27 local undergraduates triumph in “global software pool”
Twenty-seven undergraduates of the Engineering and Computer Science faculty of the University of Moratuwa will get an opportunity to work with some of the most well-known names in the global software industry this year as their project ideas have been chosen for the annual Google Summer of Code, or GSoC, programme. Sri Lanka is one of the countries with the highest number of students chosen.
The GSoC is a programme that promotes free and open source software development, a hot trend in the IT world. The concept pertains to software that can be read, modified and re-distributed freely without the boundaries of copyright therefore allowing more people to contribute to IT solutions in a more open environment. The GSoC programme connects students worldwide with approved mentor firms that take on their ideas.
Briefly, these mentor software development firms put forward software projects that require some improvement and the students peruse these and produce a project proposal with their ideas for improvement. The mentors then pick out the proposals that would most fit their needs. The chosen students are awarded US$4500 at the completion of the project.
“These are not second-class solutions but frontline technology,” said Dr. Sanjeeva Weerawarana, CEO of Lanka Software Foundation (LSF) and open-source pioneer in the country, speaking at a press briefing held by the university recently. Weerawarana has been one of the motivating forces behind the local applicants.
He stressed the importance of the achievement saying that it proved that the local graduates were on par with their global counterpart, and even better. He challenged the student winners saying that regular university qualification and sundry extra-curricular activities would no longer get them far in the world, “because everyone else has them.” Instead, through programmes like this, students are forced to learn about the cutting edge-software development and develop contact among those in the mentor companies to give them an edge over their competitors. “India has done extremely well in this area and the best thing we can do is replicate them,” he said.
Most of the students’ proposals are for software development firms like Apache, Eclipse, Subversion as well LSF. Speaking to The Sunday Times FT regarding how the free and open source software would aid the growing IT/BPO industry, Weerawarana said that at the inception, one company LSF approached was IT solutions off-shore group Virtusa. “The off-shorers can tell their clients that not only do they have this technology, we also have people who can do it,” he said.
The demand for open and free source software can be exemplified by the popular site Wikepedia, an online encyclopaedia that is contributed to by its user-base. One of the most visited sites in cyberspace, Wikipedia’s success shows the future of the technology. Search engine Mozilla Firefox is also a result of the technology.
The “catch” of this type of technology has been the intellectual property side of the story. Weerawarana dismissed the opinion that it destroys the creator’s IP rights by clarifying that via this programme, the students gives the mentor firm the license to read, modify and then re-distribute the software, under some given regulations.