Scholarship 2010

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Mel Chua interviewed Ian Weller, the 2010 recipient of the Fedora Scholarship.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How old are you? Where are you located? What are some of the more interesting classes that you took in high school?

I'm Ian Weller, 18 years old, out of Salina, Kansas. I will be graduating from Salina High School Central in May 2010. Some of my more favorite classes were Calc I and Photojournalism. Chemistry was also fun times!

When and how did you become involved with Linux and/or free software?

I started using Linux when I was a sophomore because I needed a personal computer, so I built one from old recycled parts (with an 800 MHz Pentium III processor!), and a friend of mine was using Fedora at the time. I set up Fedora Core 6 (FC6) on the machine, and when we finally got a WISP to our house outside of town I updated to F8. I noticed a piece of software I wanted wasn't in Fedora's package database, so I went to go add it. Partially because I wanted to, but mostly Because I Could (tm). And... the rest is history, I guess.

So you started as a packager?

Yep. flam3 (a fractal flame art generator) was the first package, and the review request was bug 417711 if I remember correctly. I typed that a lot in my url bar not only because the first review request took a month, but because I kept going to it to see what I was missing in packages after that. Looking back on it, some of those mistakes are pretty hilarious.

How did you find out that you could contribute to free software?

Well, when I was browsing http://fedoraproject.org when I was installing FC6, it talked about how you could contribute to Fedora. I think some of the reasons it gave were stuff like "it's good to give back!" and "you won't have to tell future employers what you did, you can tell them to google your name!" and other cheesy marketing stuff. But it worked!

Can you talk a little about what we can do to make it easier for people to get started like you did?

Lowering the bar to contribution is always good because I had to jump pretty high. Finding where to start is definitely the most difficult; there's so many places where you can go and help out, and only so many hours in the day. So for people who want to say "oh I want to help with the servers," okay, obviously Infrastructure is where you want to go. But for those who are just saying "I want to help"... it's difficult to help them all without talking with them one-on-one.

I know that in Docs the barrier to contribute has been lessened because we've moved more towards the wiki in the early development stages of our guides, which is awesome. It's easier for packagers to contribute because of better documentation that keeps getting better for new packagers, and there are tools out there to help you double check your work that are twice as good as they were when I started. Or maybe I just know about them now! I mean, every subproject has been lowering the bar to contribute and it's awesome stuff.

What made you want to actually contribute to free software, and what led you to the Fedora Project?

I think what led me to the Fedora project was that I was actively using it and it was the first thing I knew I could contribute back to. I used to be a Mac user, since my dad works in desktop publishing. At that point I had fink (open source programs ported to OS X) and was using adium (based off of the then GAIM, now libpurple). And I had a couple of mentors around, through some of my friends explaining what the GPL was and that fun stuff, but I didn't really "get it" until I started in Fedora. It's hard to understand something until it becomes a part of you. And free software is definitely a part of who I am now. I don't think I could go back.

Tell us about some of the Fedora contributions that you are most proud of. Don't be shy!

I think the most apparent one has been the wiki, and that's the one that i've gotten the most response to. I helped Mike McGrath (our Infrastructure leader) move the wiki from MoinMoin to Mediawiki because I understood MediaWiki's syntax. What happened was Mike posted to the art team list, asking for help with a MediaWiki template, or with our opinions on templating for the different wiki stuff, and I just mentioned that I had experience with MediaWiki syntax and templates. So I think Mike asked me for help initially, and people said "keep up the good work." I became wiki czar because people kept coming to me with questions about the wiki, and still do. Most likely because I was around IRC usually all of the time over that summer, and it was easier to ping me than to try and google it when you don't know the keywords. I knew a lot of the MediaWiki lingo.

I also helped with the first POSSE while on my internship with Red Hat, helping explain Fedora packaging guidelines. I think I learned more than I taught, which is perfectly fine. I mostly learned about how open source education simply doesn't happen in the current college education system. It's difficult to teach. It's easier to start with baby steps, and pushing students, even juniors or seniors, into the cold water with everyone else takes time, especially if they're not of the outgoing variety. That's why POSSE is happening, that's why the teachingopensource.org textbook is happening, all to help professors help students.

Where are you going to college, and what do you think you will study? What do you plan on working on in FOSS in the near future?

I'm going to the University of Kansas and will likely study computer science. Throughout college, I'll hopefully have some time! probably more so than what I have now with about a kajillion extracurricular activities that act as time vacuums. I hope I can use FOSS in my work in Prog I and II, which are the entry-level classes to the CS degree four-year plan. If it's anything that I feel is related to my career, or my work in FOSS, I will more than likely try to take it. Like how communities function in general, and what you can do to stimulate growth in a community.

I would absolutely love for some people to help fix bugs in fedora-business-cards and help make mediawiki more functional. That will Make Life Easier for me so I can focus on making the stats 2.0 system more awesome (and help there is cool, too). Stats 2.0 is the big conglomeration of all of these statistics we're trying to gather within Fedora to see where we need to head in the future and what has worked well in the past with regards to growing both our community of contributors as well as our community of users.

Right now we have stats that people slave over once a week, by hand. The idea is to automate most of these things, balancing the load between what servers can do and what people have to do, so we can get more numbers and pretty useful graphs, and less man hours producing those graphs once a week/month/day/hour/millisecond. A lot of it right now is specific to Fedora. My hope is that in the future, we'll have things like mailing list stats that can be totally seperate from Fedora Community so that other distributions/projects can use them, too.