Saturday, November 10, 2012

Open Source Awards

So it's a few days after the NZ Open Source Awards. The Manaiakalani Project won! The presenter for the award in education, Paul Seiler, did mention the fact that the award was really about 2 things. The project itself and the use of Open Source Software and the contribution by me (sorry - ego does have to enter in at times - I'm awesome!). So my time to shine. I'm thinking about doing a great big post about the evolution of a speech. I'll post my notes, which I didn't take with me here though:
  • Finalists
  • Community
  • Leadership
  • Synergy
  • Personal
Half way through my speech I'd realised my accent had turned VERY kiwi. Sod it - carry on.

Anyway, I did say in a previous post that I'd look at the awards and process a little more closely. So let's do that!

Nominations are found by opening it up to the public. This runs for a few anxious months. i.e. I didn't want to nominate myself as I felt this would be egotistical. However, with the discussion going on - the lack of mention of Open Source Software on the Manaiakalani website etc. - I was fairly confident the project had been nominated.

The judges are all involved with various projects. It's such a small community that it'd be difficult to find people who knew what to look for who weren't involved in the community in some way. They have to do this with full disclosure.

Amy Adams opened up the dinner with a "Software development is important to the government" with emphasis on the economic benefits. Of course, what she didn't say was that we spend far more money offshore on software than we do onshore. Take this as a criticism - we have the skills in New Zealand to be able to take our software into our hands and make it work to how we work. We don't have the commitment from the New Zealand government or businesses to be able to do this.

The dinner itself it's a little strange. Here you are sitting at a table of your peers and you can't help but think that all of the finalists should probably be getting their bit in the lime light. So at our table we had a sort of mock rivalry going on.

There was:

  • Nathan Parker principal at Warrington School - the first school in New Zealand to take on a full Open Source and Open Culture philosophy. I've idolised Nathan for awhile - the guy's a dude! So the school itself runs on Open Source Software - completely. It's small enough that they don't need a Student Management System. As well as that, they have a low power FM station running 24/7 that's been run for the last 2 years, by volunteers. This station plays Creative Commons content. They also do sort of a "computers at homes" programme done right i.e. the sense of ownership is accomplished by getting people to build their own computers.
  • Ian Beardslee from Catalyst I.T. ltd. for the Catalyst Open Source Academy. For 2 summers now, Catalyst I.T. have taken an intake of students - basically dropping that barrier of entry into opensource contribution through a combination of classroom type sessions, and mentored sessions for real contributions.
Personally, I don't think I'd liked to have been a judge given just how close I perceive all of these projects to be. Paul Seiler, who I was sitting next to, did kind of say that you're all accomplishing the same sorts of things in different ways.

And I saw a comment in a mailing list about those projects that are out there doing their thing but no one nominated. This puts me in mind of yet another TED talk that I watched the morning after the NZOSA dinner.

There was lots in that video that resonated with me. Things like me wanting to learn electronics but having a fear around it due to what people kept saying around me - "You have to get it absolutely right or it won't work" - paralysing me with fear of getting it wrong and it not working. The same thing was said to me about programming though I learnt fairly quickly that I could make mistakes and it wasn't the end of the world. In fact, programming is kind of the art of putting bugs in.

But more importantly, and more on topic, the video kind of defines why there are likely a whole lot of projects that should have been nominated but weren't due to weird hang ups.

And in a greater sense, shame is probably a huge threat to the Open Source Community. I don't think I've ever contributed more than a few lines of code openly because I'm convinced that whatever code just isn't good enough. That I'll be ridiculed for my coding style or assumptions etc. And I've always said that I'll put out my code after a clean up etc.

Take the code for the Manaiakalani project. It often felt like I was hacking things (badly in some cases) in order to get the functionality we needed - things like creating a blacklist of applications for example. I'm sure that there's evidence of the fact that I'd never coded in python before the project in the code as well. And yet, it's not the code, but the thoughts behind the code, that's award winning. Even if the code is hideous, it's what the code is accomplishing or attempting to accomplish that's important.

So for the next NZOSA gala, I would love to see, not just a list of the finalists, but also a short list of nominations (those that are deserving of at least a little recognition even if not quite making the final cut). I'd love to see the organisers and judges complaining about the number of nominations coming through. I would love to see the "Open Source Special Recognition" award become a permanent fixture (won by Nathan Parker this year). And hell, greater media attention probably wouldn't be such a bad thing.

On a very personal note though - I now have to change from being a "Professional Geek" to being an "Award Winning Geek". Feels good on these ol' shoulders of mine.


  1. congratulations Nevyn !
    well deserved i think. You spent alot of sleepless nights on the Manalakalani Project.

    1. :) Thanks Liz. There's more of that to come though I think - although at least I'll be able to sleep during the day.