Hackathon - workshop on free software

Hackathon – a 3 day residential workshop on free software for engineering students from all over Kerala- was conducted in association with ICFOSS at the ICFOSS office, Trivandrum from 2 nd -4 th, September. The event was designed to find ambassadors/ from various engineering colleges to work with and also promote the ideas of free software at their respective colleges and other places of work. Approximately 30 girl and boy students participated from different government and aided engineering colleges and polytechnics. In spite of the hurdles of travel due to the national strike, the enthusiasm and spirit of the students, resource persons and the organisers made the event, a success.

An introductory session on the idea of free software whet the appetite of a highly eager and curious bunch of students. An interesting presentation with active participation of the students unravelled the complexities in the ideas of freedom, copyright, hacking etc. The students soon were found in conversation with the resource person on the various issues of software being free , funding for the collaborators, ethics of hacking etc. Moving onto the free software technologies , the afternoon session began with installation of GNU/Linux operating system on the machines . The students were first briefed, supported by a demonstration, about the procedure to install Debian on various kinds of systems and laptops. The group then started installing their own machines with help and assistance from the different resource persons. The experienced students also shared their knowledge and helped the rest of the students in installation . By the second day , all students had an idea of installing a basic GNU/Linux operating system. Various topics like partitioning, package installation , Linux file system, command line interface etc. were dicussed further. Some of the basic and useful commands were also introduced. As the day ended , the students found Debian more familiar and knew how to traverse through and install applications to customize the operating system according to their needs. This paved the platform to learn a progrmaming language based on the idea of free software.

An introductory session on Processing (Javascript) followed along with a demonstration on how to draw and animate geometrical shapes . A brief introductory session on Python- OpenCV followed on the third day. Further, parallel sessions were conducted in Python- OpenCV, Android based application development on phones, Processing using Javascript and an introduction to HTML, CSS, MySQL, PHP etc. For web development. Students split according to their choice and explored the specific areas in close interaction with the resource persons. It was an experimental approach to efficently make use of the available resources thereby letting the students to explore their interests and aspirations.

Film screenings and games were conducted to expose the students to the ideas of free knowledge, gender stereotypes and mythology etc. and also enabling them with knowledge regarding rights and responsibilities as a citizen, forming opinion in a democracy etc. and other skills. An opinion making game was played to make the students be independent enough to form and express opinions on any issue or idea, and change the same in case they felt otherwise .After a few rounds more and more students were found to participate with their distinct judgements on the statements put forward to them. The evening screening of the films, ‘The internet’s own boy’ – a documentary film on Aaron Swartz and ‘Sita sings the blues’ – an animated film created under Creative Commons license based on the story of Ramayana by Valmiki were also thought provoking and led to questions on the deeper aspects of freedom , knowledge politics , gender etc. Another interesting group activity on the awareness of rights opened up the students by challenging their own values and prejudices about themselves and the society. Other games were also conducted for confidence building and better interaction among the group. Mild physical exercises in the morning and post lunch warmed up the students and helped them focus better during the sessions.

The resource persons for the Hackathon were : Arun , Jithin, Sachin , Suman , Bibin, Aishwarya (Start-Up Mission fellow). The accommodation ,food , transport facilities and other organizational help and support was provided by ICFOSS.