I visited Olin College (my alma mater) yesterday and spent all afternoon working with students who were...

  • using RT to track laptop repairs
  • developing a Moodle workshop for local teachers so that they could use the school server they were about to deploy
  • setting up jhbuild in order to prep for a bugfixing sprint they're organizing specifically to introduce classmates to being code contributors to a large, long-term software project
  • talking about how to stay on top of releases so they could work out a software update arrangement for the deployment (soon to be plural) that they serve
  • preparing to consult with 6th grade teachers on how they could integrate open-source software into their lesson plans

It was a good day. Okay, easier "let's set up a development environment" resources for Sugar would be great (so we're making them), and it would be nice to have more examples of transparently project-managed deployment tech support teams (but someone's got to start, and Bryan and Pia have been great about pointing us to good practices and software that they use for theirs) and it should really not be so bloody hard to make Sugar-on-a-stick (SoaS) bootable thumbdrives to take around for demos, but those are minor blips. They've got it. They're running this show themselves, and have been for two years now.

And more importantly, this all seems normal. Of course you file bugs in Trac. Of course you ask for help on IRC and have conversations on publicly archived mailing lists instead of over private email. Of course you try to find an existing project to tweak and contribute to instead of automatically rolling your own everything from scratch; of course you stand up and scratch an itch instead of waiting for directives or permissions from on high. It took a while and it's still a work in progress, but they've shifted reality a little, locally - enough that we can sometimes now take these kinds of things for granted. Sometimes.

One moment recently that made me smile: a student who'd just been exposed to Trac enthusiastically proclaimed this bug/ticket tracking system thing seemed like a really good idea and maybe other open-source projects should use it too! The subsequent discovery that this was in fact the case was wonderful to watch - the why now firmly in place instead of a blind "people say using this kind of tool is Good For Us."

One thing I'd like to do is get them (and other university and high school groups I'm working with) to share more with the broader open-source/university communities the awesome things they're doing. This blog post (David Humphrey's suggestion) is a start - what else can we do?