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The Power of Ignorance: Turning What You Don’t Know Into an Advantage

I’m ignorant. There, I said it.

It feels great to get that off my chest. I started a new role at Autodesk 8 months ago, knowing next to nothing about 3D design, additive manufacturing, CFD, BIM, or even the company's flagship products like AutoCAD.

Why am I in such a celebratory mood about this? Because this very lack of knowledge, plus what seems like a lifetime in open source & community, has prepared me to look at things from a different (and much wider) perspective. This is an important component of my job, and I believe nearly anyone can learn a lot from this approach. Anthony K. Tjan said it best in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article:

If desperation is the mother of innovation, then ignorance might be its father.

Let me be clear that ignorance is the starting point, and if you never move past that, it does you no good. But, ignorance, combined with a drive to become enlightened, is the recipe for mastery of anything. Learning how to ask great questions is key in this…

Polishing Cars Wasn't In My Job Description

­"Whose turn is it to prep the JavaCar demo?" I asked my colleague. As I suspected, the answer was, "Yours!"

However, I wasn't too disappointed, as I was happy to show off what my team at Sun Microsystems Labs had built. Our JavaCar was well ahead of its time—a vehicle testbed for in-car networking, telematics, and infotainment, all before those concepts existed in the mainstream.

So, I set about carefully starting the demo, as well as using a spray bottle to give the vehicle a quick wipedown before showing the car to another set of visiting executives. As I was doing this, I suddenly thought back over the past six months of development—we were a three-person team inside of the research organization, yet we'd garnered code contributions from over 15 different individuals throughout multiple teams in the company to make this demo a reality.

While I didn't think too much more about it that day, that project had propelled me into a career in open source.

Aim to Be an Open Source Zero

My two biggest dreams growing up were to be either a firefighter or a space explorer. Though I didn’t get to do either of those things, I satisfy the former via being a volunteer in prevention with Cal Fire, California’s state fire department, and the latter by reading everything I can get my hands on about space—both fiction and non-fiction.

I recently picked up Col. Chris Hadfield’s book about life as an astronaut, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, and began reading it during one of my international trips to Asia.

Besides being a fascinating read (I highly recommend it), it has also been enlightening as I think about how I can do my own job better and counsel internal developers and Samsung as a whole on doing a better job in open source.
Aim to be a zero In chapter 9 of the book, Hadfield writes:
“In any new situation…you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral an…

Does Your Community Shine in Bad Times?

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I've built several communities and been a part of many others during the course of my career, including some that have nothing to do with software and technology.

Unfortunately, two communities I've been a part of have recently suffered devastating losses.  Not long ago, I wrote about my friend Greg Junell, and what he meant to a community of college kids who've now grown up and gone on to do many amazing things.  Just this past Saturday, my Cal Fire community lost an amazing member in the line of duty, Chief Rob Van Wormer.  He was the head of the fire prevention battalion at the Cal Fire Santa Clara Unit, which includes the group I volunteer with - the Volunteers in Prevention (VIPs).  The chief was a vocal and strong supporter of our volunteer team, and the many functions we perform for the department, including emergency radio communications, fire lookout staffing, public education programs, and media center operations (fielding calls during a major fire).


My Badge Shr…

In Memorium - Greg Junell

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"You never forget your first _____"

This phrase, with the blank filled in, is often used while looking back fondly at something you experienced that still touches your soul - and so, it's true of me today as I reflect on the loss of an amazing person - Greg Junell.  Who, you might be asking, is Greg Junell?


Greg Junell - 2011

Greg was and still is the heart and soul of my very first experience with community.  We didn't call it 'community' back then, but looking back on it now, the slo.punks was the first community I can remember being welcomed into with no reservations.  When you are a teenager away from home for the first time, experiencing college at a very competitive school like Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, life can be scary, awkward, and downright difficult.  Though 'The Punks' (think Cyberpunk, not punk rock) didn't have formal leadership per se, Greg was the closest thing they had to a community shepherd.

Even now, I think back to meeting hi…

Finding Your Community Magic

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'Festival Magic'

I've heard this phrase for the past 8 years while serving with an amazing group of 4000 volunteers who put on the Gilroy Garlic Festival - lauded by most as the premier food and entertainment festival on the West Coast.  While the saying started out as a bit of a joke to explain how things get done, the reality is those two words are the bedrock of an annual event that has been taking place for almost 35 years.



The history of the festival is long and storied - this video gives a great overview.  However, the elements behind the concept of 'Festival Magic' are applicable to communities of all types, whether it's open source software development, social media communities, or affinity groups.  This 'magic' isn't really all that magical - it breaks down to the following main ideas:
Empower Everyone to Lead Gilroy Garlic Festival volunteers are expected to lead (and follow) at all levels of the organization.  Even the most junior volunte…

Confessions of an Open Source Community Pragmatist

I just recently wrote a post talking about job titles, which got me thinking of how I would classify my current career role.  That, combined with other discussions which have been happening inside the walls of my employer, made me realize that the best way to describe myself would be as an Open Source Community Pragmatist.

I can see the heads shaking, the puzzled looks, and even the sighs from some of my colleagues who are a bit more on the idealistic side when it comes to these topics.  Let me assure you, I have total respect for those folks who make everything they do in life about the ideology - it's just not the path I've chosen for my career, and here's why:

The vast majority of the day-to-day work of society & business happens between the ideological extremes:
Conservatives vs. liberalsProprietary vs. open source softwareEmacs vs. vi (a little inside joke for my technology readers) Does this mean that we don't need the extremes?  No, I think they need to exis…