trainers”. Create the materials and books (either paper or online) to allow people you train to easily train others.

Invite the “trainers” to a place where they can learn and ask questions of the (now) experts. The experts should not be afraid or ashamed if they do not know the answer to a question. In the FOSS world, the best answer is “I do not know, but let us work together to find out.”

Then send the trained trainers out to train other people.

Organize a FOSS conference

Find a hotel on the off season, preferably in a nice place. Set a date for a year in the future and start to set up a conference to “train the trainer”. Invite world-class and local speakers to present, as well as “trainers” to learn and work together.

Have sessions for managers, programmers, systems administrators and teachers. Let them exchange ideas.

Invite people from outside your country to participate -- if there is room. Be inclusive: it is the FOSS way.

Video tape all the sessions and put them up on YouTube.

This will take forever!

Recently, I was speaking in a small country about this issue and one person stood up to tell me that “this was a long-range plan”. For the first time in a long time I felt the anger rage within me and I answered him (perhaps with too much force):

NO!

The path to tomorrow starts today. If you think that this is a long-range plan, and do not start it, then you will never get to where you want to be and in ten years you will still be where you are today.

When I was teaching university in 1977, students entering my class had never touched a computer keyboard. Computers were too expensive for high schools and homes.

In two years I took them from knowing nothing to being able to program in several languages, write a compiler, write a simple operating system, write a database, and know what systems administration and systems engineering were. We were a little “ahead of the curve” for computer graphics, networking and security, but I taught all of my courses in two years. Most importantly, I taught them how to learn on their own and thirty years later these people are CTOs, Vice Presidents or Presidents of their own companies -- most of the time with no additional formal education.

Times have changed

No longer do computers that can run significant programs or operating systems cost millions of US dollars or weigh tons. Today the Raspberry Pi at 35 dollars can teach much of what students need to know for a computer science or even computer engineering degree.

No longer is information hidden away to be ferreted out. It is available on the Internet.

No longer are people unable to ask a serious question. The Internet gives access to the people that are willing to help those that help themselves.

Why FOSS for a small country?

Small countries are, by definition, unable to produce everything for a modern economy. However communications and computing are critical for a modern economy.

FOSS protects a small country by giving control of the software they need to have their country operate to their own local people instead of giving that control to some foreign national country that may not even know where they are.

FOSS allows the small country to be aided by the world's programmers, not as a hand-out, but as a partner in creating the software. It allows the small country to show sophisticated software in use around the world every day to their young programmers and allows those young programmers to develop into sophisticated programmers who can modify that software to their countries' needs.

FOSS allows for the creation of high-value, local jobs and develop local expertise which can then be shared (over the Internet) with the rest of the world.

Why am I concerned?

I live in the United States: a large country. But my country is really made up of fifty small countries and I live in the small country of New Hampshire. It is a long way from Silicon Valley, Seattle Washington, or (in a lot of ways) from Boston, Massachusetts.

In New Hampshire we make quite a few things, but most people remember us for colorful leaves, maple syrup, and a certain amount of high-tech development.

To continue this high-tech development, we need really good software developers and the ability to train a lot more.

If we continue to have the “best” high-tech jobs only in Silicon Valley and Seattle Washington, then most of the really good young programmers will tend to go there.

With our quality of life, however, we can keep good programmers with good, challenging, high-tech jobs and pay the high prices of proprietary software directly into their pockets thus enabling them to purchase local housing, buy local food and services and pay local taxes. But, If we send that money and those people to Bill Gates...well, I can tell you there is only so much maple syrup that he will eat.

A-Yup!