Software engineer at Canonical Launchpad team
L. Guruprasad makes FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from March 7 to 14. Thank you, L. Guruprasad!
Please tell us about yourself
I am L. Guruprasad, a 33-year-old FOSS-enthusiast and an open source developer from Bengaluru, India, currently working as a software engineer on the Launchpad (the software collaboration platform) team at Canonical. I have been using free software for the past 15 years and have been contributing to it for almost half that time. Before my current job, I worked at OpenCraft, where I contributed to the Open edX project.
How did you first discover FOSS?
I discovered GNU/Linux and FOSS during the second year of my college education. Debian Sarge and Etch were the first GNU/Linux distributions that I used. I learned about the free software culture and the community when I worked on FStival, the annual software freedom day celebrations at my alma mater, and have been passionate about it ever since.
For the next 3 years, I helped administer the IT infrastructure at the college, which is built using Debian and a free software stack. This helped me learn some valuable sysadmin skills and hone them.
What prompted you to start contributing to FOSS?
Being an active user in the free software community inspired me to contribute to FOSS. Around 2014-2015, I started contributing to the (now-archived) Mozilla Input project. It helped me learn more about Django and Vagrant and helped set the foundation for my future career opportunities, something that I am deeply grateful for.
From 2018, I have been fortunate to be paid to work on free software full-time and it has been a dream come true.
Why should others get involved with FOSS?
I have enjoyed the freedom (which I care about a lot more than the pragmatic openness of “open source software”) and the fruits of free software for many years. This has helped me understand and conclude that FOSS is the best and most sustainable way to develop all software. Like many others, I believe that sharing is caring and that is at the core of the free software ethos, imho. For a vibrant ecosystem to develop and flourish, we need an active community of developers, testers, contributors, users etc. who share and contribute in different ways. That is why I would recommend more people to get involved with FOSS.
How should they get started?
One does not have to be a developer to contribute to FOSS, even though that is the most common way to do so. People with a wide variety of skills are always useful for FOSS projects and communities. For instance, the ContributeToUbuntu wiki page shows the various ways that one can contribute to Ubuntu, and being a developer is just one of the many ways to do so.
I would recommend people to start using FOSS regularly in their daily life, and then start contributing to the projects that they care about. This makes it easier to get invested in the project and thereby makes contributing to it a lot easier. This also provides an obvious way to identify the projects to contribute to.
What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?
Fragmentation is a key feature in FOSS projects and communities, and is generally a good thing. Anyone can fork/build things to scratch their itch. But if it proliferates like it has, the effort is often diverted and diluted in many directions. That makes it a challenge to innovate and push ahead in a single direction. This also provides a lot of ammunition to cause friction between various communities and projects, even though all those involved are working for the same noble goal. It also makes it difficult to develop and agree upon standards that everyone in the community can adopt and build on. For me, this is one of the major reasons why the mythical, “year of the Linux desktop” is always a few years away in the future.
How can they be solved?
We should be more welcoming to newcomers of all variety and not be stringent gatekeepers. Without a steady influx of new people joining the ecosystem, its long-term viability and sustainability will always be at risk. There is also a significant lack of awareness about the FOSS ideals among people. I am pretty sure many would love to use FOSS and be a part of the FOSS community, if they knew about FOSS. It is very common to associate various proprietary software as the synonymous standard for various purposes. For example, Windows as an operating system, Microsoft Office for the office suite, Gmail for email, Photoshop for graphics etc., even if there are good free software equivalents to these. People cannot use FOSS alternatives that they do know about. So, I believe that we should be spending a lot of effort and time evangelizing the free software ideals.
Where do you see difficulties in contributing?
Like I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, we should be more welcoming to newcomers of all variety. Apart from that, most free software projects start as hobby projects created to scratch someone’s itch. But when it becomes popular and used widely, the amount of work involved in managing and steering the project and its community often becomes a Herculean task. Most free software developers and contributors do unpaid work, and there isn’t always an obvious way to sustainably pay them for their effort and work. This can eventually lead to various issues including, but not limited to, burnout and that isn’t good. I am not certain how we can make contributing to FOSS lucrative and sustainable, but this is something that we should strive to find solutions for.
What does a perfect day off look like?
My perfect day off would start with me waking up late 🙂 I’d love to have enough time to spend on playing video games (a favourite hobby of mine), spending some time on personal pet projects, and discovering new free open source software to self-host and use. All these typically involve a lot of learning, and I would like to keep doing these every day, not just on my perfect day off.