I heard about Mel Chua in open source circles and asked if I could interview her on IRC. Here is part one of our interview:
<mchua> I’m sitting in Raleigh, NC at the moment. I tend to move around a lot, though.
<polyachka> and where is your home?
<mchua> The internet. I don’t really have a place I consider a (geographic) home base at the moment… been moving and traveling quite a bit. I’ll be settling a bit more in West Lafayette, Indiana this summer to start my engineering education PhD studies at Purdue University, though.
<polyachka> but where did you go to high school?
<mchua> Aurora, IL. I lived away from home for high school; it was a residential public magnet – my family didn’t live in Aurora.
<polyachka> by traveling you mean going from one project to another for Sugar?
<mchua> Oh, my travel isn’t for Sugar events these days. Mostly for work, and to see family and friends on occasion.
<polyachka> what do you do for work?
<mchua> My dayjob is working for Red Hat’s open source community team; I’m responsible for the company’s education strategy.
<mchua> So I work with professors who are getting the students in their classes involved in open source communities, and help them figure out how to do that. One of things I do is teach summer workshops for those professors – many of them have never been open source contributors themselves, so during the workshop we have them go into an open source project and make a contribution of their own.
<polyachka> how many people work for Red Hat?
<mchua> I think somewhere around 3,200 worldwide at the moment…
<mchua>Last summer, one of the workshops we ran (in Worcester State, Massachusetts) featured Sugar Labs as the community to get involved with. And Peter Robinson and Walter Bender were my co-instructors, with a lot of remote support from Sebastian Dziallas. Professors were patching Walter’s “Abacus” Activity, editing Sugar on a Stick documentation and using it for testing – good stuff.
<polyachka> so is it a big trend for professors- to learn about open source? Surprising, as all they publish is not open source…
<mchua> I wouldn’t say it’s a “big trend” yet, but we’re hoping it will be. It’s certainly a growing movement. There are professors who contribute to open source as a hobby, and there are professors who research open source as a career. So it’s not just CS professors – economics, sociology, etc. researchers look at our communities as well. Apparently we’re rather fascinating.
<mchua> And open source communities have characteristics of a lot of things they’d like their students to experience – real world projects, distributed collaboration, things for building their portfolio, etc.
<mchua> The Teaching Open Source (TOS) community, http://teachingopensource.org, is a gathering of these professors and open source community members working to support them – great group, the Worcester State crew from the Sugar workshop hangs out there as well. (It’s an open community that centers around academic rather than code projects, basically – everyone’s welcome to join.)
<polyachka> what was your favorite workshop?
<mchua> My favorite workshop would have to be POSSE – that stands for Professors’ Open Source Summer Experience.
<polyachka> where was it?
<mchua>It’s been taught a number of times. The first time was in Raleigh in July 2009. It’s been to Singapore, Cape Town… I taught the last one with Sebastian Dziallas in Doha, Qatar.
<mchua> Yeah, he and I have been revising the curriculum for the past year or so to make it more scalable and understandable (and teachable by people who aren’t us).
<polyachka> where is Sebastian from?
<mchua> He’s from Germany, but is currently studying in Boston. You should interview him, actually – he’s the guy behind Sugar on a Stick. (and started Sugar on a Stick while in high school.)
<polyachka> so any favorite topics for workshops or projects?
<mchua>In terms of workshop topics… the most difficult thing for professors is not learning the tools – they already know how to develop software and all that stuff, some people already know what bugtrackers are (some don’t) – the hard part is the culture.
<polyachka> how many people are in one workshop on average?
<mchua>On average I’d say we have between 8-15 professors in a workshop. Local open source community members swing by, though, so when we all go out to dinner we’ll have 15-20. I think of the workshops as cultural immersions – open source communities have weird quirks that sometimes we forget the rest of the world doesn’t know yet.
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