A curiosity and career in open source

How I landed a job in open source

Posted 30 Jan 2015 by 

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I have been working in the computer business for over 40 years, but the best years have been the last 17 or so working with Linux and open source software. I got into the computer business unintentionally and kind of sideways, but that is a whole other story. I'll tell you about how I got into open source and Linux semi-intentionally and also kind of sideways.

I got started in computers in 1969 when I convinced the company I was working for to purchase an Olivetti Programma 101—one of the first programmable desktop calculators—to assist me with my calculation-intensive job. Soon after that, I spent 21 years with IBM, first as a Customer Engineer (CE) fixing hardware. I then spent some time in Boca Raton, Florida where I wrote the training course for CEs on how to fix the first IBM PC. Later, I spent time as the lead support person for IBM's OS/2 operating system.

After leaving IBM I had my own consulting company helping customers with OS/2. It was enjoyable but I could see by the mid 90's that IBM was going to let OS/2 die. I really liked working at the operating system level but did not want to go the Windows route. One day a friend who worked for a large international company here in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina called me looking for someone to help them with their OS/2 systems. To make a long story short, I eventually took a full time job working for that company on the condition that I be allowed to learn Unix, which they also used to a great extent.

I did take a few Solaris classes and even became a Sun Certified Systems Engineer, but during that time I started hearing about Linux. I could not afford to have a Sun box at home and thought I could use Linux to learn more about the Unix environment. That was certainly true, but I ended up discovering that Linux could be an end in itself. I really decided quickly that Linux was the wave of the future, so over a few weeks I converted all of my computers to Linux. I switched over completely to force myself to learn how to do things in Linux rather than reverting to OS/2 with which I was very familiar.

Things broke—actually it was me breaking things, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. And I learned how to fix them, in the process learning more Linux architecture and commands. Ultimately, that led to a few months as an instructor at Red Hat, where I earned my RHCE. After that I spent 5 years at the State of North Carolina working on the email system. I was responsible for writing and maintaining the Perl CGI scripts that provided the administrative user interface to that email system. The administrative interface ran on a small PC with Red Hat Linux.

That job led to a few years at Cisco where I spent about half my time using TCL/Expect to write test programs for Linux based appliances, and the other half as a System Administrator in the lab. I spent a lot of time writing automation programs in BASH for the lab in addition to the test scripts.

I now have my own business again, Millennium Technology Consulting LLC, that provides Linux training and consulting for small businesses in the central North Carolina region. I find this very rewarding, and I can be very selective about the jobs I take on. If there is one thing I have discovered about myself and virtually everyone else I know who have landed jobs in open source, it is that they always have spent a lot of time learning about it on their own.

I think that is, at least in part, due to our very inquisitive nature. We always want to know more. We want to find ways to make that bit of code better, faster, more general, more efficient, smaller, or whatever it may be. For us, it is the journey as much as it is the end. And for many of us, like myself, open source is also a hobby. I spend my time on my own various open source projects the way that some people golf, or sail, or climb mountains. It is where I prefer to spend the majority of my time.

6 Comments

Arjen Balfoort

Thank you for sharing your story.
Would you like to write another article on your current activities? I'm especially interested how you would relate open source with your clients business models and strategy.

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dboth

I am actually planning an article or two on working with clients and Open Source Software. I hope to have one of those articles in a couple weeks or so.

Thanks!

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Arjen Balfoort

I'm looking forward to reading them.

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Don Watkins

Thanks for your story David! I love it and I too spent a lot of time learning on my own using older computers that no one else wanted. Like you I learned the hard way by breaking things and then learning how to fix them.

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John Navratil

"Olivetti Programma 101"

The first machine I programmed as well. My classmate programmed a rudimentary golf game on it. Gaming, it seems, is ubiquitous.

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dboth

Actually, Unix was originally written to run the game "Space Travel" when the Multics project was shut down. So yes, you are very correct. Gaming seems to drive much of the development in the computer industry.

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David Both is a Linux and Open Source advocate who resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. He has been in the IT industry for over forty years and taught OS/2 for IBM where he worked for over 20 years. While at IBM, he wrote the first training course for the original IBM PC in 1981. He has taught RHCE classes for Red Hat and has worked at MCI Worldcom, Cisco, and the State of North Carolina. He has been working with Linux and Open Source Software for almost 20 years. David has written articles