Geek Empowerment: The Real Heart of Open Source

Many people today have jobs creating Open Source software. But for too many of these people, FOSS development is just another coding job with just another development methodology. Although these people are creating Open Source software, they are missing the real heart of Open Source completely.

I was present in the late 1990s at many of the earliest Linux conferences. I clearly remember talking with many of the conferees; seeing the light in their eyes and hearing the enthusiasm in their voices. They weren’t excited about a new development methodology. Most weren’t even driven with enthusiasm by the Four Freedoms of Free Software. Almost all seem elated by their own empowerment—an empowerment which rarely existed before the rise of FOSS.

Until the 1990s, software engineers were mostly power tools in the hands of others. We could think up marvelous designs and concepts, but at the end of the day, some product manager had the last say on whether or not our bright idea would be implemented. We may have been the engine for IT, but someone else almost always did the driving.

The arrival of FOSS meant empowerment and self-realization of the geek. Not only could we dream big dreams, but no one could tell us not to implement those dreams. For once, what we did was our choice, and we could face the consequences of that choice.

But have the cultural changes associated with the corporate acceptance of FOSS actually killed the crucial self-enablement which helped birth the movement? Have the business people taken the reigns back again, costing us the important victory we won years ago? Can the next generation of FOSS coders experience the same empowerment that their predecessors enjoyed?

This session will analyze the past, examine the present, and provide guidance for the future of FOSS.

Speakers: 
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Experience level: 
Novice