The Golem; or, Open Source and the Academy



Academics cultivate their skill at reflecting on strategic issues around difficult problems. Open source developers cultivate their ability to execute short-term tactical strikes at difficult problems. Surely the opportunities for cooperation are frequent, and the payoffs high.


I discuss the role of open source in universities and vice-versa, arguing that they used to be better-integrated and that this was a good thing that is coming around again and can be hastened with judicious action. Also, there’s a golem in this talk, who is also a metaphor.

The origins of free and open source software are deeply intertwined with the university environment. In a very real sense, the FSF originated at MIT and open source
at MIT and UC Berkeley. UNIX was adopted by universities worldwide, becoming the direct ancestor of Linux.

Today, however, the relationship between the academy and the open source community is a bit more arms-length. Academics occasionally decry the “lack of sophistication” of the open source community, and open source developers frequently shrink from the “ivory tower mentality” of the academics.

Fortunately for both sides, recent advances in academic understanding of open source software engineering, coupled with new programming languages and tools, have encouraged a new generation of open source developers to bridge this gap.

This talk outlines the history, demographics, and trends in the open source / academy relationship, and suggests concrete steps for improving it: role modeling, technology development and adoption, cooperation opportunities and more.

Speaking experience


  • Beach headshot 64x64

    Bart Massey

    Portland State University


    Bart Massey received a BA in Physics from Reed College in 1987, and spent two years as a software engineer at Tektronix, Inc. He received his thesis MS in CS from University of Oregon in 1992 for work on concurrent programming language implementation, and his PhD in 1999 for work in “hard” AI at the Computational Intelligence research library there.

    Since then, Bart has taught open source software engineering and artificial intelligence at Portland State University and for the Oregon Master of Software Engineering program. Bart is Technologist in Residence at the Open Technology Business Center in Beaverton, Oregon, and Secretary of the X.Org Foundation Board.