AUC /dev/world/2009, the Apple University Consortium’s annual student (and university staff) developer conference was held this week in Canberra. DevWorld goes for two days, and consisted (this year) of about 90 enthusiastic Apple developers learning about popular Mac technologies.

This year, as well as being my first DevWorld conference, I was a presenter: I presented a talk about the OS X scripting bridges, with a particular focus on the Python–Objective-C bridge, PyObjC. I rushed through the first half of my talk, and instead of taking ~45 minutes like I’d estimated, I took 30, which means I probably rushed through the back end of the talk as well (though it felt as though I was going pretty slowly!). I was not the only student presenter at this conference, indeed around two thirds of presenters were students at one of the AUC member universities.

As well as my presentation, I was the official photography crew for the conference (with a broken camera for half the conference, too, I might add), wrote a substantial amount of the (ridiculously hard) quiz night, and organised their lunchtime lightning talks, which in my opinion was one of the greater successes of the conference — more than half of the 11 talks were presented by people who had not presented at the conference, and the representatives from Apple Australia were suitably impressed by the quality of the talks.

Coming from an Open Source person’s standpoint, I’m very impressed with the level of developer community that the AUC are able to extract from University students. There is clearly a high level of enthusiasm amongst student Mac and iPhone developers for their chosen platform, which is something that Apple should justifiably be proud of. I am convinced, however, that this enthusiasm is not solely limited to Apple Development, and almost certainly exists for Open Source platforms as well. It is our job as Open Source people to foster this enthusiasm for Free developer platforms and Open Source technology in general amongst the student population.

Our existing conferences do not do enough to encourage students to participate in presentating at them. I will single out LCA in this case, as it is our community’s most visible local conference — what I am pointing out also applies to others. Though there has been a concerted increase in student-related events at LCA (beginning with the Google student event in 2008 and the TUCS UpDNS in 2009), and this certainly establishes ties within the student community, more needs to be done to extend these ties into the broader community.

An appropriate place to start here would be the establishment of a regular student miniconf as of 2011. Student developers make up a significant minority of delegates to LCA, but are seriously underrepresented in both main programme presentations and miniconf presentations. Referencing her experiences on the PyCon papers committee, Anna Martelli Ravenscroft lists 6 reasons why women do not talk enough at conferences, but they apply equally well to student developers at well — fear of inexperience in comparison with other delegates or presenters, fear of presenting a topic that may be irrelevant to other delegates and fear of presenting in general are all listed as common reasons why people do not present enough. Providing an allocated track for student developers would almost completely eliminates the first two listed issues, and will make significant inroads into the third by providing a supportive environment for students to present at the conference. Linuxchix has been a notable precedent and success story in this field, by providing a supportive environment for female delegates at LCA, there has been a noticable increase in attendance by female delegates since the Linuxchix miniconf was started (the proportion of which I am not sure); and from what I can tell, the standard of presentations is very high.

Student developers are currently an untapped resource for LCA and the Open Source conference community in general, but one that we must strive to harness whilst the opportunity still presents itself. The AUC have demonstrated that a student-driven developer conference is not only a feasible model, but one that can be highly informative, well-delivered, and highly successful. For as long as we are not encouraging enthusiasm amongst our own young developers this way, we are presenting further opportunities for Apple and others to fill the void, and at the moment, the void is great.

I close with a quote from Simon Phipps’ keynote from LCA2009. In reference to his presenting from a Mac laptop, Simon observed that

The greatest enemy to freedom is a happy slave.

I argue that an even greater enemy to freedom is someone who is happily being educated into slavery. For as long as our non-free competition are encouraging student development in this way, this is the circumstance that we in the Australian Open Source community are faced with. I commend the AUC for their fantastic work on producing an excellent conference, and it is something that we in the Open Source community should be striving to replicate, and not striving to extinguish.