On Tuesday at XDC2011 Chicago I hosted a question and answer panel about contributing to X.Org, Mesa, and the Linux kernel. Much of the information presented, however, is relevant to any open-source / free software project. The panel participants were largely graphics driver developers that started off contributing to open-source when at university and some of them have since moved on to working for major Linux companies, i.e. Intel and Red Hat. The talk was very interesting and Chicago computer science students were free to ask questions of them.
I was the moderator of the panel (and organizer of XDC2011) and the panel participants are listed below with a brief bio.
Peter Hutterer: Peter began contributing to X.Org while at university. For his PhD work at the University of South Australia, Peter masterminded Multi-Pointer X (MPX), which provides support for multiple independent pointers in the X11 Server. Peter began this work in 2005 and it was successfully completed in 2008. After finishing MPX, he has continued contributing to Linux input drivers, the X Input 2 extension, and other areas. He was hired by Red Hat Australia following the completion of his PhD.
Martin Peres: Martin Peres is a French engineering student that began contributing to X.Org for improving the ATI Radeon graphics driver support. Most recently he has been a core developer of the Nouveau GPU driver that aims to provide an open-source NVIDIA Linux driver that is created via clean-room reverse-engineering of NVIDIA's proprietary software. Through his work on Nouveau, he has also done work for the PathScale compiler company and their graphics driver interests. Martin has also been involved with other open-source software projects.
Corbin Simpson: Corbin, a programmer at the Oregon State University Open-Source Lab, began contributing to X.Org and open-source via Google's Summer of Code. He participated in the 2009 Google Summer of Code project where he led the efforts on writing the open-source Gallium3D driver for ATI R300 (through ATI R500) graphics processors. Since then, he has contributed to other areas of Mesa / Gallium3D and kernel mode-setting work. In 2011 he was also a mentor to a new Google Summer of Code student.
Keith Packard: Keith Packard hasn't been at university in decades, but as the release manager for the X.Org Server, one of the X.Org founding members, former core member of XFree86, and being involved with X11 since the 1980s, he has valuable information to share. Keith is also a board member for the X.Org Foundation, an employee of Intel's Open-Source Technology Center, and has created other core Linux software such as Cairo.
Matt Dew: Not all open-source contributions are limited to code, but there is also other ways to contribute. Matt Dew's contributions to X.Org are known for being one of the few that actually works on documentation.
Kenneth Graunke: Kenneth attended an X.Org Developers' Conference in Oregon two years ago while a graduate student of Portland State University. Graunke began contributing to graphics drivers and ultimately was hired by Intel's OSTC Portland team to work on their open-source graphics driver.
Making this Q&A panel even more interesting (and to entertain the X.Org developers that otherwise would be bored) is that Phoronix sponsored free beer (mostly American micro-brews) in the hours before this afternoon event.
Lots of beer was consumed, plenty of laughs, some European developers had their first experience with American light beers, and Keith Packard even managed to spill beer on his laptop.