August 26, 2002

College students: Help improve Linux, win a ThinkPad

- By Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
The second IBM Linux Scholar Challenge is accepting registrations through October 31. Finished projects are due by December 13. On January 20, 2003, IBM will announce the winners of 20 ThinkPad laptops, and will offer summer internships at IBM's Linux Technology Center to three of the top winners.
The contest page says, "Once again, IBM is sponsoring the Linux Scholar Challenge contest. If you're a college or university student, you can take the challenge and make improvements to Linux, create usability tools or enhancements, or design Linux applications."

Nancy Brittle, IBM's Worldwide Program Director for Linux in Higher Education, is in charge of the contest, which was held for the first time in 2001. She originally recruited three judges from IBM's Linux crew, but says, "We really needed 100 judges," because last year's Linux Challenge drew a much larger response than IBM expected: 1,462 entries from 64 countries all over the world.

Brittle immediately beefed up the judging staff to accommodate the unanticipated deluge of entries by asking Linux-interested IBM employees to help out, and plenty of them responded. This year there are enough judges already signed up to handle a substantial load -- and more can be called in if needed. IBM apparently has no shortage of employees who are interested in Linux and Open Source.

Brittle says, "I don't think a lot of the entrants do this to win the prize. They are Linux enthusiasts." She says IBM got many comments from last year's contestants along the lines of, "We are so glad you are supporting Linux in a big way." The prizes are still a nice motivating factor, though. Brittle says they are not low-end laptops, but high-end ThinkPads that retail in the $3,000 range.

Another prize -- a Linux 16-node "startup" cluster -- goes to the college or university whose students have the highest total number of awarded "points" in the contest even if no student from that institution wins one of the laptops.

The judging process is admittedly somewhat subjective, but Brittle says all judges are given guidelines to follow; that each judge handles entries in his or her primary area of expertise as much as possible; and that multiple judges score each entry. To eliminate potential favoritism, entries are sent to judges without the entrants' names or countries on them.

The contest is open to students enrolled in two-year, three-year or four-year accredited colleges and universities. Complete rules are available for (pdf) download. While most of the example projects shown in the rules use IBM products one way or another, Brittle says entries do not need to be based on IBM hardware or software, and that this is not a judging criterion.

Brittle says the contest's main purpose is to show potential corporate Linux users how interested students are in Linux. She says the large number of entries for the IBM Linux Scholar Challenge proves that "Linux skills are pervasive in universities worldwide, and that there will be no shortage of Linux programmers and sysadmins in the future."

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