Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Serendipitous Opportunity

:: congressman david wu addressing djangocon ::

Chairman Steve, whose Holden Web is producing DjangoCon this year, decided at the last minute to upgrade his airplane seating from Dulles to Portland (IAD to PDX) to first class. He wound up getting to sit next to Congressman David Wu of Oregon's first district. They got to chatting, comparing notes, both being social adepts, and by the end of the ride Congressman Wu was willing to consider addressing our conference. He chairs the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation for the House Committee on Science and Technology after all, and knows about the importance of open source to Oregon's (and the world's) economy.

As Grand Poobah Snake Wrangler (what's on my nametag), I was outside the hotel to meet the congressman's car and usher his party to the Banquet entrance of our DoubleTree hotel, where Russell Keith-Magee, president of the Django Software Foundation (DSF), officially met our guest. Steve, in the meantime, had been holding forth in the ballroom in front of 250 geeks, building suspense around his special surprise guest. Who would that be? Steve Jobs? Jacob Kaplan-Moss? The identity of our impromptu visitor had been kept secret.

Congressman Wu delivered a short and pithy speech about the importance of high technology to Oregon's future in particular. Both software and hardware are a focus here, with an emphasis on medicine (e.g. OHSU) and nanotechnology (e.g. ONAMI).

He expressed appreciation for open source, understood that it was not just about "free as in beer" but about sharing standards and solutions. Innovation emerges from such a process, as the creation of the Internet itself attests.

Traditionally, our model for society has been "a top-down pyramid" said Congressman Wu. Nowadays, however, and for the first time, the model is more "a geodesic dome" with nodes connecting around in all directions.

If our open source community would realize its own power and responsibility to do good in the world, then the attitudes and behaviors of the surrounding society will accommodate and reciprocate. Open source will have come of age.

He also spoke of the importance of starting early with STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), from kindergarten onward. Getting more open source technology and teacher training into our schools sounded like an initiative his office would support.

Chairman Steve ceremoniously provided the congressman with an iconic pony, as our motto this year is "everyone gets a pony". David Wu wondered if he might have two, one for each of his children. Given his status as our honored guest, the necessary arrangements were promptly made.

Out in the foyer after the speech, the congressman remarked to Steve that "a topic for another day" would be finding out why we're so disproportionately male (a fact hard to miss from the podium). What happens that leads females to drop away from STEM subjects and careers in technology? Steve assured him that we're working on this puzzle.