Many university students will have had the experience of a 'viva', the
challenge of demonstrating and 'defending' their final work. For five
Finnish Summer of Code students, Tuesday 2nd October will be much the
same. They are due to take the spot light and talk about their
experiences during the OpenMind conference taking place in Tampere,
Google's Summer of Code may have taken the limelight, but in the
north-east corner of Europe there has been another smaller (near)
namesake taking place.
Since 2006, Finland has had its very own Summer of Code—"Kesäkoodi", "summer code"
in Finnish—organised and backed with the help of Finnish
companies wanting to contribute to the community at a local level.
In its first two years, the Finnish SoC has accepted around
half-a-dozen projects each time. This year there were nine finalists,
of which five got selected. The hope brought for each project is to
create a long term benefit both for the participants and to the
In Finland, Finnish ("Suomi") is the native tongue for about 90% of
Finns (for an example of the other 10%, who learn Swedish primarily, a
certain Linus Torvalds springs to mind). One of the famous
attributes applied to the Finnish language is that of being highly
complex. So complicated I learned, that existing spelling checking
programs had never been designed to cope with it.
Indeed, one of the best parts of the discussions I had with the
summer-coders was on how best to translate Kesäkoodi.
Rather than being a "summer of code", it is apparently closer to just
"summer code", akin to the English usage of "summer wine" or "summer
wool"—as a lasting product of the summer time.
For 2006, one of the projects focused on creating libraries that could
be used to build a dictionary system capable of accurately
processing written Finnish. The result being the release of the Voikko project, providing
spelling checking and hyphenation for Finnish. Something that might
not have been possible without the local connection and the local
awareness of a need to be meet.
In the end, the projects for 2007 were chosen without any Finland
specific theme this time, but still crossed a wide range of topics.
Most of candidates chose to expand features in existing projects.
Improvements being received to the vector-graphics tool Inkscape,
KDE-based backup agent 'Kbackup', work on JBoss and Exaile (a Gtk+
music player). The most radical project is a tool to enable editing
of manual pages—traditionally written in a cryptic
format—possible, using a simple wiki syntax.
With the possibility of realising a dream for many—being paid
to work on free software—the acceptance and selection of
candidates is a challenging affair. Core arrangement and
selection of students and their projects has been undertaken by the
Finnish Centre for Open Source Software (COSS).
Since 2004, COSS has been working as a government-backed development
agency with a remit to actively promote free software and open source
solutions within the Finnish business community. The organisation
operates on a membership basis, bringing together many familiar
Scandinavian names—MySQL, Nokia and Finnish ISP group Saunalahti
are present. Closely followed by the local branches of many global
companies; Novell Finland, Red Hat, Sun and HP, all of appear in the
I spoke to Tuukka Hastrup, one of the previous years
participants—who has since got involved with the OpenMoko phone
project and started to develop his own business ideas around Free
Software. Tuukka described the impact on his existing contributions
and his unexpected longer term career direction. "On a projects
level, [the summer-code] has kept me as involved as before, and
also pushed me into studying and thinking about starting an
Hastrup explained that many interesting projects have started from
enthusiastic developers with a good idea or an itch to scratch, "I
think an important source of Free and open source software should be
start-up companies, that grow from the community".
Despite remaining shy, he was equally upbeat about the experience,
"I'm looking forward to hearing tomorrow what the summer was like for
them. One year ago, I remember staying awake at the hotel trying to
make last-minute fixes to my video presentation!". But he wasn't
giving any tips for those following in his footsteps this year! "I
don't think I'm qualified to give [them] advice on presenting..." he said.
Looking for improvements, I asked, perhaps the event could be bigger? But
not everyone shared that view, Hastrup responded again with an in-depth
answer showing that he valued the close knit aspect of the event. "A lot depends on
the financial side of things. Some more [coders] would be nice, but
maybe you don't want it to become too big, [..] it takes a lot
of time to run the whole process. Plus there's a certain flavour that
would go missing if there were too many projects. For example, we
couldn't all present our work in a single conference session
anymore". Following on from the opportunity to present, a
fellow coder chimed in almost immediately, "That too. I liked the 'real
job interview' and all that, so that people aren't just nicks on IRC".
In the audience, there will be many other equally eager figures too,
including Miia Ranta, who works for the conference organisers COSS.
Over the last six months, she been the one responsible for "managing"
the students. Said she was expecting 200 people for the Tuesday
technical day that includes the session where the summers coders will
work. She told me that the next day looks to be even bigger,
"Wednesday is about 450 people" counting those that have signed up for
the more business-focused afternoon.
Among those presenting will be Ville-Pekka Vainio, one of this
summers coders. He has strong views about his favourite
programming language and how it lead him to work with a particular
wiki system. "Python has become my language of choice", adding
"MoinMoin is cool, because it's such clean Python code and doesn't
need a lot of dependencies, but it's still a full-featured wiki".
His association with Free content goes further than that, having a
belief in open content. "I try to contribute to the Finnish
Wikipedia", "The open source model leads to better results and I like
that, everybody has a chance to contribute and use what's produced
under the same terms". For the moment his project still doesn't have
a name, but perhaps the audience on Tuesday might suggest one. In
the mean time, apparently, "it's just called the 'maninfo branch' of
MoinMoin, that's it".
At the end I asked them if there were any sessions they were looking
forward to seeing themselves. With so many speakers to choose from—
Jim Zemlin from the Linux Foundation, Simon Phipps of Sun, Canonical's
Amy Jiang and local favourite Monty Widenius of MySQL ...their joint
choice is an interesting one.
Hastrup first, "I've been working on OpenMoko recently, so I'm looking
forward to hearing their talk". Vainio agreed, "I'm looking forward
to hear all the talks about mobile Linux, especially OpenMoko." I'm
left wondering if that choice has anything to do with Finland already
selling 35% of the world's mobile phones?
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