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What role community plays in free software and more -- Interview with David Wilson

by Miriam Bastian Contributions Published on Apr 24, 2024 11:20 AM
Can't wait for the start of LibrePlanet 2024: Cultivating Community? Same here. To sweeten the wait, we have interviewed David Wilson, one of the keynote speakers and the creator of the System Crafters channel and community.

Enjoy the read, and if you haven't registered yet, please register now:

Headshot of David Wilson.

FSF: Thanks for taking the time for this interview, David! Let's start with the typical question people would ask when meeting someone from the free software community: how did you first get involved with free software?

David: I've been using GNU/Linux since around 1997 when I installed Slackware Linux for the first time. I didn't learn about the philosophy behind free software until a few years later when I read much of the writing on the GNU and FSF websites. I was extremely inspired by the idea of developing useful programs and encouraging others to change the code and share their improvements. Since then, I've pursued opportunities to create and contribute to free software projects, which I've now done frequently over the last twelve years. My love for GNU Emacs and GNU Guix also inspired me to create many tutorials and videos to help other people experience the awesome things that these tools can do!

FSF: You created the System Crafters channel, on which you regularly publish videos and live stream recordings demonstrating and explaining free software tools. What have you been talking about lately on the System Crafters channel?

David: GNU Emacs is always a topic of discussion! It's the ultimate playground for people who want to customize their environment to their needs. It's inspiring to see so many people from a wide range of backgrounds become Emacs enthusiasts. Many get started on their free software journey by trying it out. Recently we've been talking a lot more about GNU Guix and Guile Scheme, the official extension language of the GNU project. My goal this year is to help more programming beginners get started with Scheme and functional programming as a way to build useful programs for their own needs and share them with other people. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time building a comprehensive course to go even deeper on Guile Scheme, and I've been amazed by the number of people who are excited to learn it!

FSF: What's your experience teaching Guile Scheme to coding beginners as opposed to JavaScript, which is by far the more common language for people to learn first?

David: In my experience, Scheme is not as easy for beginners as JavaScript can be, but those who learn Scheme end up with a much better understanding of data structures, algorithms, and functional programming. This knowledge will serve them well as they continue their journey with coding! One downside to Guile Scheme for beginners is that there aren't as many useful libraries or helpful learning resources out in the world as there are for more mainstream programming languages like JavaScript or Python. However, this is a great opportunity for those who want to start contributing to free software. Consider contributing code and documentation to Guile Scheme and the libraries surrounding it!

FSF: System Crafters is not only a channel but also a community and "Cultivating Community" is also the theme of this year's LibrePlanet. What role do you feel community plays in free software?

David: Free software cannot exist without community. The idea behind free software is that anyone should have the right to change the programs they use and share their changes for the benefit of others. If there is no community, who will write the programs and who will improve them? Moreover, I do think that community can play an important role in bringing more new people to free software, especially those who have not traditionally been drawn to it. A friendly, welcoming community can be a place where new people feel supported and encouraged to learn, share, and contribute to projects. These people may then go on to create and contribute to free software projects and continue the mission!

FSF: What makes the System Crafters community unique?

David: The free software community has earned a reputation for being harsh to newcomers, especially those of diverse identities and backgrounds. It's hard to find a home community out there if you're the kind of person who doesn't subscribe to the idea that you're "elite" for using GNU/Linux or free software. The System Crafters community strives to be a friendly place where folks from all backgrounds can come and share their love for the tools they use without being belittled for their choices or treated like a "newbie." We're all just computer enthusiasts at heart and we aim to support and inspire each other through sharing what we learn and build.

FSF: How can people get involved at System Crafters?

David: The best way would be to join us in the #systemcrafters IRC channel on or on our forum at You will find friendly people there at any time of day who are always interested to chat about Emacs, Guix, GNU/Linux, and the wider sphere of free software. You can also chat with us at our regular live streams! In these streams we usually discuss interesting topics, try out new programs, or find useful new ways to customize the free software programs that we frequently discuss. The best place to check the live streaming schedule is on the offical website. We will be happy to have you join us!

FSF: What are you most excited about when thinking of keynoting LibrePlanet 2024?

I am just honored to be asked by the Free Software Foundation to speak at the premier free software conference. My life has been changed for the better in many ways by free software and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the mission in some small way.

FSF: Can you give us a little teaser for your keynote and explain why people should watch it?

David: My keynote will focus on how to cultivate a welcoming free software community that lasts. My goal is to share the insights that I've learned over the years from building the System Crafters community and to provide a framework for how anyone can build a friendly, thriving community around a free software project. If you want to attract awesome, collaborative people to your community who stick around for years, come check out my keynote!

FSF: Thanks for the interview! We are eager to learn more about how to cultivate a welcoming community and bring new people to free software in your keynote! And we can't wait to see all of you, reading this, at LibrePlanet 2024: Cultivating Community!

The facts about LibrePlanet 2024: Cultivating Community

LibrePlanet: Cultivating Community will be held on May 4 and 5, 2024. The in person part of the conference will take place at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, MA, USA.

FSF associate members and students can attend LibrePlanet gratis, but we still ask you to register to the event so that we can prepare. If you haven't registered already, please register now:

Image Copyright © 2024, David Wilson, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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