Operating system education gets $100K boost

Funds to help promote more technical skills

More than 650 people attended the annual linux.conf.au Penguin Dinner in Sydney last week which culminated in a $100,000 grant to the John Lions Chair in Operating Systems at the University of NSW (UNSW).

The donation will used to support an appointee to the John Lions Chair, and follows a $US500,000 grant by global wireless communications giant Qualcomm.

Professor of the Operating Systems School of Computer Science and Engineering at the UNSW Gernot Heiser said the grant is not specific and is part of the overall fundraising activities to support the chair.

Gernot said the money raised so far is enough to start the chair and run it for about four to five years, but the ultimate goal to get it to the level of an "endowed chair" supported entirely by ongoing donations.

The $100,000 cheque presented at the Penguin Dinner comprised of $50,000 from the Advanced Computing Technical Association, or Usenix, $20,000 from Linux Australia, and $30,000 worth of independent donations from businesses and other community organizations.

Last year Usenix pledged to match all donations to the John Lions Chair dollar-for-dollar.

Heiser, who is also the leader of the Embedded, Real-Time and Operating Systems (ERTOS) program at National ICT Australia (NICTA), said the John Lions Chair is important for IT education in Australia as there has been a trend away from core technical skills.

"There is a general trend away from hard-core teachings in computing science and towards soft skills and management," he said. "This is a mistake because we are not developing technical skills [and] The John Lions Chair helps foster these technical skills."

Heiser said the big companies have more influence over the universities and they are not doing as much IT innovation in Australia as the smaller companies.

"Operating systems is in a way one of the most extreme areas," he said. "The John Lions Chair will ensure this high level of operating system teaching is maintained. There is no end of companies who are willing to take my students out of my hands."

Heiser said this is becoming more important because the embedded software industry is becoming huge and the skill set required involves understanding operating systems.

"The university system is letting industry down by not providing this teaching," he said,

The John Lions Chair in Operating Systems is yet to be appointed, but it has been approved by the UNSW so the plan is to fill it some time this year.

Linux Australia president Jonathan Oxer said he is very pleased to see so much enthusiasm within the open source community for the establishment of the John Lions Chair, and, in particular, that Linux Australia members have been so generous in their donations.

"John had a great influence on many of today's leading software engineers and his approach was very much in keeping with the philosophy of what we've now come to call open source, so it's only fitting that Linux Australia should do whatever it can to support the establishment of the Chair and allow the legacy he created to continue even after his passing," Oxer said.

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