Bio of a FOSS Person (Activity)

From TeachingOpenSource


Bio of a FOSS Person


Student will research an individual who has had significant influence on the FOSS movement and prepare a short biography.


A general introduction to the FOSS movement and history would be helpful. See Origins of Free Libre Software.

After successfully completing this activity, the learner should be able to:
  • Explain how their individual contributed to the FOSS movement and why their contributions were significant.
  • Explain what it is about FOSS software that allows individuals to become influencers within their communities.
Process Skills

Written Communication


The Free and Open Source Software movement has been shaped by more than a few strong personalities, whose points of view have not always agreed 100%. This exercise explores who some of those people are and what their contributions to open source are.

Understanding who these people are and how their contributions have shaped FOSS will help students understand:

  • the evolution of FOSS over time;
  • how an individual has the potential to create major change in open source;
  • the nature of FOSS ideology; and
  • the way that society has changed its view of FOSS.


The purpose of this exercise is to become familiar with some of the people who have shaped the Free and Open Source world. Everyone below has made at least one (often more) major contribution(s) to FOSS. Your task is to pick one of these people, research their contribution to FOSS, and present it to the class. Consider ways that you could make your presentation interesting (visual or presentation aids, etc.). Use at least three sources (web is, of course, fine); you will turn in your citations. Target a 2-4 minute presentation.

In each instance, you've been provided with another factoid about the person so that you can insure you've found the right person.

  • Linus Torvalds (named after Linus Pauling)
  • Michael Tiemann (co-founded Cygnus Solutions)
  • Brian Behlendorf (was a chief technology guru for the Burning Man festival)
  • Bruce Perens (amateur radio call sign K6BP)
  • Tim O'Reilly (born in County Cork, Ireland)
  • Eric S. Raymond (contributed code and content to The Battle for Wesnoth)
  • Richard Matthew Stallman (often known by his initials, rms)
  • Guido van Rossum (worked at Zope Corporation)
  • Paul Vixie (founded first anti-spam company, MAPS, which stood for “Mail Abuse Prevention System”)
  • Eben Moglen (wrote a Metaphorical Corollary to Faraday's Law)
  • Larry Wall (has a degree in Natural and Artificial Languages)


Students will make a short presentation of their chosen FOSSers major contributions and turn in their list of sources.


Students can be graded on both the accuracy of the information that they present and whether their presentation is engaging. Consider a rubric such as the following (the weighting and point values may be varied based on the emphasis and level of the class; a history class might weight the research portion higher, while a cross-disciplinary class might rate the "engagement factor" higher, for example):

Criteria Level 1 (fail) Level 2 (pass) Level 3 (good) Level 4 (exceptional)
Sources None provided At least 1, but fewer than 3 provided; or 3 provided but non-functional/relevant 3 sources provided; all relevant More than 3 provided or 3 provided with notes as to why chosen
Identification of major FOSS contribution None provided At least 1 identified, but not most relevant (as easily identified if 2 sources were checked) Major accomplishment(s) correctly identified Major accomplishment(s) identified; minor accomplishment(s) also identified
Explanation of relevance of contribution None attempted Attempt at describing relevancy, but inaccurate Relevancy described, but using direct quotes from literature Relevancy described using own words / analogies, etc. Extra, super bonus points for tying it in to previous class discussions
Engaging presentation no visual aides, no funny voices, no nothing 1 visual aide or demonstration or the like (or attempt at one) More than 1 visual aide; or one very creative visual aide Extremely creative presentation - multiple presentation aides


This activity could be a good fit for a history or writing classes as well as computer science classes. In addition, if you have any cross-disciplinary classes, this would be an interesting project for them.

Area & Unit(s)

SP History


Pioneers of computing



Estimated Time
to Complete

30 min - 45 min. to research/find sources; 30 min - 1 hr. to write presentation, more if elaborate props are involved (and credit should be provided accordingly)

Environment /

Internet access


Gina Likins




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