Almost all progress of human civilization has come from the written word. Be it the inscriptions on the walls of a lost city or documenting the results of a scientific experiment to push the human race forward. Today as part of our Techie Tuesdays, we talk about a lady who has been doing the hard work of documenting in the Open Source community.
Radhika Nair is a FOSS enthusiast, and a technical writer by profession. Fusing the two, she has written her own humble success story. She is an Apache CloudStack committer, who has also had the opportunity to contribute to GNOME documentation for around five years.
She wears multiple hats. When at work, Radhika develops Citrix CloudPlatform documentation; and outside work, she engages the Apache CloudStack community on various social media platforms, drives CloudStack India Meetups (had to retire from the prestigious post due to recent relocation), and hangs out with her CloudStack team, planning outings and parties. At home, she is a perfect mother of a four-and-a-half-year-old boy, “but a not so ideal wife,” she quips.
A self-proclaimed photography and social media buff, Radhika thinks she is running behind. “I have at least 10 plus years to catch up with my peers who fall under the elite category of great achievers.” However, she believes that she is ready to make up for the lost time.
As Helen Keller noted: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”; Radhika too believes in the power of teamwork and gives all the credit for her many achievements to the CloudStack team who supported her in driving around 15 Meetups and 4 major conferences in the last two years.
Thanks to the informative sessions from the speakers, the CloudStack Bangalore community has outgrown the rest of the CloudStack user groups across the world to come next to the Japan User Group that is currently at the top in terms of memberships and number of meetups and conferences organized.
According to her, organizing and presenting at the first Apache BarCamp is her top achievement as the Meetup organizer. It’s the first ever event organized by the Apache Software Foundation in Asia. The BarCamp brought together various top level Apache project communities to code and comment. She managed to convince her management to support her effort in driving the BarCamp and single handedly found sponsors for the event. She was responsible for everything right from finding speakers, sponsors and venue, and advertising the event, to choosing caterers. Passion’s the only driving factor that kept her going during those peak release days. It was during the same time she had to work on a release that rolled out around 85 new features within a period of 6 months.
“I still wonder how I managed to work on around 50 features as well as drive the BarCamp efforts,” she says.
The BarCamp turned out to be a great success. It not only brought various top level Apache projects under one umbrella, but also culminated in the decision to have such conferences more often. Thus emerged the idea of convening a conference that will bring together various Apache communities under a single roof. Radhika again wore the same hat to drive another Apache project gathering, which went on to become the ‘BigDataCloud Conference India 2014’, held at InMobi in May. The CloudStack Mini Conference at OpenSource India 2013 was another event she drove successfully, which created enough momentum in the CloudStack space.
Radhika has also presented a paper on Open Writing at STC India 2012 Annual Conference in Bangalore. At Fuel GILT Conference, she presented a paper on CloudStack Translation project.
Radhika believes that work isn’t always about the pay cheque it’s about pursuing your passion, what you believe in. She says, “I invest a lot of time into my passion. To make up for the extra hours of hard work, I treat myself with week-long trips with friends.”
An adventure seeker, she enjoys paragliding, scuba diving, river rafting and trekking. Photography is her passion but she says she is not a DSLR expert, yet.
As a technical writer for the past 9 years, Radhika got her hands dirty with major FOSS doc authoring/ publishing tools: GNU Texinfo, the official doc format for GNU projects. She used the tool for the MIT Kerberos documentation project, Publican, the official documentation publication tool for Fedora, for CloudStack documentation.
Radhika is from Wayanad, once an educationally backward district in Kerala; she struggled hard to come up as her elementary and middle school education was in the vernacular medium. As a student she got the right opportunities to excel, being able to be a part of Red Cross society, National Service Scheme, and Akhila Kerala Balajana Sakhyam, the largest student organization in Asia, started by the ‘Malayala Manorama’ group in 1929. She was also elected to the Promotion of Excellence Among Gifted Children Program by Government of Kerala, India, in May 1991. She reserves 5-10 % of her monthly earning to support various NGOs acting in her hometown, Wayand.
She had her first exposure to computer in her 11th standard. It was during her early hibernation years, she says that she blindly followed the crowd and decided to go for BSc computer science. But choosing Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism was a conscious decision. She completed her BSc with distinction and Masters with a gold medal, and also cleared UGC-NET and SET in Mass Communication and Journalism to teach in colleges. Radhika tried teaching, but soon realized there is no point in teaching without proper industry exposure, so she moved out.
Meeting Richard Stallman in 2004 changed her life while working for a publication house as an editor. She realized her interest in FOSS ideology and decided to work for an Open Source company. Luckily, she got her first break at Novell, thanks to the then Open Source head at Novell, Parag Goel for trusting her passion. During the interview, she was asked the reason to choose Novell, and Radhika knew why she was there. Parag heard her and gave her an opportunity to contribute to GNOME Evolution and Mono projects. She contributed to GNOME project for around 5 years.
Not so confident about presenting, she decided to stick to writing: Radhika’s article on her experience in FOSS documentation fetched second prize in an essay competition run by the Society for Technical Communication (STC) India 2006. However, even in her early days in FOSS, she managed to attend all major conferences, such as FOSS.in, and participated as a PR for all the hack fests organized by the GNOME Evolution team. Even after joining EMC, she did not miss the GNOME Asia Summit 2011.
Radhika believes that coding, evangelism, and documentation should go hand in hand in any FOSS environment to foster the projects. If you are not passionate enough, she advices, FOSS is not an area to venture into. However, if you are passionate enough, you get to learn a great deal from the awesome FOSS enthusiasts as it gives you many opportunities to travel, meet, and interact with experts.