MC's Journal

Hacker school at Internet discovery day

I presented an idea of a hacker school on the Internet discovery day (IDD) at the Stockholm Waterfront congress centre last Monday. IDD is a chance for entrepreneurs to meet financers and to network with likeminded people. I was supposedly one of the entrepreneurs.

I traveled to IDD with nothing but an idea and was given a piece of brown paper (180x96 cm) stuck to the wall and some felt pens. Then I was expected to present my idea to some 800(!) visitors from 13:00 to 17:00!

I was, of course, ridiculously nervous. Therapists call these things exposures for good reason.

Anyway, I have this idea that, to be a good programmer, you don't necessarily need to know calculus. Instead, you might need to know how to, I don't know, program a computer? Many university programmes seems to take the reverse position. Many vocational schools in Sweden seems to focus on turning you into a web designer rather than a programmer. Meanwhile, the industry is screaming for real programmers: C, networks, sockets, Python, Perl, cross compilers, embedded programming, et cetera, et cetera.

I made some drafts about a new curriculum and presented an idea about a hacker school (in Swedish) at IDD to see what kind of response I would get.

The basic idea is to issue a call for proposals to companies already using free and open source software (FOSS). The companies are asked to suggest student projects. The students work on real projects, using real code and real tools together with a few very experienced lead programmers/mentors from the school shared by all student groups. Every company that gets a project accepted will also have to give something like 20% of one of their programmer's time as a project leader and to do integration of code back into their platform.

All new code is free software and given back to the community and, of course, back to the company proposing the project. Think Google Summer of Code. But backwards. Also, compare Hackerschool, but consider longer and/or more projects and resulting in a real degree.

All this would be free for the students and free for the involved companies, except the 20% of someone's time per chosen project.

Most of the work would be done remotely. We would use the net quite a bit: chat, VoIP, mailing lists, distributed VCS, remote pair programming (or troika when one of the lead programmers looks over their virtual shoulders). Everyone will be expected on a (voice) roll call each morning where we go through what was done yesterday and what is to be done today. Hacking! Not slacking.

We would get together for physical hackathons at the beginning and at the end of a project. To keep costs down we could perhaps use one of the inolved companies for space during these hackathons.

We would earn money by becoming a state-financed vocational school (every student comes with a bag of the state's money) and by doing active recruitment of the students. We, the teachers/lead programmers, would be in a unique position to place the right hacker at the right place.

That's it. That's what I presented at the IDD. I stirred up at least a little bit of interest with that provocative “hacker” name.

Unlike most of the projects at IDD I wasn't looking for money. I was looking for contacts in existing educational organisations and other likeminded hackers that would be willing to spend time as lead programmers/mentors/co-founders. I may have found a few. If you feel you may be one more, get in touch!