Open source hobbyists now in high demand

Revenge of the nerds

You know what?

They're not calling us "hobbyists" anymore.

It struck me this morning when I was reading up about this cool little open source operating system called Contiki, a very lightweight embedded OS designed to work well with the Internet of Things.

My colleague Rohan Pearce has a great write-up about Contiki over on Techworld Australia, detailing what Contiki and the Internet of Things are and how they work. But the passage that struck me was this one:

"In 2008, networking vendor Cisco contributed code to add IPv6 support to the OS, making it the first IPv6 certified system for the Internet of Things"

On the surface, not such a big deal, I suppose. But then I thought about it some more: four years ago, Cisco came along and thought there was enough potential in this open source project to just toss in the code to prep Contiki for IPv6. (This, by the way, is exactly the kind of thing Contiki needs, since the sheer number of hardware devices getting connected to the Internet is why IPv6 is being deployed.)

In these times, when modern corporations are more willing to embrace open source and free software, this is not such a strange occurrence. But as someone who well remembers the dark days of the brand-new 21st Century when anything free or open was labeled as "viral" or "cancer," the sheer casualness of this small event in the history of Contiki is stunning.

In the late Nineties and early Naughts, one line of detraction leveled at users and developers of Linux and the BSDs were that we were hobbyists, just screwing around with our computers. The work that were were doing (if you could call it that) would never amount to much.

Looking at the resurgence of data warehousing known as Big Data, cloud computing, and the aforementioned Internet of Things, all technologies with firm roots in open source technology, it's a little hard to reconcile the idea that some hobbyists could pull all of that off.

Yet, that's exactly what happened. And now no one's so quick to dismiss those hobbyists anymore. Contiki could have been written off as some cute little science project, but it wasn't. Because smart investors and technologists know that, once upon a time, they said the same thing about Linux, and Apache, and Android.

I also wonder if this trend of watching for innovation and talent beyond the usual haunts is something that is spilling over into our society. Concepts like crowdsourcing are not such a weird concept for companies to handle now, and I can't help but wonder if the growing acceptance of open source played a role.

Granted, crowdsourcing can be hijacked for the purposes of Doing a Marketing Department's Job for Them, and there are probably other things besides open source that helped it along. But the underlying attitude, that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, is very much there.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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