Thursday, 30 January 2020
Dr Charles Fox from the University of Lincoln contacted me out of the blue back in September. He asked me if I would give a couple of guest lectures to his Computer Science students. I was deeply flattered! I took him up on his invitation, and on Tuesday 28th Jan I headed up to visit him and the TSE students.
My first talk was to provide background on Free and Open Source Software. I started with the history of software in the 1950s, working forwards through the events that sparked the FLOSS movement. I spoke about the philosophical similarities and differences between Free Software and Open Source, and how FLOSS has grown to a state of near-ubiquity. Several of the students are already involved in some existing FLOSS projects, so I was clearly preaching to the choir! I hope I managed to interest the rest of the audience too; I certainly had a warm welcome! Slides are here, for reference.
Next up was my specialist subject: Debian! I gave a brief introduction to Debian, covering what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. I covered important things like our Social Contract and the DFSG, and how Debian's thousands of contributors work together to package many thousands of disparate software projects into the large, stable Debian operating system that we all know and love. I was even brave enough to give a brief demo, showing a simple package update for a bug I'd prepared earlier! Slides are here, for reference.
In both talks, I was keen to point out the many good reasons for contributors to get into the FLOSS world, using my own personal experience as a guide. I've been working in this world for many years, and it's been a very important part of my life and career.
After lunch and some fun conversation with Charles and some of his students, I was given the grand tour of the department. Charles is working with a large group of people doing research in agricultural robotics and autonomous vehicles. I got to see lots of interesting projects and meet lots of cool people from amongst his students and colleagues. They're doing some amazing work on things that might soon be key in making agriculture more efficient: autonomous systems to identify and automatically remove weeds from wheat fields, to robotic systems designed to help with growing, monitoring and harvesting soft fruit like strawberries. Totally outside my field, but it was fascinating stuff!
I had a fun day in Lincoln, talking to lots of people and hopefully spreading enthusiasm for FLOSS and Debian in particular. Charles and I chatted about how his students might get involved in our world. You might get to meet some of them at upcoming Debian events!