Hobbyists & Hackers

Dave Neary wrote an interesting blog post yesterday commenting that the recruitment of new developers appears to be slowing.

I’ve had similar a similar thought on my mind for a while but coming from a different angle.

First though, revisiting Dave’s thought, he writes:

But it was a learning experience. Installing Linux was the period in my life where I learned the most about how computers worked, hardware and software. Back then, if you wanted to try out an application you heard about, there was only one way to do it – download the source code and compile it.

I had a conversation with Jono Bacon and Opportunistic Development (more on this in a different post) at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit two weeks ago that comes to mind.  Jono and I were talking about how kids in the 80’s had a chance to learn to program through BASIC, LOGO or other languages.  I remember using my first computer and buying magazines that had the machine code you’d program in by hand to create a game.  (Ok, I’m old).

But it leads me to an interesting thought about the evolution of younger users and how they are introduced to computers, becoming programmers and ultimately hackers or makers.

  • In the early 80’s we had the TRS-80, Commodore or Apple II (and later the Atari ST or IBM PC) computers and were encouraged to learn Basic or LOGO
  • In the 90’s we saw the beginning of Linux and other free software tools that raised a different generation of hackers.  We had the World Wide Web explode creating a generation of Web programmers.
  • And in the first decade of the 21st century, especially the second half, we saw the rise of the smartphone and the app store.

Dave asks the question:

Is it any wonder that recruitment of developers appears to be slowing, that prominent older projects are suffering something of a demographic crisis, with hoary old 30 year olds holding down the fort, with no young fiery whippersnappers coming up to relieve them?

(And I encourage you to read the comments on his blog as well).  I don’t know if that’s the right question – I think the fiery whippersnappers have more choices today for development – web apps, iPhone or Android apps, Linux and more.

For the GNOME community specifically, I wonder if we could make it easier for new developers or projects.  As an upstream project, I understand we don’t want to make it too easy and have a wasteland of abandoned projects hosted on our infrastructure, but I also see innovative new projects like Zeitgeist or Getting Things GNOME! using Launchpad instead.  I think the recent Zeitgeist proposal highlights both the benefits and challenges of using one or the other platforms for development.  I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d be curious to hear the communities opinion on it, whether it’s opening a GNOME branch on Gitorious or other ideas.

From whatever direction you come at these questions, it is an interesting challenge to have.

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