First: I’m working on a list of FOSS hackers who’ve gone back to school to study FOSS in some way; do you know of any? Please let me know in the comments. They needn’t be coders; designers, documenters, etc. are also totally welcome, as are contributors to open content and hardware projects — for instance, a very active Wikipedian who goes to graduate school to study the collaboration practices of Wikipedia.)
Seb Benthall’s post about academic vs open culture reminded me that I’d like to track my fellow FOSS-to-academia migrants somewhere. Seb and myself are members of a fairly short tradition that includes folks like Martin Krafft (Debian developer to CS/Sociology PhD) and Mako Hill (Debian developer and Ubuntu hacker to interdisciplinary PhD student and Berkman Center researcher).
If you think about it, there’s no way the tradition can be anything like short. Undergraduate degrees tend to focus on “study to be able to do” for a broad area rather than a more focused “study of” a particular topic, so I’m mainly looking at grad students and those who’ve gotten their graduate degrees. To enter graduate school, you typically need an undergraduate degree — which means you’re likely at least in your early twenties. That’s how old the Free Software and Open Source movements are themselves.
It’s not that we’re the first generation of grad students to grow up in FOSS culture — that distinction belongs to people now in their mid-thirties to early forties, who were college-aged in the mid-90′s when the FOSS world was ramping up for the firs time. But we’re the first ones to enter grad school at a time when FOSS culture was widespread enough to be considered a legitimate topic of study by open-minded advisors; in a prior day, we might have studied CS, math, education, or any number of things with “proper” topics as our primary research focus, with open source remaining a devoted side hobby mostly separate from our “real academic work.”
It’s a good time and place in history to be. Plenty of opportunities to find and make — and we’re hackers, so we’re used to finding and making our own way through a chaotic world. Perfect.