by Travis Whitehead
Working at the Open Source Lab has been the highlight of my computer science experience at Oregon State University. It was just by chance that I came across a job listing for the OSL. I had never heard of the organization, and it certainly was not a factor in my decision to pursue computer science at Oregon State University.
I'd been running Linux as my primary operating system since high school, and over time I found myself becoming more and more deeply invested in the ideological underpinnings of FOSS (Free Open-Source Software). I appreciated the transparency of FOSS, and the benefits available through free licenses that allow anyone to use the software, change how it works, repurpose it, and distribute it.
Despite my strong interest in free software, I never imagined myself in the position of getting paid to contribute to open source. At the OSL I learned valuable skills and gained work experience, but the biggest thing to me was that I was able to do work that was ethical and important.
In a world shaped by a for-profit economy, our interaction with software and intellectual property is exclusive. If users cannot afford to pay for software, they are excluded access to the software or must access it illegally. Or worse, we become the products ourselves, subjected to all kinds of data collection and surveillance in exchange for access to services. The Open Source Lab offered me the opportunity to support open-source software projects, ultimately allowing me to contribute to The Commons, and better the world that we live in. It's been very fulfilling for me to know that our projects create solutions that anybody and everybody may use.
Ethics aside, the work itself has provided me many opportunities to learn things that I couldn’t in the classroom. Experience with configuration management and automation tooling reshaped how I manage my personal systems at home. And I worked in a real datacenter! Tinkering with powerful hardware in a real production environment is way cooler than any academic project.
Looking forward, I hope that the Open Source Lab continues to grow and expand so that more students may have these same opportunities. The OSL is truly one of a kind, and I feel really thankful to have been able to work with the lab for the past several years.
Excitingly, this is my last term at Oregon State. I'll be going on to work with Tag1 Consulting, where I will continue to tackle exciting infrastructure challenges and contribute back to the open-source community whenever I can.