back to article Open source 'leaving Asia behind'

The open source community risks leaving Asian users and developers behind, thanks to cultural differences and western business's tendency to treat programmers there as code monkeys rather than software designers, a senior Novell staffer has warned. Kurt Garloff, the company's global product opportunities veep, said that while …

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Confrontational?

Open Source is collaborative. That means that some ideas will be questioned and some ideas will be merged with other ideas to create a synergistic solution. If this is viewed as "confrontational" then we do have a real problem. I've personally never experienced what I would call a real confrontation. There are assholes out there who will pick a fight for fighting's sake, but they are quickly shut off by the rest of the community.

Open source involves creativeness. There are specs that everyone codes to, but the developers come up with these specs. As a starter, the Asian coders could be best utilized in this role, but they will find themselves shutout from the creative process unless they adapt themselves. OSS is too big to change its ways.

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Wrong, wrong, wrong, from beginning to end!

"He suggested that while Asian cultures are evolving and opening up to constructive criticism, one option for now might be for open source companies to create less free-wheeling and more protected environments for would-be developers to collaborate in."

No! Absolutely not! The basis of open-source software quality is peer review. I don't care a fig what culture the developer came from; the culture of open source is "we're going to look at your code, and we're going to tell you *and everyone else* where it needs fixing."

If you want to immigrate to the open source community from wherever you happen to have been spawned, learn the culture and embrace it.

If you can't adapt to making quality software that stands up to peer review, go work for Microsoft.

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Anonymous Coward

Confrontational?

I presume you have not heard of Theo de Raadt...

Anyway, the Japanese have a long and proud tradition of hardware, not software.

-m-

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This argument is oddly familiar

This argument is oddly familiar, because it cropped up recently amongst members of a major open-source organisation in the context of ... why we have so few women. The argument was that a robustly critical culture seems hostile to women, and they can't take the heat, so we should change it.

This particular organisation does have a significant Asian presence (though still way behind Europe and North America). I believe that is determined more by language than anything else - our European presence is concentrated in those countries where English is spoken either natively or as a fairly-universal second language.

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Anonymous Coward

Why can't *they* adapt?

Why is it that Western cultures always need to adapt to the Asian cultures?

F/OSS is here. It has an existing culture. If you want to join and participate, you'd better adapt to that, not the other way around.

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Shallow Research - Mistaken Conclusions

I believe whatever Mr. Garloff has his facts wrong, or his argument has very low basis in fact.

First of all, to think that there is no participation from people in Asia is certainly mistaken.

Let's start with Japan. Anybody hear of SCIM ? Look it up. AFAIK, the project originated from Japan and leading team members are from Eastern Asia. But I digress.

While you may not see earth shattering developments come from Asian teams or individuals, understand that there are whole lot of teams of open source projects which have members from all over Asia, and for that matter, Africa too. We just don't notice them because that fact is not reported on as much. If you don't believe me, go to source-forge and see the contributors names in the top ten, twenty or fifty projects.

The nature of open source development is more evolutionary, so, that could also impact the lack of news about open source efforts in Eastern Hemisphere (Africa, Asia).

Second, consider governmental efforts into Open Source, especially in countries like China and India. Ever hear of 'Red Flag Linux' ? Anybody know about the fact that Government of India has its own Linux distribution that is localized in dozens of languages ? That you can write to the government and they will mail you a disc set for free ? In these cases, the effort is more focused on 'Think Globally Act Locally' type of approach. The Open Source effort and solutions in those parts are geared towards solving local problems. The current government efforts are focused towards overcoming language barriers by developing localized fonts, localizing software and generally making the IT and the internet accessible. All this started in the nineties, while the west had a couple of decades of head start.

Third, think of the infrastructure lag. Communities in many parts of countries are just beginning to come on-line, and the government efforts to overcome language barriers are just beginning to bear fruit. As FOSS works on meeting local needs - most of the FOSS projects started to 'scratch an itch of the programmer'. FOSS solutions in those parts are just beginning to scratch the local itches - proverbially speaking, and sooner or later the results will trickle back when the solutions developed elsewhere become useful to the western consumers of FOSS.

I can state all this with confidence because I am a contributor to a free software project or two and I have also been following the FOSS developments for almost a decade, spending an hour or two every day surfing through the news-blogs geared towards FOSS development.

What I can say in conclusion is, FOSS can not yet leave Asian or African developers behind, because, they have just entered the race. Give it time. Most importantly, get your own facts and not some conclusions from someone else.

