Welcome to our new series of mentor spotlights! In these interviews, we highlight some of the open source mentors that are central to HackIllinois.
In this piece, we talk with Pablo Aguiar, who was a mentor at HackIllinois 2018. When we first approached Pablo about mentoring at HackIllinois, it was clear that he was passionate about open source. That same passion shines through every time we talk with him and in the way he worked alongside students on open source projects at HackIllinois.
Tell us about yourself. What is your background and what do you do now?
Hi! I’m a Computer Scientist from Brazil. In the past few years I had a lot of fun being a software engineer at Globo.com, Latin America’s largest media and publishing company. Nowadays I live in Munich, Germany, working with Electro-Mobility at The Mobility House and having fun with swarms of batteries and the Internet of Charging, reacting to the European electricity grid demands in real-time.
How did you get started in tech?
I started programing computers at the age of 11 with lessons from my late father. He first taught me Pascal and, once I was familiar with a few algorithms and data structures, we moved to C. We had an agreement that I only could play computer games once I’d completed my programming lessons. I’m truly grateful to him for this. Since then I never stopped programming and grew up to become a passionate Full Stack Software Engineer.
What are some of the projects you are working on currently?
Currently, I’m working on a distributed Go application that is deployed to a multitude of 3G routers, each connected to a battery module. Based on instructions sent via a message broker, the application talks to the battery module via modbus and smartly controls the battery’s charge and discharge functions, helping to maintain a stable electricity grid.
I also work on some open source projects such as CPython, Go, TheFuck, Passpie, Oh My Fish!, Tsuru, Thumbor, Elastalert, etc., either for fun or to make them better or to fix any issue or add a feature that suits my needs.
What is open source/FOSS to you?
For me FOSS means so many things. It is an opportunity to learn from exceptional software engineers. It is an increase in security and stability gained from peer reviews. It’s freedom to control the software, to customize it and to build on top of what’s already achieved while still being flexible. And ultimately it is an opportunity to share, to collaborate with others and to give back, in a transparent way. I also like the idea of playing an active role in improving the world, which is possible only when everyone has access to the way that world is designed.
Why do you contribute to open source?
I contribute to open source because I really love to code. It also makes me a better engineer as I learn so much in the process, constantly. Another reason is that I believe in the open source culture and I see value in helping others and being helped.
What was your first interaction/impression of open source and how has your involvement in open source evolved over time?
My first interaction with open source was back in 1998 when I first installed Linux as a second OS (dual boot) on my father’s PC. With it came a deluge of new information, all of it promptly available to me, manual pages and source codes. The impression I got was that open source was really accessible, although there was a huge number of things to learn. I was amazed that I could read, understand and change the code behind the things that I started using. Always for fun, right? A few years later I made my first contribution to an open source project, I solved a bug in the parser of an Eclipse plugin to edit PHP source files. From there I never stopped having fun contributing to amazing projects.
What do you recommend to beginners interested in Open Source?
You need to find a project to contribute to, which sometimes is not an easy task. So start with something that you like or that is important or useful to you. Or, if you like a specific language, for example, check the trending repositories on GitHub, filter by language and see if there’s any project you’d see yourself working on. There are other great places that can help you find interesting projects to contribute to, such as:
Then, begin contributing and interacting with other collaborators. They always welcome new contributors because that’s how open source succeeds. If you get any short, terse reply to a question, remember most collaborators are very busy reviewing pull requests and responding to issues while doing their work.
Once you find something to work on, don’t worry if your first contributions are small or trivial and have not much impact. Most first contributions are exactly like that. As you go, you’ll get more familiar with the code and will start proposing new features, fixing more serious bugs, responding to issues, reviewing pull requests, making meaningful impact. It’s fun and worth it! Just start!
What was your experience like as a mentor at HackIllinois?
I was fortunate enough to be a mentor at HackIllinois 2018 and the experience was very remarkable, pretty much like nothing I had ever experienced. It was very well organized. The staff members were always very kind, attentive and supportive. The whole environment revolved around open source and pure software development, pure hacking. I was particularly amazed by the atmosphere, so vivid and enthusiastic. Everywhere you looked there was a group of hackers either coding like crazy or involved in a rich discussion. Everyone you talked to was doing something really interesting and had so much to share. I was very pleased to mentor three teams of highly talented students and we worked on two projects, TheFuck and Passpie. Most of the time I didn’t feel like a mentor but more like another hacker in the team.
What are you most excited about in technology and open source?
What excites me more about technology and open source is how they transform the world and people’s lives and the opportunity they give me to take part in it while having fun doing so. Me, a single person behind my laptop, having the chance to play my role in life and reach people all over the world, helping them achieve their goals, making their day-to-day tasks easier and more practical, fun and more secure. And do it along with other people whom I learn from and share knowledge with, evolving together. Thus, technology and open source drive my life in a higher purpose.
Check out Pablo’s profile on GitHub at github.com/scorphus and open an issue/PR on one of his projects if you’re interested in getting involved. Stay tuned for more in our mentor spotlight series!
Interested in being a mentor like Pablo? Check out our Call for Mentors for information on how to get involved.