Devopedia: A Wikipedia for newbie developers, crafted in India

Shivam Srivastav June 16, 2017 6 min

Sometime last year, telecom industry veteran Arvind Padmanabhan wanted to develop an IoT gateway mobile app. Having learnt Javascript 15 years ago, he started researching on the internet for developments in the programming language, which he needed to work on to develop the app.

He realised he also had to learn React Native, a framework for building native apps.

“Last year, I was trying to learn React Native to design the frontend interface of a mobile app I wanted to design and develop. I also needed to revisit Javascript and found a lot has changed and I had difficulty understanding it,” Padmanabhan, 42, says.

Devopedia is “an open community platform for developers by developers to explain technology in a simple, clear and unopinionated way  

After a few Google searches, he realised there were no simple introductions to the plethora of software languages, frameworks, and technologies. To be sure, there were the likes of StackOverflow, GeeksforGeeks, CodeProject, Webopedia, HackerEarth, dev.to(), among others. But, none cut it for Padmanabhan, an engineering graduate from National University of Singapore who has worked for companies such as STMicroelectronics in past avatars. All of them, he says, addressed needs of people who were already working — not those of beginners.

Arvind Padmanabhan (second from left) at one of the meetups organised by Devopedia

He hit upon the idea of building Devopedia, an open source content platform that seeks to simplify technological topics for developers.

Padmanabhan’s first thought was to write a book on need-to-know technology topics for developers that would enable them to develop frontend or backend mobile and web apps. But he quickly changed his mind when he realised that most developers were likely to look for information online. “So, I thought let’s setup a website, and make it open source like Wikipedia,” he says.

Enter Devopedia — “an open community platform for developers by developers to explain technology in a simple, clear and unopinionated way.” The website, based on the concept of Wikipedia, aims to simplify the understanding of technology and make it accessible to new learners while simultaneously engaging with a community of contributors.

“I want Devopedia to be the first stop for a developer looking for a introduction to a topic that is new to him or her. In time, as the content on the site increases, we plan to use algorithms to categorise detailed courses in stacks and in a logical order” — Arvind Padmanabhan  

“I want Devopedia to be the first stop for a developer looking for a introduction to a topic that is new to him or her. In time, as the content on the site increases, we plan to use algorithms to categorise detailed courses in stacks and in a logical order,” he says.

Also read: Remembering Atul Chitnis, internet pioneer and fierce open source warrior

But aren’t there enough massive open online courses, also called MOOCs, around already to facilitate online learning?

“A lot of training today doesn’t address the basics; students are taught how to do a certain project or write a programme but they are not taught the basic principles of programming. There are no discussions on why they should use a particular technology over others,” says Padmanabhan.

“We want to summarise and simplify technical topics in as short format as possible” — Padmanabhan

He says the accent will be on brevity. “Wikipedia crams a lot of detail into its technical pages; its philosophy is to capture the sum total of all human knowledge, which is not our objective. We want to summarise and simplify technical topics in as short format as possible,” he says. “Developers don’t have the time to read a 10,000-page article on Wikipedia.”

He adds though the focus target audience are developers, the site can be used by others like students, managers or just people curious about technology, as well.

He believes Devopedia has the potential of being the first-of-its-kind open source movement from India that can go global.

Starting an open source movement

For Padmanabhan, Devopedia is his way of giving back to the open source community. Besides, he likes teaching and writing. His book The Infinite Bit, which chronicles the history of digital technology, went on sale in an ebook format on Amazon in 2013. He took it down six months later because he wanted to sell it for free and instead listed it on Smashwords where it is accessible to anyone.

Most articles on devopedia.org are currently written by Padmanabhan and people he knows. He organises workshops to explain to developers what the platform is about. These events also train aspiring contributors on writing and creating pages on the website.

The first meeting of Devopedia organised at the office of a food startup named Petoo in Bengaluru

Fuelled by Padmanabhan’s passion for open source, Devopedia had attracted a set of small contributors.

Take Arjun G, a data analyst and machinist. He is currently developing a Python script that extracts tweets of a particular company, analyses customer experiences of its products or services, and then classifies the responses realtime. “I am going to write the script and provide a link to the code on Devopedia. It feels good to be part of the open-source community,” he says.

“I am going to write the script and provide a link to the code on Devopedia. It feels good to be part of the open-source community” — Arjun G, a data analyst and machinist  

Another Devopedia contributor, Anu Selvam, works at Nokia Networks in Bengaluru’s Manyata Tech Park and is currently working on a automation framework for a WiFi project. “If you take StackOverflow, for example, it is just a question and answer format and blogs will have two-three pages of technical writing,” she says, adding Devopedia workshops have helped her learn new concepts.

Participants at a meeting on ‘Python’ organised by Devopedia

The community-edited Wikipedia, especially in its early years, suffered from the problem of inaccurate content, propaganda, and plain lies. Padmanabhan’s idea is to stick to factual content that leaves no room for arguments. “We have strict guidelines which do not allow pages on any individual or company on the website so as to ensure the content is true to facts and neutral in nature. You can’t, say, create a page on Intel or Linus Torvalds. We allow pages related to products — for example, we can have pages on Chrome but not on Google,” Padmanabhan says.

And, who will cover costs? Padmanabhan says he is open to advertising and sponsorship tie-ups as long as they don’t interfere with the platform’s principles. It will be a community decision, he says. “We are open to sponsored articles, but we don’t want too many ads on the website.” He plans to set up a Devopedia Foundation that will be open up for donations from those aligned to the platform’s objectives.

Padmanabhan says he is open to advertising and sponsorship tie-ups as long as they don’t interfere with the platform’s principles. It will be a community decision, he says  

The website is currently in a beta stage and Padmanabhan is optimistic about going live by September or October.

A community produced platform, especially in a niche like training for tech newbies, can take years and years to establish itself. There are exceptions such as Quora or StackExchange that have scaled up fast but the Devopedia model is different.

Still, there are two things going for Padmanbhan’s baby: one, India’s online education sector is set to grow 8x to nearly $2 billion by 2021, projections by Google and KPMG show. Two, India is set to become the largest base for software developers in the world by 2021 overtaking the US.

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Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira Photographs: Devopedia Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.