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Young Linux Developers Strut Their Stuff

Competitons such as IBM's Linux Scholar Challenge encourage college-age developers from around the world to apply their programming skills.

About 3,000 students from 75 countries registered for the 2004 IBM Linux Scholar Challenge before registration closed Oct. 31, the largest turnout in the competition's history. This year's winners will be revealed in January at LinuxWorld in Boston.

Each entry consists of a 1,200-word essay that can describe the solution to one of 29 Linux-related challenges IBM poses as part of the competition. Entrants, who must be enrolled full time at an accredited university, aren't limited to these challenges and can suggest and solve their own problems. The IBM-provided challenges include asking entrants to identify deficiencies in Linux and propose solutions, describe how to build a high-availability application that would provide failover capability across multiple IBM servers, and improve boot time on a Linux-based IBM ThinkPad.

Such competitions are fostering the development of the next generation of sorely needed Linux talent, including individuals such as Neeraj Kumar Badgujar, one of the winners of the 2002 Linux Scholar Challenge. He graduates in December from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. Chances are he'll relocate to Bangalore, 1,300 miles to the south, and begin his career as a programmer in that region's rapidly growing IT-driven economy. Although Badgujar has yet to clock his first day in the world of corporate programming, he's already got several years of experience working in one of the IT world's most in-demand areas: open-source software.

From his first university open-source project in 2001 developing a Linux-based voice-over-IP phone, Badgujar has been impressed with the way the open-source programmer community freely distributes its code. This allows programmers to borrow software components for more mundane tasks while concentrating their development efforts on the more cutting-edge aspects of any project.

"I liked the idea of open source because we were really helped by getting the source code from other similar-working solutions," Badgujar says. Finishing such a project using Windows-based or proprietary applications would have been impossible because of time and cost constraints, he adds.

By the end of 2002, Badgujar had developed a prototype wireless video camera running on Linux that could be used to transmit compressed images over networks with limited bandwidth. The project got its start when one of Badgujar's professors suggested, in the wake of the Dec. 13, 2001, attack on India's Parliament, that the student create a video-based security camera.

IBM created its program in 2001 to drum up enthusiasm among students worldwide in Linux and open-source software. But it's not alone in hosting such competitions. Other companies, such as Red Hat Inc. and Hewlett-Packard, do the same.

Members of IBM's Linux Technology Center in Beaverton, Ore., as well as developers from other areas of the company will judge entries for that vendor's competition. Prizes include Linux-based ThinkPads for the top 20 entries, three internships at IBM's Linux Technology Center, and a 16-node Linux cluster to the university with the highest overall average from their students' entries.

For more about how companies are building Linux expertise, see our upcoming story in the Nov. 8 issue of InformationWeek.

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