Berlin: Open Source Capital of Creativity (Bonus article) — The Students

(My article "Berlin: Open Source Capital of Creativity" appears in issue 114 of Linux User and Developer magazine. Alas, space was too limited to fit in everything I wanted to. Hence, this post is a bit of bonus content exclusive to my blog.)

Berlin attracts many thousands of students to its universities, not just local ones but increasingly many from across the world. It's pretty obvious that these people are critical to Berlin's future success. Some of these students will want to stay in Berlin after their education has completed. If my portrait of Berlin in the article is accurate -- a place that not only grabs hold of people once they've arrived, but a place that young people actively seek to go to -- Berlin will enjoy more than its fair share of incoming young talent. Once they've graduated, the remaining students will want to work in Berlin. They may want to join a fledgling start-up or even begin their own business in the city.

Some of these guys will undoubtedly end up at one of Berlin's technical start-ups, a community that (as I established in the article) depends on Free/Libre/Open Source Software heavily. The question then is, are students being prepared for the relevant issues around FLOSS; issues beyond the technical realm, which they'll need to be well-versed in should they wish to work in Berlin's start-up community?

The Techische Universität Berlin (TU) is doing its part. The computer science department there has a "Computers & Society" institute who cover topics like open source and IP rights. Over in the Economics and Management School, Mirko Boehm is pioneering a new course entitled Open Source and Intellectual Property in the Digital Society. The course is actually a fusion of economics and computer science, and introduces students to issues around FLOSS from an economic perspective. Innovative stuff, but is there interest?

"It's a brand new course," Boehm explains, "so we didn't expect a huge intake of students. But the numbers have far exceeded expectations... Only about one-fifth of the students have a computer science background. The rest are students of economics and other disciplines."

Some are drawn to Boehm's course because they're aware of FLOSS and have questions like: How can I use open source when starting a business? How do I cooperate with the communities behind open source products? This being the Economics and Management School, a common aspiration is to develop something which can be patented. But, hailing from a non-technical background, the students are often surprised by what they learn.  They're well-aware of concepts like patents and intellectual property, but unaware of how they relate to FLOSS. A commonly held view of intellectual property, for example, is that it's really no different to other types of property. Mirko's course is giving them food for thought via his wonderfully insightful and exceptionally well-informed lectures.

University education like this, in combination with the rich and plentiful education that comes from the Berlin tech community, is making sure that young people entering into the world of Berlin-based IT are well-versed in the principles essential to open source development.




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