The concept of open source is probably a notion that is unique to Computer Science. In fact, most people simply see it as a means to get free stuff. As a friend so aptly put it, “I have to buy all my engineering textbooks, but you have that open source thing going for you where the author probably put it on his website for you to download for free.” Run by the computer science honors society, Upsilon Pi Epsilon, the Open Source Software Festival, known as OSSFest, is an attempt to both share the power of community-based software to address the needs of the Institute, and to debunk much of the misconceptions about open source. The festival took place in the Darrin Communications Center with the main events split between a poster session featuring projects by the Rensselaer Center for Open Source Software and talks on the nature and power of open source software.
When I showed up to the poster session, I was surprised at the number of projects being worked on by RPI students that were being presented. Many of them, including YACS, I could have used during my time here at RPI as an undergrad when I still had to register for courses and organize things. It seems that many other people agreed with me, though, as the presenters seemed swamped while passersby would often stop, even though they were on their way to class. It was actually pretty exciting to see what the people in RCOS can do and how they figure out how to put it all together.
However, the most engaging of the events were the open source talks, demonstrating that open source projects do not have to be independent works. Michael Agnew ’14, a former RCOS member, and Luis Ibanez from Kitware illustrated how they are able to integrate open source development into both government and commercial environments and how they developed communities to help maintain these projects. This proved to be the most eye-opening part of the festival as it really got me to understand and see how these development projects, while aiming to solve a problem, are really about building communities. Ibanez even said that in any project, “30 percent of your time [is] devoted to finding new people.” An appropriate follow-up talk closed out the festival as Computer Science Professors Mukkai Krishnamoorthy and David Goldschmidt discussed the future of RCOS and, as a result, Rensselaer’s support of open source projects.
Priti Kumar ’13, president of UPE, and Jerry Schneider, vice president of UPE, the coordinators of this year’s festival, were excited that, “many students learned about the delights of open source and how to be a good contributor to projects.” I know I found it exciting, and although this year’s festival is over, UPE is planning on holding another festival next year. Given the sheer excitement I had at the end of this year’s festival, the next one is an event you definitely don’t want to miss.