Open-source advocates: Academia, industry must play nice

From higher ed to business, and back

Open technology experts said it’s no mistake that collaboration between colleges and IT vendors has seen an uptick in recent years.

“As open technologies grow more popular in the commercial world—in part, because students and professors brought their experiences from academia with them to industry—that further reinforces the natural bias,” said Gunnar Hellekson, chief technology strategist for Red Hat, a leading open-source solutions provider. “Open technologies allow academia and industry to more easily collaborate in an ad-hoc way.”

Because open technologies have inherent “licensing concepts, language, and idioms that confuse technologists and lawyers alike,” Hellekson said open-source advocates would have to champion the cause on college campuses to show just how efficient and cost-saving the technology can be.

“Too often, open technology is dismissed out of hand,” said Hellekson, co-chair of Open Source for America, a national group that lobbies federal government decision makers to use more free and open-source software. “To the extent that we can create a level playing field, I believe organizations will naturally increase their adoption of open technologies.”

Whereas campuses—especially small schools with limited resources—once had a few IT pros developing programs that could better track student enrollment and tuition deadlines, for instance, institutions that have joined expansive open-source communities have marveled at the speed of software development as technologists worldwide submit code to a project.

“I believe it has exponentially sped up the product development cycle,” said Thirsk from Marist College. He added that joining SunGard Higher Education’s shared repository has been a boon for computer science students looking for workplace experiences during their college careers.

“It has been a huge learning opportunity for everyone involved,” Thirsk said. “We have a number of students who write code for both our instructional and administrative … systems and, under staff supervision, submit them for consideration of the community.”

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