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It's a language barrier not a cultural barrier

Speaking as an Open Source developer who spent 4 years in Japan working with Japanese Open Source developers, I have to say that it is about language. Nearly all of the Japanese I worked with were not very fluent in English and were often embarrassed to even try. Yes, of course there are culture issues, but that's dwarfed by the language barrier. IMO.

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confrontation

As to how much confrontational attitudes effect Asian involvement, I don't know. But I do know that confrontation if a _very_ big deal.

Two trivial but telling examples:

Thailand hired a Brit national football (soccer for US) coach. The team - hardened athletes - slowly dissolved away until someone took the coach aside and explained to him that harping players, _especially_ when others could see, was completely ruinous to the individual. He gathered everyone together, apologized and said he'd do better, but he didn't stay very long.

In a software department in Thailand a programmer will _not_ say that is boss's directions are wrong, no matter how stupid. The only thing worse than breaking face would be to break your bosses face. Dead projects linger in limbo for years because this upward communication channel is completely broken.

Between the two things: being castigated where others can see, and an absolute refusal to talk bad to superiors or those with respect, make traditional face-slap mechanics of open source impossible for many.

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Does the author speak or read anything but English?

The writer likely does not speak nor read any Asian language. Though there are cultural differences the idea that Open Source will leave Asia behind is about as relevant as the scientific method leaving some country behind.

The biggest hurdles in Asia are not cultural they are educational.

The language of computer science and therefore open source, is English. Countries with good quality education in English (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore) have higher participation in English language mailing lists, while those that don't (China, Japan and Korea) do not.

In all the countries of Asia there are local mailing lists that are high traffic and high quality, as I can attest to having worked with the open source community in Japan.

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Opportunity!

An anonymous poster asked: "Why can't *they* adapt?

Why is it that Western cultures always need to adapt to the Asian cultures?"

I here comments like this often. It shows that a person is comfortable with the status quo, and considers learning a new platform/culture/language to be an imposition they simply don't need.

I can certainly understand that point of view, and I confess I am not terribly fond of change-for-change's-sake myself, and I find learning new (human) languages and cultures very difficult.

But I think there's a more productive way to view this sort of conflict:

Instead of thinking of it as in imposition in the name of Political Correctness, think of it as an opportunity. If the members of a particular F/OSS project (or even just a few key members) make the necessary investment of time and effort, they will be repaid with interest!

They will suddenly have greatly expanded the pool of developers available to them, and this pool will inevitably contain people with fresh and unexpected perspectives on the project, simply because these people will not be from the same culture as the existing team members.

With all the F/OSS complaints about the Microsoft environment, you'd think the dangers of a mono-culture would be obvious. ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

have seen this...

in some of the indian developers i work with. A reluctance to query any request or steer handed down to them.

The most extreme case i have seen being a manager, obviously not knowing the insides of the program, mistakely saying that a database query occured at a certain point (it didn't for very good reasons) and that a new feature should be added at that point because of it.

This developer was halfway through a design to move the database query to where the manager thought it was (would have broken the app without a major restructure), so that the one new feature could be implemented there, before being stopped.

the developer knew exactly how the system worked, but was not able to actually tell someone that they were wrong, or that there was a differerent way of doing something.

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Anonymous Coward

Anyone who does not believe culture plays a role is naive

Culture plays a huge role in Asia. There is a reason Asian cultures are more known for replicating and in many cases, improving on, western inventions (Japan's Nissan and Toyota with the automobile in the 1960s, China's Huawei today in networking), rather than creating new inventions. There is also a reason Nissan and Toyota have large design studios in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Milan. American and Europeans are better at the creative aspects, while Japan is better at the engineering and mechanical aspects.

A distinct aspect of OSS is the attitude some developers have in both defending their own work, as well as criticizing other's work. Thorough peer review does have to be antisocial. Academia and science has had peer review for hundreds of years but it is a much more mature process. Note Asian cultures do not have as much of a problem with international peer review in academia and science.

OSS, or more importantly, the Generation Y developers, will have to learn the finer aspects of peer-review. In the interim, perhaps the solution is to leverage the strengths of both cultures. Let code creation to occur in European and American societies, and code maintenance, revision, and optimization to occur in Asian societies.

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Ed

Critique fundamental to Open Source.

We do need to adapt - some people in the OS community are far too harsh in their criticisms; too much destruction, not enough construction. That having been said, some activity that many Asians see as confrontation are *fundamental* to the open source process. If someone cannot manage to tell an open source project manager that they're going the wrong direction, that person cannot effectively contribute to the project. If someone cannot stand to hear people saying that their code isn't perfect cannot effectively contribute to open source - they will quickly break down.

If that level of confrontation is removed, the whole process breaks down - feedback is critical to the process. No feedback, no magic.

