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Oregon State boosts Open Source Lab by bringing it into academic fold [The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.]
[October 03, 2013]

Oregon State boosts Open Source Lab by bringing it into academic fold [The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.]

(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 03--Oregon State University is giving its Open Source Lab a major promotion, moving it from a services role within the university into an academic department as part of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The switch will raise the Corvallis lab's profile and involve dozens more students every year in a program that helped make Oregon a global hub for open source activity.

Oregon State started the lab 10 years ago to make it easier for university departments to use open source software as an alternative to proprietary tools. Open source software is typically developed collaboratively and often free, open to modification by anyone. That means basic software tools can be had inexpensively and customized to meet specific needs.

The lab quickly grew beyond that basic function, hosting a variety of open source projects and providing student employees with hands-on experience on prominent open source endeavors.

For a time, its servers hosted the kernel for most influential open source project, the Linux operating system, and the lab continues to host about 75 others. The lab's sponsors include IBM, Facebook and Google, which contributed $300,000 to the lab last year.

But in the era of cloud computing, server space is no longer a premium service. And the lab had ambitions beyond working with the dozen students who help staff the center.

"One of the things we want to do is figure out how to build an academic path, not just in the lab, but into open source in general," said Carlos Jensen, an Oregon State computer science professor.

By moving the lab into an academic program, director Lance Albertson said, the university hopes it can expand from working with a small number of student employees to educating 100 or more.

"We can't hire everybody," Albertson said, "but we can at least mentor them in some capacity." Former lab staffers now work at Puppet Labs, Google, Intel and Microsoft. Mozilla, the nonprofit group that makes the Firefox web browser, has hired steadily from the lab to staff its rapidly growing Portland office.

Former lab systems administrator Alex Polvi later started Cloudkick, which subsequently sold to Rackspace. And former lab associate director Scott Kveton is co-founder and chief executive CEO of hard-charging Portland startup Urban Airship, one of the city's best-known technology companies.

There's growing demand in Oregon for skilled software developers, and expertise in open source technologies is especially valuable. Oregon software employment is up more than 10 percent in the past year, even as the rest of the state economy struggles to rebound from the recession, and the industry pays an annual average of more than $90,000.

Indeed, Jensen said the university has to talk students into staying to finish their degree.

"Once you give them a job offer where they can make more money than their professor," he said, "it's kind of hard to come up with a compelling argument to get them to stay." -- Mike Rogoway; twitter: @rogoway; phone: 503-294-7699 ___ (c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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