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December 7, 2011

Tom “Spot” Callaway came to speak to our Software Engineering course on Thursday, December 1st. It was a meeting of friends as Sebastian Dziallas brought Ashley Guertin from Olin and Karl Wurst brought students from Worcester State. In addition to my nine students and the visitors, we also had a couple of folks from our Office of Information Technology, Kevin Gorman and Travis Brooks.

Tom spoke on the ways that FOSS projects can fail and how to avoid some common pitfalls that lead to failure based on his Fail Meter.  A the beginning of the semester, my students had a homework that asked them to use Tom’s Fail Meter to assess two open source projects. The results were all over the map as students spent effort figuring out the meaning of the various criteria and how to measure each item. It was affirming to see that by the end of the semester, students had a much better idea of the important aspects of a FOSS project. I noted nodding heads as students agreed with point based on their own experience with FOSS.

Tom’s talk again impressed me with how much success in FOSS is based on the community, not the code. That ideas for new software projects are easy to come by, but carrying out the product to produce a useful product requires a healthy community where users help each other and work to improve the project, not just the code. Things like documentation, planning for regular releases and creating distribution-friendly software are important and this takes effort beyond coding.

My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture. I need to figure out how to remind myself to use my camera! Thank you Tom for making the trip and for answering all our questions.  Your perspective from the foundation of broad experience provided wonderful illustrations and a much better perspective on FOSS development.

Next up: Final presentations, Tuesday December 13th

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