Can we have some hackers, please?

Rant alert. Honestly, I am tired of seeing non-technical people at tech conferences and workshops, especially across Mozilla. They linger around, not knowing what to do, not knowing why they are there and not knowing understanding a thing that the speakers are trying to convey. These category of people have nowadays become too common in Mozilla’s workshops across Indian engineering colleges. Lack of infrastructure is not the only culprit as I had noted before.

This rant is supposed to be read in the context of hackathons, particularly Mozilla hackathons in India, where the expected audiences are developers with playful cleverness, those who can be termed as hackers.

We need some filtering, some way of ensuring only tech audiences are part of these workshops. And the responsibility of ensuring this rests largely with the organizers who invite Mozilla to conduct workshops or present tech sessions at their colleges or universities. But this cannot happen without enforcing some strict set of conditions and rules without which Mozilla would not visit those institutions.

This is a call-to-action to the Mozilla India community to gear up and prepare specifications (which is already cooking) which would ensure base level quality of the workshops we conduct. This will in turn ensure that we get some output out of our efforts.

Participants don’t understand technology

Well, that is the case with most people in IT sector, so why blame the participants who don’t understand technology, yet show up at challenging hackathons? The fact is, part of IT or not, these participants bloat up the numbers at a hackathon, resulting in dilution of attention.

For example, in a hackathon for Firefox OS, where we need to work on a HTML5-CSS3-JavaScript stack, we often end up with participants who don’t know either of these. That is a standard use case, but there are other samples as well. The C++ these engineering students learn are mostly from their textbooks. They don’t even bother with things outside their syllabus. Standard Indian Student Syndrome.

They don’t believe in the elegance of automation. They don’t try to think, albeit think out of the box. Learning technology for them is just a means to a fat paycheck.

Wake up people! If you don’t understand what technology is, how do you expect to get that paycheck when you graduate?

Give me the cream

When we travel to places to conduct Mozilla’s hackathons, we expect some hackers. Not people who don’t know anything. By anything, I mean the basics of the technologies they are trying to hack on. Taking the example above, if people come for Firefox OS workshops without knowing HTML, CSS and JS, that is a pain for us.

@souvikdg had some interesting observations:

To clarify my point again, these workshops and hackathons are not places where people are taught all the basic technologies. They are expected to have a basic level of expertise, and given enough brain-food, they would try to put their expertise against some challenging tasks.

But that cream is too diluted. We often end up with loads of participants. Too few of whom are developers. In some instances, we had to change the agenda of the day and focus on entry level topics. So, instead of concentrating on hacking Firefox OS, or Kuma, we had to fallback to conducting Webmaker sessions. Webmaker has its own focus and set of audience. It is part of a web literacy drive.

But, if participants in a technical hackathon on Firefox OS have to end up learning HTML using Webmaker, that exposes the extremely poor situation of engineering colleges in the country. IITK I am looking to you as well.

Let us cut the bloat

@iMBA summed up the situation wonderfully in a few words:

So, my dear Mozilla India fellows, as part of the proposed events SOP, let us do a blackout on mushrooming “developer” events in engineering colleges at random, and let us focus on organizing some really cream developer events. Give me some hackers to work with!

8 thoughts on “Can we have some hackers, please?

  1. yes…this exactly shows the extremely poor situation of engineering colleges in the country,the reason can be –
    (i)students are more focused about their specific syllabus and curriculum provided by the universities….(especially pvt unv.)….
    (ii)lack of proper infrastructure…
    (iii)lack of information about such technical stuffs,,,
    But such events,if started at basic level first and then to more higher level, can help much….

  2. One point that I want to mention is that we have the same set of ‘hackers’ in almost every hackathon event in Nepal. This is good in a sense as these people are usually aware of the technologies that hackathons demand, but the few newcomers that show up have no clue on what is going on. They usually come to learn rather than hack. A problem everywhere.

  3. The solution is simple. Just talk to the companies who *recruit* these fucks, and make sure that they DON’T hire them. As soon as the MONEY is taken away, everything will be OK.

    1. It is not that simple. This needs a thorough restructuring of the education system. How many companies can you individually approach and say, “hey, these guys don’t know anything, don’t hire them”.

      Instead, there needs to be an awareness and ongoing campaigns in the educational sector to ensure that the course materials are updated properly; educators are trained periodically; and a student is assessed based on his skills and not based on whether he scored good grades against prescribed portions of the syllabus.

  4. Well, I think this is expected if you go to engineering colleges in India. In our country, an engineering degree is the path to good pay and good working conditions. If you look around at other professions both the factors are pretty bad. So the behaviour of students is very normal and entirely justified. Also, internet technology is pretty new and not connected with regular computer engineering. The focus in colleges on C/C++/Java is justified, although I am not sure how well those are taught. I think it is better to look at the skill set of participants and accordingly plan the event instead of trying to push HTML/CSS/JS down everyone’s throat!
    My 2 cents only.
    P.S. — I was also put off at the crowd which turned up at a Moz event in Noida, but now I can see it differently

    1. Also, internet technology is pretty new and not connected with regular computer engineering.

      That sentence sounds totally outdated IMHO. That technology is older than me, and I am turning 24 in a few days. So if the courses have not been able to keep stride with even changes that were implemented five year back, that is a clear failure according to me.

      1. You are entitled to your opinion. However, the advances in the last 5 years which you mention are the product of the advances in compilers, hardware and parallel programming. Just for a small example, your entire node.js ecosystem is sitting on top of:
        1. a native code compiler called v8
        2. a library called libevent
        I am not belittling any technology be it HTML or C. I am just requesting you to understand what is the core and what is the product emerging from the core, and not discriminate against people who might be knowing the core technology and not the fruits of the core technology.

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