British university students are being offered cash incentives to write open source software – and the first beneficiary is a Python programmer from Swansea.
The UK Free Software Network (UKFSN), a small Hertfordshire-based internet service provider, has announced it will use its profits to form a fund benefitting students developing software that can be modified by its end users.
Andrew Price, a second-year BSc Computer Science student at Swansea University, is the first person to be selected under the so-called “Profits” programme. The 24-year-old has been awarded £4,680, intended as an encouragement to further code software under the philosophy of the increasingly popular free software movement.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Price, a former president of the university’s computer society, told Ping Wales. “A constraint I have to follow is the GNU Free Software Definition. “The UKFSN programme will allow me to carry on contributing to free software in my spare time instead of having to get a typical dead-end student job that would be far less fulfilling; now I can treat it like a fun job and not just a fun hobby.
So-called free software advocates believe application code should be open to tweaking by others in the development community. Such software powers many of the internet’s core functions and commands greater market share than products from many leading commercial vendors.
UKFSN started in 2003 to fund British free software projects from the profits of its internet service provision business. With 2,500 customers, it is currently the top-ranked service provider by DSL ZoneUK.
“I spent some time asking myself who the contributors to free software tend to be,” UKFSN’s Jason Clifford told Ping Wales. “Looking over the largest and best-known projects such as Linux and GNU, I realised that they tend to be started by students and that students tend to get involved more readily. “Many universities and colleges have a long history of involvement in free software projects as experience has shown that these provide invaluable benefit to both the student and the academic institution. It also occured to me that students in this country are increasingly being squeezed financially.”
In the autumn, the British Computer Society warned of a shortage of skilled computing graduates. Applicants to the UKFSN award, which opened in November, must already be contributors to the open source community and must be in education, but Clifford said there is no requirement to write open source for classroom projects; he would not be “looking over the student’s shoulder”.
Originally from Cardiff, Price was one of a handful of first-round applicants and the sole recipient. The award is made in 12 salary-like monthly payments by UKFSN, which has contracted Price as an employee to circumvent red tape normally associated with formal scholarships, Clifford said; he hopes to increase the awards to three by September and to 20 by 2010. “I found out about it through the Swansea University Computer Society,” said Price, who is currently writing pyBackPack, a graphical file backup utility. “Open source isn’t something we’re taught about really, but the Computer Science department has a Linux PC lab and we’re taught some programming modules such as C and functional programming using open source tools like GCC and Hugs. “I was introduced to the open source community through the computer society. After graduation, I’d love to get a job which involves free or open source software, but not just coding – I enjoy working with people, too.”