This site is an archive; learn more about 8 years of OpenHatch.

Teaching Open Source at Columbia University

by Shauna January 22nd, 2014

Three people smile as they look at a computer screen.

On Saturday, October 19th, we ran our sixteenth Open Source Comes to Campus event, at Columbia University. Thanks to Columbia University’s Women in Computer Science and the Application Development Initiative for hosting! Check out the gallery of the best photos from the event (and the other ones).


Ivete Tecedor, rmo, Emily Chen, Sri Raga Velagapudi, Shauna Gordon-McKeon

Selected Contributions

  • Mentor Ivete describes her experience working with a handful of students: While browsing some projects using open government data, we noticed a bug in‘s member stats, where a few members had a rank that was higher than the total count of members, so that is clearly incorrect. We started by filing a bug in the Github repo’s issue tracker and then went looking at the calculation of that number. While we were working through that, we happened to read on‘s homepage that they are redoing the site and will launch a whole new site within the next month. We decided to stop trying to fix the bug since the fix would probably go unused, but left the ticket open so that the maintainers could be aware of it. And one of them commented on the bug the next day, confirming it!
  • Several students worked on getting the NLTK development environment set up and on understanding some of the issues reported in the NLTK issue tracker.
  • Another student looked at a feature request for Tomboy a desktop note-taking application. Unfortunately a slow internet connection meant he could not download the libraries needed to work on the project, but he was able to verify that the feature had not yet been added and located where in the project changes would need to be made.
  • One student was very interested in the projects maintained by the Sunlight Foundation. He downloaded several repositories and browsed through the contents, then headed over to the OpenStates IRC channel where he worked with maintainers to updated issues in the bug tracker.


  • We had 29 students attend this event.  Students were very prompt – many of them even arrived before breakfast! – and most stayed throughout the day. Our process for getting latecomers caught up seems to be improving as well.
  • Our last event, at Morris, had showed us the need to develop a more extensive git curriculum for more experienced attendees. Although we weren’t able to extend the curriculum in the short span of time between the two events, we made sure to group the more experienced students with our most git-savvy instructors. Special thanks to Ivete and rmo for leading students on an impromtu tour of advanced git. Feedback from Ivete, rmo, and their groups has helped us determine which topics to cover in the extended lesson.
  • We recommended explainshell to students as a great resource for learning about the linux command line. This sparked a discussion about how the tool could be enhanced and what steps students might take to contribute, such as submitting a feature request or forking the project.
  • We were excited to have Princeton’s Katherine Ye attending the event.  Katherine was interested in organizing an Open Source Comes to Campus event at Princeton and wanted to see what it was like. Just one month later, the Princeton event was a reality!  We’re always excited to have organizers attend our events and get a feel for what they’re like, so if you’re interested in running an event, let us know and we’ll make sure you’re invited to any in your area.

Write a comment