FOSS Means Kids Can Have a Big Impact

kid with laptop

An eight-year-old can contribute, and you can too.

Working at a company that creates free and open-source software (FOSS) and hosts all of our code on GitHub, my team and I at UserLAnd Technologies are used to seeing and reviewing contributions, which are called pull requests, from users. Recently, however, we received a pull request that is very special to me. It was from an eight-year-old, and not just any eight-year-old, but my daughter.

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Figure 1. Addison Hard at Work

Now, I had many reasons for wanting my daughter to get involved with our project, but before I pollute this story with what I think, let's hear from her—this is the Kids + Linux issue after all.

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Figure 2. My Daughter's First Pull Request

The following is a brief interview I conducted with her after she provided the shown pull request.

Corbin: To start with, please tell us who you are and provide your age?

Addison: I am Addison Champion, and I am eight years old.

Corbin: Now Addison, you have a skill that I don't have. You may be eight, and I am (gulp) 38, but you have a skill that neither I nor any of the members of my team have. Can you share with us what that skill is and how you posses it?

Addison: I am bilingual, as I speak both Spanish and English. I am enrolled in a bilingual school, and in my class, we mostly speak and read in Spanish.

[Note: She has been in a two-way immersion program at our local, public school since kindergarten where some of the kids are native Spanish speakers and some are native English speakers.]

Corbin: Can you describe the work you did for UserLAnd that used this skill?

Addison: I provided a Spanish translation for UserLAnd's Android app, because there wasn't one already.

Corbin: Can you describe what you had to do to make a Spanish translation?

Addison: There were a lot of phrases in English, and I had to provide the phrase in Spanish that matched each one in English. I also had to make sure the translation would sound right to a Spanish speaker.

Corbin: Was the task difficult?

Addison: Some of the phrases were hard, but some were pretty easy. There were some technical words that we had to look up. We found a cool website, like Google translate, but where you could type in a word or a sentence and it would show you a real example of a translation that used something similar.

[Note: We had to look up words like filesystem, client, server, user name and password. The website she liked was https://context.reverso.net.]

Corbin: When I asked you about helping with this, you seemed really excited. What was it about providing a Spanish translation for UserLAnd that was so interesting?

Addison: I know a few kids in my class who speak only Spanish, and they would not be able to use the app unless it was translated. This is true for many other people I don't know.

[Note: When I first asked her to help us, she scolded me and told me Spanish had the second-highest number of native speakers, and that we should already have a Spanish translation. Sorry Addison! Sorry World!]

Corbin: Now that your work is complete, and people are seeing the app in Spanish, how does that make you feel?

Addison: It makes me feel proud to know that my work is published, that people are seeing it and finding it useful.

Corbin: When working with me on this, I explained to you what free and open-source software is, and that the UserLAnd app is free and open-source software. Why do you think it is valuable that someone make their work free and open source?

Addison: Even though I have been learning Spanish since kindergarten, I still don't know all the words that a completely fluent Spanish speaker would know. There are people who have grown up only speaking Spanish, and they might think that a phrase should sound different from how I translated it. So, just like I contributed to UserLAnd, they could contribute an improvement too.

[Note: I love how she was able to describe this benefit of a program being FOSS and how it relates to the work she did. And, this is in fact what actually happened. After Addison contributed to UserLAnd, a native Spanish speaker suggested some changes, and I had Addison be the one to review and approve those changes.]

Corbin: What did you learn by doing this work?

Addison: I learned some new English and Spanish words, like the technical words. I also learned what you do at UserLAnd and what the app does.

Corbin: Great! Thank you very much for your contribution to UserLAnd!

Conclusion

What she did is so great! Now my goals for getting her involved with this project were 1) demonstrate a real, practical example of where she could use her Spanish language skills, 2) to have her learn what Daddy does at work, 3) to have her learn what our product is and 4) to have her learn what FOSS is. I think we succeed in all those goals, but she helped us even beyond that. Her input ranged from critiquing our overly complex use of English that might be hard for young users to understand (yep) to even critiquing my use of pronouns (eek!). Now, we could end this story here and congratulate her on getting involved and doing a good job, which she deserves, but I want to use her work as an example and as a call to action.

Each one of us—kids, or people of any age—has certain skills and gifts, and I encourage you to share them through your efforts. Also, if you don't know where to contribute, look around for any FOSS projects that could use your talents. You don't have to be a programmer to contribute. You can be talented in communication, art or, as in Addison's case, linguistically. There is probably a place in FOSS for everyone, and for you specifically, and I hope that you take it.

Resources

—Corbin Champion, General Manager at UserLAnd Technologies, LLC

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