The September Rush

Ok, so it’s been a long time since I blogged, but this month has without any doubt been one of the most hectic times of my life. The first mid term examinations had just been done with and everyone had let out sighs of relief. But with a lot more evangelizing left to be done and SFD looming around the corner, I had to spring into action. Me and Saurabh, the CA from BITS-Pilani had agreed during our induction training programme in Bangalore, that we’d collaborate for all major events and pretty soon, we had our plans set and it was decided that BITS-Pilani would host the Rajasthan Wide Software Freedom Day Celebrations, 2008. I quickly called for a meeting with my group and informed them about my plans for SFD and what it’s all about. We formed a group of coordinators and a group of volunteers. We decided to conduct Software Freedom Week, with a series of sessions for 5 days and quizzes after each session based on it. We decided to give away prizes (headphones) to the daily winners from each year and USB sticks to grand winners. Furthermore, all that’ll be taught during the sessions will be taught by means of a lab session so that students get a hands on feel of things. We also agreed to hire a bus to take 50 students to BITS-Pilani for the Rajasthan Wide SFD Celebrations on the 21st of September. This was our first objective.

I’ll give you all a little background before I write about our second objective for SFW. The main problem with Rajasthan is that students focus so much on clearing the engineering entrance examinations like the IIT-JEE and AIEEE, that they forget to think beyond that and they choose an engineering stream bubbling with misconceptions, the most common and disturbing one of which, is that of Computer Engineering and Electronics being the ‘best branches’ and branches like Civil Engineering being ‘lower branches’. It can’t any more wrong than this. There is nothing as a better branch or a worse branch when it comes to the field of engineering and the only thing that matters is interest. If one lacks that, it’s pretty certain that he or she will not end up being a good engineer because this is a profession into which thousands of students graduate every year. Considering the limited number of jobs in the industry, only those who stand out end up being successful out there and to stand out, one needs to have a level of enthusiasm when it comes to excelling in his field. My institute is plagued with students who’ve picked certain branches without genuine interest and this is mostly prevalent in the Computer Engineering and Electronics Department. Most of them just want to get through with their four years and walk away with their degree. Our country produces only a two digit number of PhDs in the field of Computer Science compared to a 4 digit number of the same from China. Why is this? I guess I’ve already shown you all where the roots of the problem lie.

So my aim during Software Freedom Week was to visit as many schools as possible and clear the said misconceptions after talking about FOSS. I talked in Subodh Higher Secondary school about the world of open source for about 45 minutes. When I was done with answering questions, I went on to my next objective and asked the crowd of 250 assembled before me, “How many of you are going to pursue engineering?” Nearly 70% of the crowd raised their hands. My next question was, “How many of you consider Computer Engineering and Electronics as the best branches?” and I was shocked to see the same hands being raised. I asked them one by one why they thought so and they gave me very unsatisfying answers like there being more opportunities in the field of computers and that one can do anything they want with computers but not with other disciplines. I silenced each student with one argument each and told them about how important every branch is and what kind of students should pursue computer engineering and the doors of opportunities that it provides to. After four students, I repeated my last question again. This time, not a single hand was raised. )

Subodh school also readily agreed to join hands with MOSUM in our FOSS Learning Connection where we’ll visit students from their school occasionally and teach them how to work with open source technologies so that they may be inspired enough to excel in the field of computer science. I hope we can tap into some unseen potential by means of our endeavour. And I’m being told by my other coordinators that some other schools have also agreed to this initiative of ours.

The sessions within our institution began yesterday with a turnout of 70 students for my first talk. I believe I’ve succeeded in convincing them about the plethora of benefits that these technologies offer young students like ourselves and the edge it offers us when it comes to working in the industry one day. Let’s hope the rest of the week is as blissful as it has been till date. With these thoughts, I get back to reading the OHAC documentation so I’m well prepared for the talk I’ll be giving at BITS this weekend.

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