Meet Thim Chanrithy: the Linus Torvalds of Cambodia

Eighteen-year-old Thim Chanrithy is now in Vietnam’s Cantho province for three months, writing software he proposed to the coding giant, Google, to make open-source software more portable. That idea has special applications in Cambodia, where the Internet is not widely used but where the movement of software from disc to disc is still useful. Thim Chanrithy is the first Cambodian to earn the $5,000 stipend for Google’s “Summer of Code.”

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The annual competition lets talented computer science students write code for open source projects. In this case, Thim Chanrithy can use the time and money to write a proposed “appshell,” a utility that would make Linux programs portable. Linux is an open-source coding program generally downloaded from the Internet.

“Any Linux system makes it difficult for normal users to install applications,” he told me recently. “Users have to install new software over the Internet.”

But low Internet penetration in Cambodia is a barrier to Linux users. So he wants to create a small bit of software that would make Linux applications more portable, so that they can be stored on discs or USB memory sticks. That will mean people don’t need the Internet to install them.

Thim Chanrithy, who is known in Cambodian programming circles for his work on the operating system MoonOS, has already posted pictures on Facebook showing off packages from Google, including an activated Visa credit card that will help him in his travels.

While Thim Chanrithy is sure other Cambodians were competitive for the program, he hopes it will be a life-changer for him.

“If possible, I want to work at Google,” Thim Chanrithy said. “I know the company has many open source software development projects.”

The programmer is now at work on another project, making Khmer standard scripts that can work on Android, Google’s mobile operating system.

“I think this Google grant would bring creditability to me and my university,” he said. “For other students, while they can earn a certificate from the US corporation, they also gain invaluable experience by working alongside foreign mentors.”

“I want to run an open-source software development group and work on making educational software for Cambodian users,” he added. “I hope the group can organize an annual summit that invites computer programmers from around the world to exchange knowledge here in Cambodia.”

This blog post was first appeared in Voice of America site (VOA Khmer Service).