How did you get into FOSS?

Listening to the folks from Kerala and how they are introduced to FOSS, I wanted to hear from others on how they came into FOSS.

I personally came across FOSS through Video Games and Homebrew. My console of choice were the Nintendo DS and the Wii. The forum GBATemp was what introduced me to homebrew. Made some great friends through there as well. I believe this was way back in 2008-ish, when I was 11 years old.

The fascination with FOSS continues as a way of life even today as I try and use FOSS, from LibreOffice instead of Microsoft, Nextcloud, ERPNext and so much more.

Let us know your FOSS journey.

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In the beginning of 2020, due to the lockdown, I spent a lot of time scrolling through Instagram. Reels weren’t a thing back then, so I randomly stumbled upon Instagram pages sharing informational content about hacking and cyber security. This piqued my interest, and out of the blue, I read about the infamous “Kali Linux.” Honestly, it felt cool, and I wanted to use it. However, I ended up installing Linux Mint on a Dell Inspiron owned by my dad’s friend. It was a laptop without a battery. I remember the date and time vividly: it was on October 13, 2020, around 7:30 or 7:35 PM on a rainy day.

The idea that someone was offering their software for free, especially after spending 20+ years writing millions of lines of code, fascinated me. I delved into Linux, learned about FOSS (Free and Open Source Software), wrote some simple and not-so-clever programs, and learned how to upload them on Github. It was enjoyable, but I wasn’t a dedicated Free Software believer at that time. Most of my interactions were with internet friends on Telegram, and everything I learned, whether broken or seemingly useless, was because of the people around me. I’m someone who learns from inspiration, akin to the philosophy in the book “Steal Like an Artist.” FOSS seemed similar—nothing is entirely original (except maybe someone’s code), people examine your code, copy or modify it to suit their needs. Isn’t that how it goes?

More recently, after attending my first conference, MumbaiFOSS’23, I understood the essence of community and communal learning. The people in South India, where the FOSS culture is vibrant, became role models. I began volunteering for Mumbai meetups, which I continue to do. The community holds immense power.

Gradually, I learned about how governments and proprietary software infringe on our privacy and freedom. I distanced myself from non-free software, finding it unreliable.

Yet, I always feel a contradiction between the impossibility of completely avoiding non-free software and fully embracing free software. There always seems to be something left out. It takes a certain spirit within to navigate this and try making some change. If we don’t question back, things will likely continue as they have been.

Thanks for the question!

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When I was studying in the US, my statement of purpose was to look at technologies that would be immensely useful for India. When I came back to India, I wrote an article on Slashdot* on January 2000, titled, “Why Linux makes sense for India.” My friend, Prakash Advani liked the idea. He was then CEO of a company called FreeOS and he and his partner Apu Shah supported the setting up of a non-profit called IndLinux to localize Linux to Indian languages. The non-profit is now defunct but the translations live on. When you boot up a Linux system, you get a choice of 17 languages for your user interface. Not all the translation work was done by IndLinux. We focused on Hindi localization and many linguistic groups focused on their respective languages. If Linux had taken off on the desktop, this work would have had a huge impact.

*The email at the end of the Slashdot article does not work anymore as I no longer work at IIITB.

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I touched my first computer in 1986 perhaps, when I was in Class 2. My father had a govt sponsored linguistic research project. 2 computers in a home office sure were a head start. Those days computers included manuals of some sort. I cut my teeth on BASIC programming - lots of programs were available. Turbo Pascal, again lots of fun stuff. I distinctly remember the dot matrix printers included programming instructions. These were used to print Indian language text & graphics then. After 5th I had no access to computers all the way till engineering.

1997 - Engineering days. Linux used to ship in those PCQuest CDs. We’d spend hours and days fixing those X mode-lines. I was into programming games, and that meant Windows. So Linux was mostly a curiosity.

2000 - I started working, and was exposed to Linux and much much. Dug deep into some projects. Picked up Python, reluctantly at first. Once I discovered SWIG, everything became python scripts, including my game engine side projects.

2004 - Switched jobs to HP and joined their HPC scientific visualization group. Ran two small corporate open source projectBs with a very small community. Had fun by the side with other projects such as the Quake engine, Blender, etc. Gave some talks at FOSS.IN and some colleges. If FOSS is viewed as a movement, then I’d say 2004 was the logical point !

