The text of the speech by Peter Harrison, President, The Palisadoes Foundation at the formal handing over ceremony of a donation of server equipment to the University of Technology, Jamaica and the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica.
I was a teenage Reggae fan, and Reggae music wasn’t played on Sunday radio. Sundays were for country and western music and old R&B classics. Peter was distressed.
One of the most popular singers was Tammy Wynette, a famous Nashville star, who would visit the island for sold out concerts at the National Stadium. I heard her being interviewed on the radio one afternoon and I decided to open my mind and listen. She was certainly not Reggae music, but she had the respect of the nation. Maybe I could learn something.
She was asked, “How did you become a success?”
She surprised me. She replied, “You have to be first, best or different.”
When it comes to information and communication technology (ICT), some would say Jamaica can’t be first, Jamaica can’t be best, Jamaica can’t be different.
I say we can be first in being the best of the different.
- Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Andrew Isaacs, Vice Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Computing
- Prof. Stephen Vasciannie, President, University of Technology, Jamaica
- Prof. Nilza Aples, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Computing
- Mr. Sheldon Powe, President, Jamaica Computer Society
- Dr. Gunjan Mansingh, Head, Department of Computing, Faculty of Science and Technology, UWI, Mona Campus
- Vice Deans
- Dr. Sean Thorpe, Head, School of Computing and Information Technology
- Other Heads of Schools
- Members of faculty, staff and students, UTech, Jamaica and UWI, Mona
- Members of the press
Last but not least, the Palisadoes Foundation’s student volunteers, Collette Bailey, Yanika Miller, DoNeil Scott, Jhamali Vassel and Kevon Graham.
Agyei Masters, Head of the IEEE student branch at Utech, Shanielle Williams head of the UWI Computing Society club.
Rohan Mallet and Oneil Pinnock in the UTech IT staff. Karlene Black, lecturer at Utech.
I ask all of you to surprise yourself like Tammy Wynette surprised me.
Be the best of the different.
When I worked at Google, I was one of the first to join a very successful division. And one day at a team lunch someone decided to go around the table in an effort to know everyone and asked “which university did you go to?” I was the only one who hadn’t gone to a US based Ivey league or top tier school. I had been to UWI, not once, but twice. Why weren’t there more Jamaicans at the table?
When I look around this room, there may not be that same exposure to massive scale ICT, but in terms of character, you can all compete with the best.
The Palisadoes Foundation collaborates with Jamaican tertiary education, the IT industry and overseas Jamaicans to make this so. We were formed in response to the creation of the Jamaican Diaspora technology taskforce. We are headed by Jamaicans in tech, based in the USA.
We focus on ICT in areas we feel our limited resources can be successful.
ICT requires science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. According to Cisco systems:
- Projected job growth for STEM careers is nearly double Non-STEM
- The top 10 highest paid careers are in STEM
- 60% of US job openings require STEM literacy, 42% require advanced STEM knowledge.
Technology is often used to advance society. As in the fields of tourism, entertainment and sports, where the Caribbean competes globally and effectively, The Palisadoes Foundation feels that the region can do the same with STEM. We can be globally competitive.
Together we can prove this by being the best of the different in software engineering, especially in the area of free to use and modify Open Source software.
- Creating globally accepted software engineering products is relatively fast and cheap compared with the equivalents in other areas of engineering.
- These other areas of engineering are increasingly relying on software solutions to their problems.
- There is no need for the limitations of traditional import and export controls.
- It is a natural extension of the Caribbean region’s success in the call center service sector.
- Global companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Oracle, Cisco, HP, Dell and IBM are leaders in the Open Source software movement.
- Open Source software is free to download, access, modify and use. The licensing required for Microsoft Windows and other proprietary software is not there.
- Open Source expertise is the cornerstone of any foray into modern software engineering.
We use it every day in the form of Google Chrome, Firefox and Android. Even Microsoft uses it in their Cloud services. Jamaica has its own Open Source projects, they may not be widely known but they are out there.
The Palisadoes Foundation aims to help create globally competitive software engineers and companies through exposure to Open Source software. Our annual Calico Challenge is evidence of our commitment to this goal. It offers stipends to students wanting to contribute to the Open Source community while being guided by a mentor.
This donation of equipment will facilitate Jamaican universities in creating an environment that encourages students and faculty to research, create and use Open Source software. We hope it will not be the last as the photos, press releases, media coverage and experiences of today will be used to encourage our benefactors to donate more.
We, the Foundation, the universities and students have been collaborating for almost four years now. Next year it will be half a decade. This is a long term partnership beyond the various glories of today.
In this time we have seen:
- Student awards for contributions to Open Source.
- Open Source projects as part of university coursework.
- Use of Open Source software as part of the business of running the university. We are already working with staff on creating additional disk space for students with this software on the donated equipment.
- Active medium scale Jamaican Open Source projects
- The beginnings of opening up higher speed internet links to the campuses.
In the next five years it would be good to see:
- True high speed internet made available to all students, faculty and staff on campus. This would facilitate remote access to campus resources, research, and distance learning.
- Faculty and staff awards for contributions to Open Source
- Grants, small and large, to pursue the expansion of existing and new Open Source projects from both the private, and public sectors.
- The use of Open Source software all across campuses, especially where there are constrained budgets.
The possibility of hiring full time software engineers to update existing Open Source software for the benefit of Jamaica.
- The possibility of universities actively contributing to freely available Open Source software, while earning income from the support and consulting services related to it.
- Making research into or with Jamaican Open Source software by local academics, part of their dissertations.
Many of these things are beyond the Foundation’s capabilities, but not yours.
The Palisadoes Foundation’s aim isn’t to change everything, but to expose ICT professionals and researchers to opportunity, to open their minds, just like I decided to do with Tammy Wynette.
Success in Open Source will open many doors. We want our partners to be globally recognized innovators, academics, entrepreneurs, and executives. We feel that embracing the use and creation of Open Source software is the fastest way to get there.
Open Source software isn’t appropriate in all cases, but where it is competitive it must be tried. When we feel we can make it competitive, it must be tried. That’s the only way to know if it is appropriate. That’s the only way we can be the best of the different.
I have spoken a lot about collaboration. There will also need to be a lot of independent activity without Palisadoes.
Praise of accomplishments will need to be expansive and selfless. Assistance versus resistance should dominate, kill analysis paralysis, and trust will need to be held dear. Make intentions and language clear. Encourage quiet champions. Expectations, milestones and timelines will need to be realistic, while dreams are achieved. And dream you must, achieve you must. Remember, the Open Source audience is Planet Earth.
Like the song says:
Of course you can’t become,
if you only say what you would have done.
In other words, surprise yourselves.