A journey begins: Kofi Oghenerukevwe, FSF Tech Team Intern
It has been a while since I had to write anything about myself. And I do not like starting articles with my name in the first sentence. It’s my not-so-subtle way of rebelling against many English essays I had to write in primary school that began with “My Name Is.” So here we are. My name is Kofi Oghenerukevwe, but everyone I know calls me Rukky. I am a software developer living and working in Delta State, Nigeria, and I am excited about spending the next twelve weeks as an intern with the FSF tech team.
I got into computers because of my obsessive fascination with cartoons and games as a kid. I wanted and still want to be able to create things like that, and after asking around, some of my older family and friends at the time were kind enough to inform me that the creation of cartoons and games was the work of computer people. So I set out to become one of the computer people.
It has been a strange journey so far, with a lot of interesting twists and turns that I won’t get into in this post. What I want to write about is how I got to the point I am at now…. Thinking about free software. I am a little bit ashamed to admit this, but prior to now, I have never thought much about it. For the longest time, the most my mind ever thought up about the concept of free software was “open source is cool.”
I have used proprietary software for most of my life, and never thought to question it. While I am sure I have used a ton of other free software in some way or another without knowing it, as a user, my conscious experience with free software is restricted to my preference for Mozilla’s Firefox browser and my use of Wordpress blogs for some purpose or the other in the past. As a developer though, a lot of the tools I love to use -- and a lot of times have to use -- are the free ones. GNU/Linux and MySQL come easily to my mind.
About a year ago, I began thinking about becoming a contributor to the Firefox project because I really love Firefox. For that, I needed to learn C++, and it did not take long for me to realize that C++ is difficult and I maybe did not want to learn C++… yet. I will eventually have to get into it, seeing as I still hope to make games at some point in the future. Firefox was way over my head, but I still wanted to get started contributing something, and so I kept searching for projects to contribute to and somehow, I got to learn about Outreachy. I had done some volunteer work with PHP in the past, so I applied to intern with the FSF through Outreachy because they had a PHP project for the December 2020 through March 2021 cohort of the internship.
My experience with the FSF so far has challenged me to think more about free software, and do more to support the movement in some way. I did not understand why everyone I interacted with at the FSF seemed to take the idea of free software very seriously. For me, at least at first, it just was not that big of a deal. At the time, I did not even know that there is a distinction between free and open source software (You can learn more about that in this article: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html). In summary, my attitude towards the free software movement, at the time I was preparing my application for the internship, was something of a “mehhh, cool I guess.” I recently watched some videos that got me questioning this attitude.
Within the past few weeks, a video blogger I follow started talking about Right to Repair and the ongoing legal battles between big tech companies like Apple and the European Union. He made a point about why conversations like this are important, and that got me thinking in general about the importance of the free software movement and other movements that average software and electronics users mostly take for granted. He said that big companies and governments get away with a lot of the nonsense that they get away with because average consumers just don’t care about what’s going on. We don’t care as much about our privacy on the Internet as we ought to. We don’t care as much about our freedoms with software as we ought to. At least, we don’t care enough to do things beyond just having “conversations” about them. Big companies like having “conversations” and organizing “workshops” that don’t necessarily result in tangible changes of company policies.
Right now, I am in this uncomfortable spot where I do not really know what decisions I will make about software in the future. I am interested in switching to GNU/Linux, and free software applications for music listening and music collecting, but I have no idea how difficult it will be. I am glad I have started thinking about it. But just "thinking about things" is not very impactful. I want to do something tangible, something considerably harder than thinking, and I hope to spend the next twelve weeks of my internship coming up with some practical steps I will take in my bid to support the free software movement and protect my rights and the rights of other software users. At the moment, I am using free software for my work at the Free Software Foundation during this internship. At the end of the internship, I will write a final blog post where I will detail my experience during the internship, and how I plan to use free software in the future.