Uneventful, ordinary days should be either feared or celebrated. Every major change in my life seems to have happened on such days. And this year it was no different. It must have been a very lazy Sunday afternoon when I got a message from Débora Garcia a friend I hadn't spoken to in a long time. We met because we were both doing research on computational linguistics back in 2011, under the supervision of Bento Silva.
I was caught off guard by what she had said: something to the effect that LaTeX was indeed a great way of producing documents and I'd been right all along. She had just started writing her PhD thesis, if memory serves me right. Having just graduated from Unesp, I hadn't used LaTeX in a few months, and I had totally forgotten about the time I was advocating its use.
A few weeks later we were having coffee and catching up on each other's news. It was a very stimulating day that rekindled our mutual interested in life and its possibilities. Through her, I learned that my hometown of São Carlos was teeming with smart computer science people working on amazing projects.
When I got home in Araraquara that night, I went straight to my computer and searched for like-minded people in São Carlos. It didn't take me more than a couple of minutes to find OpenSanca, a local free software and entrepreneurship meetup group. They offer free workshops and talks about everything technology. I immediately went nuts with excitement. This was the group I'd been dying to find for years, right there, only 40 minutes away by car.
I joined their Slack channel right away and introduced myself. I said I was a linguist with a passion for Linux, technology and programming and mentioned being a LaTeX user. Right off the bat I was invited to do a workshop on the subject. I'll talk more about that experience in a later post.
Very soon, I went back to São Carlos for a OpenSanca-promoted AngularJS workshop with Carlos Gomes, who would later become a friend. The event was great, jam-packed with information about clean code, Angular and mocking concepts. I learned a lot that day and I can't thank Carlos or the OpenSanca staff enough for putting together such incredible events.
- OpenSanca is a group that promotes technical education free of charge. It is exactly what I had been dreaming of since my first education class at college. It is living proof that we all have something to teach and something to learn, and that empowering our community is not only feasible, but incredibly important. I must write a post on this point later this year. Also, I'd like to sincerely thank all of OpenSanca's staff, specially Cristofer Sousa, who I've had the chance to work with more closely.
- Fuck the Silicon Valley. I'm not trying to be offensive here, but we have to face the truth. For a while I dreamed of working and doing great things abroad. I still think that would be great, however Laure Stelmastchuk, one of the greatest people I met through OpenSanca, made me realize I was failing to look around and see the opportunity that is all around us. We're not living in the US or Europe. It would be impossible to emulate their market and infrastructure, so we'll have to make do with what we have at hand instead. In other words, innovating has a different meaning in Brazil: it means achieving higher grounds in ways that make sense for us. I'll try to develop this further in another post, as it's only the germ of an idea.
- Finally, this last idea connects with my most important realization. We are seeing the onset of a community that I hope grows to the point of no return, forever changing the city of São Carlos. May this sense of community that free software nurtures spread to other cities all over the country and to other areas of our lives too.
When I started this post, my initial intention was to report how my two LaTeX workshops went and where I failed. It grew to become a rather different beast. However, it's given me a few ideas to chew on. I'll try to develop the next three topics in future posts:
- My two LaTeX workshops: where I failed and where I didn't
- The importance of informal education groups
- How doing our own thing may be better than trying to copy Silicon Valley
Stay tuned for more!