May 2, 2014
Lessons in Learning Open Source
I’m leading another talk on developing code using an open source framework. Only it’s going quite slow this time. In fact, I’m pausing after every sentence. And yet the room is far from silent and the excitement is quite high. What causes this excitement instead of frustration?
I guess I should clarify. This particular teaching opportunity is taking place in the great city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. And the reason I’m pausing after every sentence is to allow my translator the chance to repeat everything in their native Portuguese. It’s an intense experience. If you’ve never had the opportunity of sharing a highly technical topic with someone who understands only one out of every dozen words you speak then you are missing out on an experience. Now imagine there are a dozen other people sitting in the room also listening to you and trying to follow along. As I said, it’s an intense experience. But it is an unmatched feeling. Incredible might be a better word. And it makes me think about another power which open source possesses. Here’s a few lessons I draw from the unique opportunity of learning open source.
Learning is community centered
Sure, there are books and tutorials and videos, and a multitude of other resources available. In fact, there are schools and courses and an infinite number of ways to learn. However in open source you’ll often find the best learning is done within the community. People learning from people in a group setting.
The concept of group learning is unique in some sense to open source. We’re here because we want to be here. We’re not being paid to spend our weekend sitting in some classroom learning. We do this because we want to learn. And almost as much as we want to learn, we want to help others. That’s the other side of the coin. No matter how much I learn I always always find someone knows more. And someone else knows less. This means just as important as learning more is the idea of sharing knowledge with others based on what I know. Helping others. We’re a community of like-minded people focused on a particular set of values and shared interests. Our learning is centered on this.
Learning is personal
Even though we’ve discussed how learning is community centered learning is also very personal. People grow internally based on their experiences and they learn based on the instruction they are given. This learning causes them to change, and hopefully to improve.
When we are in an open source community we are often stretched outside our comfort zone. We don’t start that way, but over time we grow and the desire to learn more, or to be better forces us to timidly reach beyond our comfort zone and reach out to others. We’re driven by the deep down longing to learn more. As a result of this longing and learning we change who we are (to an extent). We improve ourselves. The very act of learning in an open source sharing community makes us a more well-rounded, and better person.
Learning is empowering
There’s something intrinsically powerful about knowledge. It’s a pretty commonly understood idea. “Knowledge is power.” But extrapolating on that notion leads back to the root that the very act of learning is empowering. By learning we are gaining knowledge and we are gaining power.
Open source is teeming with knowledge. When every line of code which makes up an application is made publicly available to be analyzed and poured over by anyone interested the result is empowering. Open source encourages learning and as such encourages the increase of knowledge and power. When you look at code and see what can be done and learn how to do things better you are empowered to do more. Now you can share that knowledge with others. Now you can become the teacher. Open source alone gives you the perfect environment – the opportunity to learn woven inseparably with the opportunity to teach.
Learning is exciting
I left one of my favorite lessons for last. Learning is most definitely exciting. I’m not referring to the type of learning you were doing in university with first year studies of ancient history (unless you enjoy that kind of thing). Instead I refer to the type of learning you find in an open source community. There’s a rush of excitement you can feel when you walk into a room on a weekend to meet with others in a community for the sake of learning. It’s very exciting.
As I wrap up my session in Brazil, the excitement is clearly evident. People talking over people, hands being raised, fingers flying on keyboards. Yes, this is what open source learning is all about. Watching someone understand the concept you’re teaching. The smile that spreads across their face when they successfully complete a task. The eyes glint with the newfound knowledge and the empowering, exciting, personal growth they’ve experienced. If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience this before. You should. Find a community and become a part. Get involved and see what learning in an open source environment is all about. I guarantee you – you’ll be changed forever.