Calsoft Labs CEO: FOSS is Something You Learn While You Work

Ramandeep Singh, CEO, Calsoft Labs

Ramandeep Singh, CEO, Calsoft Labs

Recently, the French technology consulting and engineering company, Alten, acquired Calsoft Labs, the outsourced product development business of the Chennai-based software company. LINUX For You caught up with Ramandeep Singh, CEO, Calsoft Labs, to find out what his forecasts for FOSS are.

Do you feel that India is rich in open source skills? Is that one of the reasons Alten has set up a base in India?

A few years ago, people would approach only the US when they required expertise in FOSS, but now, India has been added to the list. Earlier, they approached India as it came across as cost-effective, but in recent years, they have been coming to India to tap the skills of efficient FOSS professionals. There is a shortage of FOSS skills in Europe, while people here are more aware of FOSS.

Does this have anything to do with the education provided here?

Popular belief is that education in open source is better in the US. However, FOSS is something you learn while you work, and your skills will be based on your experience. Indians have been getting more opportunities to train in a stack and evolve into experts.

Do you think there has been an increase in the demand for FOSS professionals over the recent years?

Yes, the whole world is moving towards Linux. Open source has been around since the 90s but the demand for FOSS has definitely picked up since 2008. In the past two years, especially, India and the US have witnessed a change in how organisations look at FOSS solutions.

Are your clients open to open source solutions? How has their outlook towards FOSS changed?

Linux is coming to industries where FOSS was earlier forbidden because of limited support. Now, it is the reverse.

Clients consider FOSS, as it provides better assurance of support. Business sectors like aerospace and the automotive industry are including open source solutions to a large extent in their testing and development. When it comes to fixed-price projects, we are often given the freedom to decide the technical environment and methodology, and we immediately opt for FOSS. The clients are happy if the end solution serves their purpose. For instance, if we are setting up an IP stack, the starting point will unquestionably be open source, as it is a mature and established solution.

A few years ago, we would evaluate the advantages and disadvantages, but now this is out first choice, unless the client specifies other requirements.

How do FOSS platforms or tools add value to project development? What are their advantages over proprietary solutions?

To begin with, there is an online community working on open source. If you need any help, the community will back you with its library and by making portions of code available. It is also easier in terms of maintenance, and the ability to find corrections. We find that Linux offers more support than proprietary tools. Moreover, we cannot forget the difference in costs. When compared with proprietary solutions, FOSS solutions turn out to be much lower in cost.

What are the key open source tools that your company uses for product development? On what products has it been used?

In embedded product engineering, we are doing several projects on Linux and Android. In the networking space, we have active engagements where we are using OpenFlow and OpenNMS. In the software product engineering space, we work on Linux (Ubuntu) and leverage a number of open source tools. We use scripting languages like PHP and Python; the Java programming language; MySQL and PostgreSQL databases; Apache and Apache Tomcat Web servers; JBoss and GlassFish application servers; Eclipse, Netbeans and Komodo Edit IDEs; Ant and Maven build tools; applications like PHPMyAdmin, XAMPP, SVN and Firebug; Hibernate ORM, and frameworks like jQuery, Zend, CakePHP, Spring MVC, Struts, JSF and GWT.

How many open source professionals work at your organisation currently?

About 150 engineers at Calsoft Labs are working actively on open source technologies in development and/or testing. We are likely to add another 75 to 100 engineers with experience in leveraging open source tools and technologies in product engineering, within the next 12-18 months.

What skills do you look for while recruiting employees?

We look for general as well as open source skills in multimedia, digital television, communication systems, 3D frameworks, program management, networking stacks and video processors.

Do you train your employees in open source?

Yes, we absorb students from NITs and other top-tier schools as freshers. They have to undergo an on-the-job training for six to eight months. We let them handle a portion of the customers’ projects, so that they get not just theoretical, but actual knowledge of the subject as well.

Do you interact with the online open source community?

Many of our senior employees contribute to the community on a regular basis. We also take help from the community and do adaptations, corrections and take feedback on projects from the community.

Do you also share your open source work with them?

Heavy-duty open source users are some of the community’s biggest contributors. There is no rule that the organisation imposes on its employees, but they do contribute to the community themselves. However, the portion of the project we share is limited, as our clients may have confidentiality issues. For example, if we have developed a stack for a security application, we share only the work that we have done on open source. We also share the libraries we develop and the routines necessary for the project; but we keep the addons to ourselves.

When do you think organisations should opt for FOSS solutions?

FOSS is great when you have to get your projects done quicker, as a client expects a commitment of quality, reliability and security within the given period. If you find that the area you’re working in has the FOSS community’s support, your project can be developed quicker using FOSS. There is an issue of IP as well. If the client has specific views on IP, you may prefer to stick to proprietary options.

What is your message to the growing number of FOSS developers and to the community?

Young developers are the mainstay of the FOSS community. This market will grow substantially, and the adoption of FOSS will also continue to grow. Soon, FOSS will constitute a large percentage of the market. This is a great place to be in and grow today.

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