Catalyst Open Source Academy 2017

by Ian Beardslee

I want to talk (or is that blog?) about something that makes Catalyst a fantastic place to work.

Something that challenges the minds of the next generation.
Something that inspires Catalyst staff to learn and develop.
Something that helps keep me thinking and learning.
Something that makes changes around the world.

Photo of academy in progressRecently the Catalyst office in Wellington hosted 20 senior secondary school students taking part in our 7th Open Source Academy.

The Open Source Academy is two weeks of intense learning and mentored project work. Participants work towards making a change in a real open source project. It is an opportunity for a group of keen Year 11 to 13 students to be challenged beyond what they have learned at school by learning from, and working with some of the best technologists in New Zealand.

Our Open Source Academy has been well-attended since it was first run in 2011. This year was no exception - we received 47 applications for the 20 places.

What we do is not just about the ‘code’. It is about working with people, about starting with an idea and developing it into a look, a database, an interface, an application.

The first week of the Academy is taken up with learning. We use the process of creating a small application to build on previous sessions, to teach the development process and tools. We have our Business Analysts, Database Administrators, Project Managers, UX Designers, Testers, Visual Designers, Directors, System Administrators and Developers all sharing their knowledge and love for working with open source technology with our participants.

The students then apply and expand on what they’ve learned when they start working on a real open source project in week two. Often communicating with people around the world via IRC or bug tracking tools, our students go through the process of learning how an open source community works with it’s code and processes whilst making changes. Picture of Academy in progress Together with hard skills, they learn that sometimes a fixing a simple typo is just as important as building a new feature.

One of the final processes for the Academy is to get the students to tell the rest of the Academy what they did in their project team. This year, feedback from the project mentors was unanimous - the students downplayed how much they’d achieved in just three and a half days working on the project.

How many teenagers (or even adults, parents, teachers) have had a chance to make a change to an application that people around the world will use and benefit from?

Here’s what the students achieved:

Koha: Two of the students have patches in the latest release (16.11.02) that happened on Monday straight after the Academy. The rest of the students have their changes going through the process of testing and QA, and awaiting sign off. They saved 67 kittens, puppies, camels and/or villages.

Moodle: As a team, they built a plug-in for to report (and export) course completions. This is going to end up in the Moodle Plug-ins Directory.

Piwik: There were over 20 pull requests by the students with each of the team getting changes merged into the code base that will be the next release in about a month’s time.

SilverStripe: Over 14 pull requests covering things as simple as typo fixes to porting a module from SilverStripe 3 to SilverStripe 4.

It’s not just the many passionate Catalyst volunteers that make the Open Source Academy work. Our friends at InnoCraft, SilverStripe, Moodle and especially the Koha community are all important in their roles as mentors, taking the time to offer guidance to the students taking part.

With things like that going on each year, who else gets such an awesome start to the year by being inspired by a bunch of bright and keen secondary school students?