This may sound like a harsh rebuke - I hope not; I am trying to make it as light as possible. However, I feel that the article author appears to have a really serious misunderstanding regarding how open source works. It's not magic. Someone writes code. Somebody else reviews that code, and points out flaws. Someone writes code that attempts to fix those flaws (this someone could be the first person, the second person, or a third person.) If the reviewer cannot bear to point out flaws, they fail. If the person who wrote the first code cannot bear to have flaws pointed out, they fail. It's as simple as that.

Note that the anecdote above regarding the seriousness of 'breaking face' indicates a pathological problem with the afflicted Asian cultures; if a subordinate cannot tell their superior when the subordinate thinks the superior is in error, every serious mistake of the superior will result in catestrophic problems unless the superior manages to realize his mistake in time, and when the subordinate is wrong, the subordinate will not learn why they were wrong, only that they were. Even without outside influence, that culture will eventually collapse on its own; it's just a matter of time.

Note that in the above paragraph, I am not forgetting that women exist; my experience - which I realize is not statistically significant - suggests that the issue is primarily a thing with a male superior. In the rare instances when a woman is in charge, they are apparently more willing to accept critique given to them privately - more afraid that someone else will notice the issue before it's fixed than they are annoyed that someone noticed the issue. While I personally think that is still a problematic approach, so long as the critique is accepted in some way, progress can still be made. Note that my sample size, in this case, is 6 asian men and 2 asian women; all of these individuals were born in Asia (mostly Tiawan), but were in the US when I was exposed to them. I've met many other asians in positions of power, but they did not exhibit any of the symptoms of being concerned with 'face' in my presence.

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Three reasons from a Taiwanese point of view

I'm a Taiwanese who stayed in Japan, U.S., Switzerland for a while each so maybe I can contribute my observations here.

The first reason for lack of contributions/communications in open source mailing lists from Asian people is language barrier, as SL Baur pointed out. It is not just writing e-mails with English, but also reading documents in English.

Is culture a reason? Yes and no. I've seen many discussions, some heated, in local mailing lists. In this sense open discussion is not a problem. But once a mailing list establishes an "elite" image, like many open source mailing lists do, less and less people are willing to post. I know many Taiwanese who are afraid to ask questions on such lists even after being encouraged. The mindset is like this: "These guys are so good. If I found something wrong with the software, it must be my stupidity that I used it in a wrong way." It is not a "broken face" thing, but a "losing face" thing. I don't know if that is a culture issue.

The third reason is life style. I don't know other Asian countries, but I do know that Japanese and Taiwanese people work extra long hours. Lots of engineers I know work 50 to 60 hours a week. They are too exhausted to dig into source to find the real cause of a problem. Without "doing their homeworks," they know they are not supposed to ask or respond on the mailing list.

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Culture and Mindset Probably!

Hello all,

I am from India and am a big fan of open source software.

Ping Yeh has pointed out very well why there the proportion of Asians is less in the forums. I would like to add one more reason. Indians have a peculiar mindset, i think this might be prevalent elsewhere too. not many people are "passionate" enough to spend time answering on forums. they appreciate the free software alright but often fail to understand that contribution is what makes it tick and remain alive. they visit the forums when there is a need but that is all, they do not often participate in general. there are definitely exceptions but i think i am not too off the mark.

One more reason is that many people here think that there are experts who will answer the questions better than them, so why the effort, hence their contribution is minimal.

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Silver badge

The Ruby programming language?

Big in Japan, or so I've heard. And open-source to boot.

www.ruby-lang.org

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Both will adapt

Non-Western cultures will adapt to FOSS, and FOSS will be adapted to them. The Asian cultures will adapt FOSS to their needs as they see fit. After all, who is going to be doing Hindi versions of a UI? The lads from India, of course. The non-English speakers will make their own forums, and the code will flow accordingly. FOSS is really fairly new, so don't expect instantaneous results.

Another aspect is that non-Western cultures aren't chasing after FOSS. Innovation and bleeding-edge effort may not be part of the culture. If someone can't be bothered to learn to type, don't expect the person to come up with radically new solutions. FOSS relies on innovative geeks putting in a lot of work to produce a product for (usually) no pay, and a lot of available hardware. The US has had a lot of cheap hardware for decades, while other countries haven't. So the US geeks have gear to play with at home, and the foreign geeks have to go work for someone to get their hands on any hardware at all. Thus you also get a culture of people only working when they are at work, and not doing anything technical when they are at home.

Anyways, open source is just that: open. Don't like the project? Fork the project for yourself and get at it, and share the results.

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Missed the point

It's OPEN SOURCE. You can't get "left behind" if you are writing the code yourself, can you?

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