Silvan Innovation Labs: FOSS Experts, Where Are You Hiding?

Dr Giri Krishna, CEO, Silvan Innovation Labs

Dr Giri Krishna, CEO, Silvan Innovation Labs

Silvan Innovation Labs is a Bengaluru-based company that provides security solutions and home automation systems. It plans to recruit over 80 FOSS professionals in a year, but one of its biggest problems is finding suitable candidates. Dr Giri Krishna, CEO, Silvan Innovation Labs, talks to LINUX For You about how the FOSS scene is growing big internationally, while in India, it still needs pepping up.

How has the demand for FOSS experts changed over the recent years?

Linux has been around for a long time, but people were waiting for it to be a mature solution. Large product companies would not consider open source, as they doubted its stability — but now, the research and development phase is over.

Over the years, FOSS has proved its stability in the industry, and many organisations are switching to using open source solutions rather than conventional proprietary solutions, because of the high costs associated with the latter. FOSS is very mature now, and it is possible to run Linux on a variety of platforms, making it a favourable commercial solution. This has led to a demand for FOSS professionals, especially in organisations that deal with technology and products.

With the Android explosion, Linux on hand-held or embedded devices is an upcoming area, and will see much more growth in the coming years, especially because over 50 per cent of smart-phones run on Android today. The main sectors driving this demand are industries like technology, semi-conductors, telecom companies and phone manufacturers.

Why aren’t there enough developers from India who participate in the FOSS community?

India needs many more developers with a Linux background. There is a shortage now, because most of them do not get FOSS training in their universities. In the US, UNIX and Linux is a part of the curriculum — but here, the focus is more on languages like C and C++, not on building knowledge on operating systems. Even during recruitment and placements, candidates are tested for expertise in language, and not operating systems.

Do you interact with the FOSS community regularly?

The Linux community is extremely helpful, and we often take its help. There is constant interaction at all stages, and when we get stuck somewhere, we depend on experts on the forums. For example, when we posted a query while facing problems with the kernel, we received responses in less than 24 hours.

However, our interaction has been limited to receiving advice, due to time constraints. Once we are equipped with enough employees, we will also be providing advice on the forums. It is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and establish your company’s presence in the industry.

What are the main problems you faced in adopting open source within your organisation?

Technical problems are comparatively easy to solve because if it gets tough, we can fall back on the FOSS community, for expert opinions from many renowned professionals. It is in terms of recruitment that we are still facing problems.

The main problem is the availability of FOSS experts. We find it difficult to find people who have Linux knowledge in the embedded space. There is enough information on the subject available online, but when we work on tight schedules, we want access to people who already know the subject and can quickly implement the system we are looking for.

How are you dealing with this issue?

As of now, we have been recruiting freshers, and we put them on the project directly. We provide them with on-the-job training, so that they are involved in the experience while they acquire practical knowledge. Being a startup, we do not have the resources or tools to provide training at present, but later, we are planning to provide training sessions for freshers.

What is the process of taking on FOSS experts?

We have a fairly detailed interview process, which starts with a test on programming skills, followed by one or more interviews that test the candidate for problem-solving and analytical skills. Most of our recruitment is done through head hunters and recruitment websites.

What skills do you look for while hiring employees?

We prefer people with good CE programming skills, knowledge of Linux (especially the internals of Linux), and a knowledge of digital signal processing (DSP), preferably in the video and imaging space. We are looking for people at various posts, and so, different levels of experience are also required.

How many FOSS professionals work at your office at present?

We have 20 software engineers, and all work on Android, Linux and Open CV. We are planning to hire many more people to arrive at a head count of at least 100 by the end of 2011. If we manage to find the talent, 75 per cent of the recruits would work on software. The development will be in Bangalore.

What advice would you like to give upcoming developers in India?

We need to encourage more enthusiastic developers to build a FOSS community in India. Since there will be a huge demand for FOSS experts in the coming years, I would like to see more students and freshers involved in the community, so that once they start working, they will be experienced enough to face problems easily.

What are the key open source tools that your company uses for product development?

We use an open source library for video analytics, called Open Source Computer Vision Library (Open CV). We have been using it as a base for developing our video analytics for security surveillance. Our surveillance cameras use Linux, and will run their own embedded video analytics.

Open source tools have been used in many stages of development on various products. These include Subversion (SVN) for revision and version management; VLC player for streaming H.264, MPEG4 and MJPEG streams; Boa Web server; FFMPEG libraries to record, convert and stream audio and video; the open source operating system Linux; Monta Vista for cross compiling; Cscope and Ctags for analysing the source code; Wis streamer as an open source streaming server; an open source NTP client, etc.

How can one benefit from using FOSS platforms or tools in project development?

Cost is a major factor. Using FOSS solutions ensures that your cost is reduced. Secondly, if you plan to use FOSS, you have access to expert advice through the FOSS community. If you are developing a solution or product on Linux, and face any problem, you can post the query to the FOSS community and people respond with suggestions, and sometimes even with code, to solve your problem. The community is eager to help — and that too, at no cost. However, in India there is limited expertise, and you will not find many active Indian members in the community.

How about a piece of advice to other firms that are considering the adoption of FOSS solutions?

Make sure you have at least a core team with enough expertise of open source software. It is now possible to gather experts, unlike how it was five years ago. Thoroughly verify if the FOSS option brings in real value to the functioning, or if it will bring in more problems. For example, we tried using OpenOffice.org, but we scrapped it, since MS Office is more popular in the ecosystem, and exchanging documents took more effort and time than expected. Also, check whether the community is active in the space you are considering. If it isn’t, you may have to wait a long time before the community responds to your queries.

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