Can FOSS Skills Be Measured?

Sure, FOSS is fun, but is it profitable? Or is it just a spare-time hobby? There are actually two sides to FOSS: FOSS as free and open source software for a set of tools and platforms; and FOSS as a methodology for the development of software. One cannot exist without the other. And the reason for the superiority of FOSS tools is precisely because they are the result of FOSS methodology.

The FOSS software development/deployment methodology — a child of the Internet, and which is based on openness, sharing and collaboration — is also a powerful tool to develop ‘soft skills’ like the ability to communicate, search for and find solutions, and to think out-of-the-box. Over a long time, I have noticed that people who actually participate in projects following the FOSS methodology are eminently better programmers and far better at communicating, solving problems and collaborating, than people who follow the ‘closed
methodology’.

So how does one get people to acquire these skills (or rather habits), and how does one test for them?
Some of us have been working on this problem for years, and we have come up with the FOSS Web Deployment Engineer (FWDE) certification launched by the Anna University wing of the National Resource Centre for Free and Open Source Software (NRC-FOSS AU), along with Anna University, Chennai.

The certification attempts to replicate a real-time FOSS development environment in the lab for a day- long examination. Candidates are free to bring in any material —USB sticks, books, notes, cell phones (in silent mode) and are given a system with full Internet access. They have to deploy a simple Web application on a remote server—exactly as is done in real life. The application has to be supported by a version control
repository and a bug reporting and tracking system with e-mail enabled. The examiner will sit at a terminal and
punch in requests to the bug/ticket reporting system and the candidates have to respond. If they are able to
do this successfully, they pass; else, they fail.

This certification is targeted at the growing demand from Web 2.0 companies like Google, Yahoo!,Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and their smaller Indian counterparts. As explained on the site: “Most Web 2.0 companies are on the smaller side with fewer employees. Since they work in the FOSS arena, they expect their employees to have some all-round skills rather than narrow specialisation. A typical employee of a Web 2.0 company may specialise in one area, but he/she is expected to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and contribute (or at least understand) to other areas of deployment. Of course, there are also a large number of companies with just two or three employees who do not specialise [in anything] at all, and do everything from programming, design, database management and actual deployment.” Likewise, NRC-FOSS AU is working at building bridges with training institutes on one hand and software companies on the other, to enlist their help in refining the needs of industry and encouraging the trainers to fulfil them.

Although the certification sounds easy, in fact, it is not. Those who know what they are doing can finish in an hour. However, if they don’t, even a week would not be enough. But whatever the result, anyone who attempts, or trains to attempt the certification will automatically imbibe something of the FOSS methodology and become more employable as a result.

The best way to prepare for the certification is to actually participate in an open source project. But then,
people will be eager to hire you and you will not need the certification. If that happens, our certification will
be a success — even if we do not get your business! Full details are available at http://certificate.nrcfoss.au-kbc.

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