Open Hatch & Mozilla

In recent years, I’ve organized loads of Webmaker events for youth.  And on the opposite end, I’ve also run  many hackathons for experienced engineers interested in contributing to open source, through my work at SocialCoding4Good.

For just as long, I’ve noticed the absence of opportunity for higher education students to get involved, which is why I was so excited to partner with Open Hatch Comes to Campus for an event at the University of Victoria on October 18th.

Open Source Comes to Campus is a one-day workshop to teach the tools and culture of open source development and to help students impact real projects.

The goal of the event was to introduce computer science students to basic tools required to get started on a project, and then to provide them with opportunity to contribute to an open source project.  Our project of choice was Mozilla Webmaker, which included, and Popcorn Maker.

Open Hatch has done a fantastic job creating curriculum for self-directed and event learning.   Our morning  began with an  IRC session led by Errietta via Skype. Errietta is a Webmaker and Freenode contributor.  Learning IRC is not just about understanding ‘text based chat’, it’s about understanding the ecosystem for communication and ways to get and lend support in open source.


I learned Git through paid-work,  and after already using SVN, CVS (among others) for a number of years – so I appreciated the learning curve for one day.  I think Open Hatch’s curriculum works, because it’s learning-by-doing – pushing to a real repo, really ‘seeing’ how things work.

After lunch, we had an invited guest from Open Data BC : Herb Lainchbury , who spoke for half an hour on Open Data.   Open Data and Mozilla communities collaborate often locally, and I thought it would be another great angle to provide students with the knowledge that open data is ‘out there’ and something they can leverage for any number of reasons.  There were some great questions.


The last part of the day was reserved for Webmaker Code contribution.  We tried to make this part as simple as possible, by creating a Virtual Machine of the Webmaker environment.   Our goal was to provide students with as little ‘frustration’ in getting started, as environment-setup can often takeup this entire space.   For the most part, this was a success, as students were able to bring up the Webmaker Suite, and look into the code and test bugs.

What I didn’t expect is that, many students *wanted* to spend their time hacking on, and learning about the environment  – and not jumping right to bugs. Fortunately and I cannot emphasis this enough – having Errietta in IRC to answer questions on everything from code structure to environment errors  – saved the day.

Overall I think this event was a great success, we had lots of good feedback and ideas for next time. I think in a perfect world, this would be a two-day event. I think students needed more time to work with IRC, environment and git, and that an entire day could be for the project piece.

I was surprised to learn that FOSS contribution is really just ‘skimmed’ over in computer science classes, and so I’m hopeful that  events like this can eventually lead to a re-visit of curriculum in higher ed. To that end, I have some personal goals around the Web Literacy Map and running events that focus on contributing to Mozilla.  Here are a few of the literacies we covered:

  • Community Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Open Practices
  • Coding/Scripting
  • Infrastructure

I hope to put together a training mission, based on the event we ran – tagged with these literacies. Until then, if you are interested in doing something similar please reach out to me, or Open Hatch .  If you are interested in contributing to Mozilla, please check out our new Get Involved Page.