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volunteer free software open source linux careerIf you are fresh out of uni with a degree in IT or even currently studying, it is the best time to become a free software or open source developer (F/OS) and gain Linux experience. In this article we will talk about what is a free software and open source software and what are the benefits of becoming a F/OS developer. Note however, that we are not taking sides and not saying what is better free software or open source software. We would like to simply underline the benefits coming from participation in such projects. We will also advice how to engage yourself in a F/OS project, what kind of projects are out there for you and what steps you need to take in order to become a F/OS developer. Besides the experience with Linux, you can gain experience in variety of programming languages. Check out our Linux skills on demand as a guide to what kind of IT skills are currently required by employers and, therefore, what you should study to have a best chance to succeed in your career.

We hope that you will help us to keep this article updated, alive and interesting to the reader by providing comments and suggestions of specific open source projects and recommended open source related websites. We are also interested in testimonials from those who are already involved in such projects and want to share their experience. We have also incorporated into this article a number of polls that may provide an interesting addition to the reader. All necessary links can be found while reading or at the end of this article.

What is free software?

The definition of free software is maintained by Free Software Foundation (FSF). In short, free software is a software, which respects user's rights and freedom. Following FSF, the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.  The definition of free software underlines the main four essential freedoms of the user. These are: freedom to run the program for any purpose; freedom to study the program (this mean access to the source code) and change it to suit your requirements; freedom to redistribute the copies of free software; freedom to redistribute copies of such software with your modifications. In summary, free software is about freedom. You can even redistribute such software for a fee, however, you need to pass all the freedoms to the person obtaining this software from you.

What is an open source software?

The definition of the open source software is not limited to the access to the source code. Following opensource.org, the license of the open source software cannot restrict anybody from reselling or giving away such software. Opensource.org provides a detailed specification of open source software including the presentation of source code, possibility of code modification and integrity of the author's source code. The open source software license must not discriminate against persons, groups and fields of endeavor. The license cannot be specific to a product and must not restrict other software and be technology-neutral.

Essentially, free software and open source software are closely related but not identical. If you would like to read more about the differences of these two groups of software read  Why Open Source misses the point of Free Software.

Poll: What kind of experience with F/OS projects do you have?

Benefits of being an open source developer

Your grades are not always enough when looking for a job in Linux or IT in general. Competition amongst software developers is great and more and more graduates can impress their employers with hands on experience. If you want to be a real asset for a potential employer it is crucial that your education be complemented with practical experience. An involvement and contribution to a F/OS project gives you such opportunity. The enormous learning experience you gain is irreplaceable. Your confidence as a programmer is being build during the whole process of cooperation with a F/OS project and is guaranteed to be noticed later by your employer.

By working for a F/OS project you are building your portfolio of work accessible through the Internet to potential employers. Your achievements and help are always acknowledged, therefore employers that search for job candidates on the Internet are very likely to come across your name. It is most likely that once you get involved with a F/OS project you will never have a problem with finding a job and most likely the job will, simply, be offered to you. Head hunters, those days, are searching the Internet for qualified people leaving footprints of their accomplishments such as involvement in F/OS project. 

F/OS software is unique in a way that you have access to the source code and can look deeper into a problem . This is something that proprietary software does not allow you to do. Therefore, you can start simply by using such software, looking into the program code and submitting bugs. In this way you are helping yourself and the community. Usually, once you join a project you are required for software testing and reviewing documentation. As a beginner you learn a lot from more experienced programmers/developers by receiving guidance and advice.  During your involvement with a F/OS project you gain access to information and help. You get to know people, who may later recommend you for an IT job or give you references.

Poll: As an employer yourself do you value an involvement in a F/OS project?

Poll: As a F/OS community member how do you rate your experience gained during your involvement in a F/OS project?

There is plenty to choose from

It is important you choose a project that interests you. As an IT student you are, however, very lucky because there is plenty of F/OS projects to choose from on the Internet. You will have to do some research but it is worth it. We will suggest here some popular projects, however, do not feel restricted to the list below, since there is much more opportunities that can be reached via a search engine.

F/OS project websites suggested by our readers that may be useful to you:

Related sites, articles or posts suggested by our readers:

Alternative Linux Career Beginnings

As an alternative to F/OS projects you can start your Linux career by writing about Linux. This includes news related to Linux and technical articles. Many websites are eager to publish your articles. This is often complemented by advice on article writing, editing and double checking your configurations, etc. For instance, you can SUBMIT YOUR ARTICLE for approval with Linux Career member sites. Your article will be evaluated and one of the Linux Career member sites will be suggested for publication.


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