Last weekend I participated in a workshop organised to mark the 10 years anniversary of the Durgapur Linux user’s group – dgplug. Dgplug which Kushal started to spread the word & awareness about GNU/Linux(Fedora) in his locality, is now spearheading a social change through its flagship Summer Training program.
The Dgplug summer training, through its unique methodology, addresses one of the most pressing and severe problem faced by the employment sector in India, that is the dearth of skilled employees -> Less than 20 percent engineers are employable... There is no one way to contain this issue. Greater efforts and more programs are required to arrest the demon of ‘un-employability’.
The workshop was organised by Kushal in association with the National Institute of Technology(NIT), Durgapur, India. We reached the steel city of Durgapur on Thursday evening after a bland flight to Kolkata and a fast bus to Durgapur; the ride was beautiful. Durgapur gives an inviting impression of a charming small town.
Friday began with an English breakfast. We reached NIT campus by 09:00AM and were introduced to Prof Animesh Dutta. The topic of discussion was the same, how do we inspire students to learn and acquire new skills. He said the first two years of college, students show growing interest in doing projects and learning things. But as they reach the 5-6’th semester, their focus entirely shifts towards getting a job by 8’th semester. We had to leave it there and proceed for the workshop. Workshop began with an introductory talk by Kushal about the dgplug and the agenda(‘why’ & ‘how’) of the workshop. He introduced each speaker and we took turns to share bits of our experiences from the FOSS world to convey its importance & value in our career. In the second half of the day, many of the Summer Training participants shared their experiences with other students. It was followed by Praveen with an ‘Introduction to Fedora’. He covered the four ‘f’ of Fedora and various ways in which they can contribute to it. After Praveen I covered the basics of networking and firewall in my ‘Introduction to iptables(8)‘ talk. Though it was relatively technical, they seemed interested in knowing how a packet travels from their non routable IP to a facebook.com server and back to them. The day concluded with Kushal explaining the agenda for Saturday and prerequisites for the same. It was followed by open discussions and conversations in and around the auditorium. I helped a few to configure an iptables(8) rule to block access to facebook.com. 😉
Saturday again began with an English breakfast. We walked to NIT and reached little past 9:30AM. Auditorium was already bustling with students. Saturday brought many lessons and observations for me. The day began with an ‘Introduction to Python’ session by Kushal. Students were required to bring laptops and try out hands-on exercises. As they did exercises, we toured the aisles. First thing I realised was, Linux was an alien system to them. They had heard about it, maybe had seen it too, but never used it. Quite a few had installed Linux 2-3 days before the workshop. And majority was some obscure Ubuntu Mint distribution, which did not even have a good Vim editor. As result, they were struggling to edit files in the older ‘Vi’ editor, completely distracted from learning Python. First session should have been an introduction to Linux, primarily to the mighty shell. As the day progressed, Kushal proceeded from Python shell to python data structures, indentation, through conditionals and loops to writing small programs. All the while 100+ students diligently struggling to keep up with the pace. The day concluded with most of them looking overwhelmed yet energised from the exercise. There was time for open discussions and free interaction. Many enquired about how they could become contributors, how they could learn Linux and install Fedora.
Fedora mirror: during this interaction we met with the local NIT LUG coordinators who used to maintain the Fedora mirror there. The reason for not having an updated Fedora mirror was that they did not have dedicated hardware. Each time they set-up the mirror, during their vacations or when they are occupied with exams or after they leave college, invariably someone would shutdown the server or reuse it for something else. As temporary solution, Praveen has made the F20 ISOs available over http in their LAN. As an alumnus, he would follow-up with the students to ensure that the latest ISOs are always available. We are exploring if we could have dedicated hardware hosting Fedora mirror at NIT. That would help with lot of the issues we faced during the workshop. Ex. instead of catering to different obscure flavours of Linux, each student could be given a small(<= 32MB) shell account on a remote machine, wherein they could practice programming exercises. That way they'll automatically use shell commands too.
Sunday started without an English breakfast. Early before sunrise I started back for Kolkata, while others(Praveen, Samikshan, Chandan, Ratnadeep and Sayan) stayed for subsequent sessions about application development and documentation using Python. A pleasant ride to Kolkata was followed by a filling lunch at Kushal’s and by evening I was back at the airport waiting for another bland flight back home. Throughout the journey I kept going back to the first unfinished conversation about how could we inspire students to learn, advance their skills and acquire new ones. In the midst of those thoughts I stumbled up on
Fedora classrooms -> http://blog.hammad.co/2014/08/google-summer-of-code-final-update.html
Overall a great trip! Many thanks to Red Hat Inc for helping me with the travel budget.