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Circa 2000, got access to a personal computer and dialup internet when I was in high school. Disovered that tweaking config in .ini files changes the behaviour of certain programs. Then slowly figured that “coding” was to make the computer do stuff that we wanted. Started copy-pasting and learning code from code sharing sites. Started posting my code back to those sites. This felt natural. Couple of years later, learned that this is how FOSS worked. In 2002, released my first serious FOSS project, a GPL licensed blogging platform, which got quite popular. Haven’t looked back since!

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Did some testing and bug finding for LibreHealth in Google Code-In 2017. Loved the community and kept in touch with kind people since then!

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I stayed away from programming after failing a CS 101 (C-language based) course in the first year of college. I went back in the summer of my fourth year college when I needed to load and analyze astronomical data. The professor I was working with told me that I could use whatever programming tool I wanted to, and Python was the tool I came across after a Google search. For 3 months, I spent time coding on the Interactive Prompt (>>>) because I didn’t know I could write Python code in .py file and run it using python file.py. After that, I started heavily using the Scientific Python FOSS ecosystem, specifically to create interactive toy physics models.

Eventually, when I started working, I started contributing to the FOSS projects we maintain at work, and eventually to the broader Scientific Python ecosystem too.

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For getting into a job - I graduated college at the peak of covid, campus placements were low. I started making contributions to FOSS projects to get into a company and eventually got one when my contributions got notices. Now, my contributions has gone down but I am planning to do a little more in the coming days.

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Having started my journey in the early 90’s in the MS DOS world, took me a while to switch to FOSS. Most of my code in the 90s was written in various flavours of Microsoft BASIC (GW, Quick, Visual) - I did some cool projects in school and college and also an internship.

I was mind blown by the quality of the user interface the first time I had a look at the iMac in University in the US in 2001 - these were the the super cool translucent body ones (yes, I know this is about FOSS, hear me out). Later I took the chance and bought an 11" iBook G4 on student discount and that forced me to look for other programming languages other than Visual Basic. The language of my choice became Python and haven’t looked back since.

My introduction to “FOSS” was probably when I read Linus Torvald’s memoir - “Just for fun” - That was super inspiring. “Having fun” has been core to whatever I have done since, including opening the ERP system I was building and then what I am trying to do here at FOSS United.

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I think we missed the smartphone bus… which kind of pushed the desktop out for daily needs from a gadget… now sure phones have better language support… but there should be some directory of sort for FOSS apps, tired of creepy and adware apps.

Didn’t not even hear the word FOSS when I was in college. In 2018, I joined a civic-tech startup in Hyderabad. One of my first jobs was to map public bus-stops on QGIS, draw circular buffers (500m to 2km radius) around them and see the regions that don’t have access to these busstops.

QGIS was thus the first FOSS software I consciously used. My managers also used to discuss about Open Source and how they would like to contribute to it one day. I used to pick some FOSS concepts from those conversations.

I started there and got opportunities in a lot of Open Data initiatives (taking the liberty to include them in FOSS). Started feeling good that my work is on my name. My friends working on/for proprietary software seldom could own their work as I did. I cherished it.

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For me its all started back in 2011 when I was working as a Network specialist at Ericsson Global(Bangalore). At that time, the company was transitioning from Windows to Linux, and we were introduced to the open-source culture to save the licensing cost. It was a big shift, but it opened up a whole new world for me.

I started getting used to using tools like Thunderbird for email, LibreOffice for office tasks, and other open source software. The more I used these tools, the more I appreciated the flexibility and freedom they offered.

What inspired me was seeing people contribute to these projects. Their dedication and passion for creating something beneficial for everyone were truly motivating. It wasn’t just about using the software; it was about being part of a community that values collaboration and sharing.

Over the years, I’ve personally benefited from various open-source projects. Some of the major inspirations for me have been PyTorch, which has been a game-changer in the field of machine learning, and WordPress, which powers so many websites around the world. Recently, I’ve been exploring Frappé CRM, and it’s pretty interesting stuff!

FOSS has not only enhanced my professional life but also fueled my passion for continuous learning and contributing back to the community. I’m excited to see where this journey will take me next and look forward to connecting with others who share the same passion.

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