For three years in a row, Linux and open source technology provider, Red Hat has been conducting the Red Hat Challenge for students from the region. The competition is aimed at driving usability of open source, particularly amongst students, which according to Alan Ho, Director, Marketing Strategy and Planning, Red Hat Asia Pacific, is “new to Asian culture”.

Red Hat Challenge

(L-R) Winnie Tan, Terry Chia, Ng Junhao and Gerald Lim

Keeping with the philosophy of ‘For the students, by the students’, this year’s platform for the competition was built by four students – Gerald Lim, Terry Chia, Ng Junhao and Winnie Tan – of School of IIT in Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore. While the challenge platform was developed entirely on open source technology, including Red Hat’s public Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering, OpenShift Online, and Red Hat JBoss Middleware, the theme for 2013 was ‘Building the Next Cloud Generation’.

The competition tested over 3,400 students – from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – for their skills and knowledge in cloud computing, operating systems and virtualisation. “Besides exposing students to open source, the competition aims to encourage them to create and learn about licenses, IPR and expose them to GitHub, the popular code repository site for open source projects,” says Ho of Red Hat.

He adds that Red Hat is committed to engaging the student community for the long-term both, at the school level and by providing internships. In fact, the four students were selected to build the competition platform while they were doing their internship – a part of their school project – working on a RaspBerry Pi Project with the company. For the uninitiated, RaspBerry Pi is a small inexpensive credit card-sized computer that can be plugged into TVs and keyboards.

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The competition, which began in November 2013, met its finale in Beijing, China in December last year.

e27 caught up with three of the four students, who are in the third year of their Diplomas in Cyber and Digital Security, to get them to share their experience of building the competition platform. Excerpts from our conversation:

On the basis of your experience, of all the participating countries, which country do you think has the best talent in technology?
Terry Chia: During our conversations, we found that Chinese students are the most eager. They have a lot of questions.

Gerald Lim: I would also say China, but that would be purely on the basis of numbers.

How has been your experience building the competition platform?
Chia: We got to learn new things every day during the competition. In a classroom there is always a clear task to be accomplished, which is quite methodical. But working with Red Hat and on the competition platform, we faced new challenges every day, for which we had to find solutions.

Lim: We built the platform using Java and as the language (Java) is not a part of our curriculum, it was quite a challenge. So first we had to get familiar with the programming language. We were bumping into bugs, but with the help of senior developers at Red Hat, we overcame those challenges.

I got the opportunity to do live IT security checks and also learn more about the open source Metasploit Framework, a tool for developing and executing exploit code against a remote target machine.

The best part of the entire exercise was to get a cloud server, and developing on it was quite exciting.

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Ng Junhao: First of all, I was exposed to a new operating system all together. I was excited that the platform was to be used by thousands of people.

Also, we got to work with experienced people at Red Hat and were communicating with Red Hat members in China and Asia Pacific, from all departments – engineering, services and marketing. Their inputs helped us to prepare the competition platform.

How do you think more students can benefit from your experience?
Lim: I will be putting up my experiences on my blog and our university blog.

Junhao: While we can share our experience with our classmates, I think, students can benefit more from a practical point of view. It will be a big help if more companies like Red Hat engage students at the school level itself, and expose them to the tech world beyond the text books.

For the record, the Red Hat Challenge 2013 was won by Chia Yong Xiang from Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore. The first runner-up was Sun Zi Qian from Shandong Agricultural University, China; and Chen Mao Qing from Taipei Chien Hsin University, Taiwan, secured the second runner-up position.