Monday, July 14, 2008

The Path of a Life in Technology...


Stormy Peters, the new Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, penned an interesting blog post today on how she got started in the computer field.

Reading through it, I was struck by how similar some of the aspects of her beginnings in the industry were to mine. It is kind of scary actually. :) I fell in love with using an Apple IIe in the A/V room of my high school, and found every excuse I could to go down there between classes and at lunch to play with 'peek' and 'poke' (and yes, write everyone's favorite BASIC program which loops the phrase 'I'm awesome' forever). :) The fascination of holding data and programs on a 5 1/4 floppy drive was something I'll never forget. I too 'graduated' to IBM PC's, and wrote some early graphics programs (but, they looked kind of hokey on the 'green screen' monochrome monitors). I was very fortunate, in those early days, to know that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I had several choices for colleges, among them, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, and UC San Diego. I almost went to San Diego, but when I found out that you had to pay extra for any computer time you used above your 'allotment', I instead chose Cal Poly, and that turned out to be the better choice anyway, as they focused on 'learn by doing', forever setting my future path of valuing the ability to 'get things done', rather than incessantly theorizing about how to do them. Unlike Stormy, I waited until I got to college to get 'in trouble' in computer class. :) I learned to really love BSD Unix (remember, this was pre-Linux), and became a system administrator/backup person for the school's library system. As such, I ended up with a ton of practical experience in the Unix operating system. The 'trouble' came when I was the only one raising my hand to answer questions in my 'Theory of Operating Systems' class. Eventually, my professor stopped calling on me, but he was a great guy who let me go off and do advanced projects after I'd finished the normal course work.

For those of you old enough to remember Usenet news groups (you youngsters can relate by mapping 'Usenet' to 'MySpace without the graphics' in your lexicon), that was my first exposure to the 'Open Source Ethos'. Now, 'Open Source' as a concept hadn't been born yet, but the idea of folks sharing code/ideas/algorithms/information was prevalent in those early newsgroups (as was the occasional flame war). During the latter half of my college experience, the Internet started to become more 'mainstream', and while it led to the boom that helped propel all of our careers, I started to miss the collaborative aspects that Usenet had held.

Thankfully, it wasn't too long after I'd graduated that the Open Source movement started taking hold. As I've grown more 'seasoned' (note - not 'older'), I've learned to balance the pragmatics of the 'business world' with the passion and fun that the Open Source community brings to the table. I no longer code as much as I once did, but I'm excited about the future of my career helping bridge the gap between business folks and technologists. Keeping one foot in both camps can be a bit tricky at times, but I think it is incredibly rewarding.

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