Grab the Tiger by the Tail

Android Bug Fixing for Fun and Profit

One challenge with open source projects is finding people to fix the bugs. After all, bug-fixing is supposed to be an easy way to get developers started contributing to a project. But people sometimes forget that bug fixing, like anything in open source, inevitably involves “scratching your own itch”, in one form or fashion.Some “itches” will be in terms of functionality, so some bug fixes will be made by people interested in getting such-and-so feature working that the bug is impeding. Some “itches” will be philosophical, so some “bug fixes” will be made with an eye towards replacing, say, license-encumbered code with alternatives offering greater freedom. Those are both important, and it would be lovely if all bugs could be fixed with just those two “itches”. In reality, though, that may prove insufficient.I am waiting to find groups tackling bugs for another “itch”: financial.There is a crying need for people well-versed in Android firmware, to serve as consultants, trainers, or full-time engineers. While the Android application development community is not exactly huge, it still dwarfs the number of people who are comfortable with Android's innards. Most engineers that are happen to be gainfully employed already, by device manufacturers, carriers, or Google. Yet it would be very beneficial for the Android ecosystem if there were a cadre of independent people who could help new firms get involved in Android device development, or help firms tweak Android to their needs, or help firms get their technology more tightly tied into the Android OS itself.One challenge facing any such consultant is proving their mettle. After all, your average consultant is unlikely to have personally built a phone. One of the easiest ways for such consultants to demonstrate their prowess is to fix bugs in Android itself. In one shot, they can prove their coding skills, highlight their ability to work collaboratively with other development teams (in this case, the core Android team), and so on. Plus, they will have very concrete evidence of their skills in specific portions of Android.It is conceivable that somebody could create a “tiger team” of consultants whose mission, in between regular consulting gigs, is to fix Android bugs, to promote the team and build up the team's credentials. Fixing the bugs might be purely volunteer work, or they might use some funding mechanism to help promote “directed development”, letting token sums help steer their bug-fixing efforts. Regardless, the true financial return is not in fixing the bugs themselves, but in consulting — the bug fixing is a means to an end more than an end in itself.There are plenty of bugs to choose from, and as Android keeps advancing, more bugs will undoubtedly arise. There is even a “reserve” of bugs held in an internal Google issue tracker, and Google may be more inclined to spend staff time moving those bugs into the public tracker if they felt there was a decent chance those bugs might be addressed by the community at large. And, of course, work still proceeds on making the bug-fixing process incrementally easier, from Jean-Baptiste Queru's work on getting device-ready builds from the open source code to having better documentation on how to make code contributions.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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