Why I’m learning open source best practice from Middle School Students

Engineering in open source projects is a different skillset than most of us have ever been trained for; happily, there is a rising cohort of engineers and scientists who have been learning to work in exactly the ways that industry is now demanding.   Here’s the background…

hedge_teamI’ve been helping mentor two FIRST Robotics teams (FLL & FTC) this season and had the privilege to accompany the FLL team (which includes my daughter) to the FIRST World Festival where a global mix of students from 6 to 18 competed, collaborated and celebrated for a wide range of awards and recognition.  The experience is humbling – these students are taking on challenges (for fun) that would scare off most adults.

While I could go on and on about my experience and the FIRST mission, I’d rather share some of what my 12 year old daughter wrote to her coach after the competition:

Thank you Coach for all of the lessons and advice you have shared with me this season. I really appreciate all of the time and effort you have put into making this team the best we could be. You have taught us so much and we will definitely walk away from this season with the new skills and experiences. You were an amazing coach and not only did you help and support us, you also gave us the freedom to be independent so we can learn skills like leadership, time management and meeting with busy schedules. I loved being on this team and I hope this will not be the last of the Hedgehogs.

FIRST designs the program so that these experiences are the norm, not the exception.

Here are some of the critical open source engineering skills I observed first hand at all levels of the competition.

  • Collaboration: at all levels, participants are strongly rewarded for collaborating, mentoring and working together.   Team simply cannot advance without mastering this skill.
  • Consensus: judges actively test and watch for consensus behavior.  This is actively coached and encouraged because the teams quickly learn to appreciate a diversity of strengths.
  • Risk Taking with Delivery: the very nature of competition encourages teams to think big and balance risk with delivery.
  • Celebration: this has to be experienced but the competitions are often compared to rock concerts.  Everyone is involved and every aspect is celebrated.   FIRST is a culture.
  • Situational Judgment: this competition is fast and intense so participants learn to think on their feet.  This type of experience is amazingly valuable and hard to get in class room settings.

In my experience, everyone in open source needs more practice and experience DOING open source work.  I suggest getting involved in these programs as a mentor, judge or volunteer because it’s the most effective hands-on open source training I can imagine.

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