A small group of software engineers are changing the face of computer education in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram, empowering students from working class families by giving them a strong foundation in software programming. The Villupuram GNU/Linux Users Group (GLUG) is a not-for-profit initiative by a group of software professionals and students who believe in software freedom.
Stared in 2013 by a group of six software engineers, the Villupuram chapter of GLUG was formed as part of a global social movement aimed at educating people about free software.
Strong software foundation for local students
Vijisulochana (Viji), the group’s current representative, tells TNM that the Villupuram GLUG is focused on training interested students so as to make them technically strong.
“Students can always get trained in software training centres, but those centres may not be best equipped to teach them all the latest software developments. We also choose a handful of deserving students based out of Villupuram for whom travelling to Chennai or to other centres in town may not be financially viable. Here, we do it for free,” she says. Their weekly sessions are attended by hundreds of students.
Viji, who joined the group five years ago as soon as she joined engineering at the Villupuram Anna University, says the reason she did so was to expand her knowledge about different software.
Haripriya, another member of the GLUG, says, “When I first joined, I was the only one from my batch in my college to do so. By the time I reached the final year, close to 15 students from my batch were attending the weekly sessions.”
Haripriya is now employed at a women’s healthcare startup in Bengaluru and attributes her success to the training she received from the GLUG team. “There are plenty of other GLUGs across the country. In Tamil Nadu, I believe we’re one of the most active GLUG groups. We have regular weekly sessions that are attended by many students and professionals in Villupuram, this is a very fluid crowd that keeps ebbing and flowing in number,” she explains.
Haripriya also tells us that many of her peers who have been placed in companies in Chennai and Bengaluru owe their technical strength to the group.
The Villupuram GLUG recently handpicked 40 students to undergo Python software training. These students will be provided a chance to work on a project along with incentives after completing training. “This will prove to be encouraging for the students for whom coming to such classes requires great effort,” she adds.
Python is a backend software language that is among the most popular among programmers. Python language’s design philosophy emphasises code readability. Several big names, including NASA, Google, Amazon and YouTube, use Python in their products.
For the purpose of the training camp, Villupuram GLUG’s core team, a small group of less than 20 software professionals, will travel to Villupuram every two weeks (alternating between themselves) from Chennai and Bengaluru to spend time with the students.
The selection process was meticulously done, with each of the 10 trainers personally calling and understanding the family backgrounds of each of the candidate who applied. “We got 450 registrations out of which we selected 45. This is to make sure that the students are serious about the training,” Haripriya says.
Advocating software freedom
The Villupuram GLUG advocates software freedom, the right to privacy, and adheres to the global software freedom movement. “We explain about open source software and why they can be the best alternatives to proprietary software like Windows and Google Chrome, that have less regard for user privacy. For instance, VLC Player is one of the most common open software that everyone uses without necessarily being aware of it,” Haripriya explains.
“Our first recommendation is for users to shift to the Linux operating system, use Libre Office instead of MS Office, Evolution for mailing, Mozilla Firefox instead of Chrome, and the like,” she notes.
The Villupuram GLUG team has also successfully developed an app for Tamil e-books, which was launched 8 months ago. “Free Tamil e-books, including works from Sangam literature, are made available for easy download,” says Haripriya.
The team is currently working on a museum app which will provide 3D views of heritage sites and buildings. They will also be working with Villupuram MP D Ravikumar’s village adoption project. “The app will provide everything that’s necessary for the village. We’re calling it Sahe and it’s in a very nascent stage right now,” adds Viji.
Having recently celebrated Software Freedom Day, the Villupuram GLUG’s next focus will be to encourage more women to join their core team. Both Haripriya and Viji reiterate that the group will work on increasing its women’s strength to make it an equal working space.