Blog Authors: Valerie Skinner 060000VKGS is part of the IBM developerWorks team, getting to know the real developers who make up the My developerWorks community and exploring the world of social networking. I'm enjoying learning what makes developers tick! I'm very interested in exploring online communities and social media and understanding real world application - how they can help people solve problems and work together.
Interview with Chris Walden
vskinner 060000VKGS Tags:  my_developerworks interview mydw open_source developerworks 1 Comment 3,692 Views
This week, I'm bringing you an interview with Chris Walden, the new developerWorks Open Source zone editor who is doing quite a bit of interesting work around open source software on My developerWorks. Learn more about Chris and join in on the open source software collaboration by visiting: his profile, his blog, the Real World Open Source wiki, and the Real World Open Source group.
Tell me about yourself and what you're currently working on...
I've been into technology all of my life. My father spent his life in the electronic manufacturing end so I had access to things like calculators (when the were driven by red LED displays) and other gadgets as they came along. I tinkered with programming starting in High School because a friend of mine had an Apple IIe. I had an idea early on that computers were about problem-solving.
My technical career began on the support queue at CompuAdd where I quickly developed the skill of cutting away possibilities and zeroing in on the source of the problem. This was back when memory was $10 a meg and you actually tried to fix them rather than always throwing them away. From there I moved to a value-added reseller doing field support, which was invaluable. I spent time as a sysadmin for a couple of small companies, running mostly Novell and Windows NT. I spent time with the Texas Lottery Commission and then finally at IBM, starting as an architect and then moving into the editorial staff of developerWorks.
The editorial work has been a huge surprise for me. It was an opportunity that I had not expected and I've been enjoying the change of pace immensely. I've spent the last year plus working as the content acquisition editor of the Web Development zone. My role is essentially to determine what content will be useful for people who are interested in working with Internet-based technologies and causing articles on those topics to be written. I work with the author to help them refine their ideas into something that I feel will resonate with our audience and then help get the article into shape for publishing. At that point I hand it off to our talented production editors to get into final shape for posting on the web. It's very much like editing a section of a paper-based technical magazine; it simply happens to be delivered electronically.
However, this month I have moved from being editor of Web Development to editor of Open Source. I'm actually swapping with the other editor. We realized that our backgrounds and interests complimented each others' areas and so we arranged a switch. I've actually had my eye on Open Source since I moved into developerWorks so I couldn't be more excited!
Tell me about your favorite (or most interesting or challenging) IT project...
Gosh! There's been so much. I think, though, that the work project that I still think back on from time to time was the Y2K change-out at the Texas Lottery Commission. I was placed in charge of the workstations. There were several challenges. First, our biggest issue was that the stations in most need of replacement belonged to the people in the lowest strata. There was a little political fall-out about those people getting new machines while the directors had to make do with what they had. Secondly, there was no uniformity to our software. The machines were a hodgepodge of software which had been installed and managed one at a time.
My answer was that everyone would get their machine swapped. We'd start with the people at the top, then roll their machines down to the next level, and so on until the final machines fell off of the bottom. This was popular, because everyone got an upgrade. I also used the opportunity to move to an image-based approach to the operating environment. We divided the drives into operating space and personal space. People kept the data in their personal space and the operating space could be re-imaged at any time. It really cleaned up our environment and made it a lot easier to work on people's machines.
When did you first start using open source software?
I discovered open source about ten to fifteen years ago. I always struggled with the cost of keeping my home computer system going. I had access to great software in the places that I worked, but I couldn't afford to keep my home system quite so shiny. In addition, my own curiosity takes me in a lot of different places technologically. So I had a rather insatiable appetite for software, which cannot be legally satisfied commercially.
I had tinkered with Linux, but hadn't quite gotten it to work. However, I had discovered things like Pegasus email and the Netscape browser which I'd begun using. Finally, about Redhat 4, I got Linux to run and started trying to use it to do work. When I was at the Texas Lottery Commission I actually switched at some point to a Linux desktop, because we were a Novell shop and Novell was already supportive of Linux at the time. I haven't run another desktop since.
What makes you so passionate about open source?
I struggled to learn about some kinds of technology because of cost. As I said, I was curious about everything from programming to system security to graphic design and media editing. I was uncomfortable with stealing software to learn about it. However, when the software is free, you can have as much as you want. I don't have to choose a particular area of software to specialize in so I can afford it. I can get into anything and everything as my whim dictates. It's actually given me a bit of a reputation in some areas of my life outside of work as a Jack of All Trades.
To give you an idea, I've used open source projects to:
create business documents
surf the web
edit complex audio
run live sound for theatrical events
do 3D modeling and animation
touch up photos, adjusting skin, red-eye and even removing major objects from a photo
write theatrical scripts and screenplays
remotely support a network and workstations
create a full-color magazine
build and manage complex web sites
broadcast an online radio show
That's quite a list... and it's incomplete. I just love the fact that anyone who is willing to apply their mind and their time to learning something new can be rewarded. Technology is no longer just for the wealthy. It's for everyone. Anything becomes possible.
Any new technologies that you think are about to break into the big time?
I think that Cloud computing is going to be a big game changer, more than people appreciate. We are just scratching the surface on the power of virtualization. As we all become more interconnected with mobile devices and advancements in the Web 2.0 approach to doing things the resources that Cloud can provide are going to make a huge difference. Anyone will have access to the kind of technological power that was once reserved for the government and large corporations.
There are areas of encryption and identity protections that I think should be making huge strides, but are so under-appreciated except for geeks like me that they haven't really broken through. Imagine if you had near complete control of your personal information by only allowing what you wanted read by whom you wanted. Wouldn't that change the game?
What's on your list to learn about next?
That's a tough one. I'd really like to get further into multimedia production. I've gotten a little into video production, but haven't really had the time to develop any real skill there. I'd like to be able to be able to express myself better there. I'm trying to learn more about social networking, especially OpenSocial, and how this can be applied to connect people who should be connected.
Do you have any advice to share with students or new IT professionals just starting out?
Do more than just your job. If you go in and do what you're told and draw the paycheck, that's fine, but no one is going to come up and beg you to be more than you are. You may become the living example of “rising to your level of incompetence.” Be curious! Dig into the documentation and experiment with different ways of doing things. Innovate!
I progressed in my career because I was always able to reach a little further. A large part of that was the fact that I would just RTFM (read the fine material). Learn just a little more than you have to and enjoy the chances to play with technology. It's those extra discoveries which make it fun and the fun builds your passion and skill.
What do you think is something that is not commonly known about developerWorks that would benefit others?
That's a tough one. It's hard to know what people don't know. I'm going to change that around to what I think is underutilized. I think our audience doesn't take advantage of the opportunities to interact with developerWorks. They tend to quietly read the material but not jump in with a lot of comments and letters to the editor. I know that I would welcome more interaction with my audience. I think that My developerWorks falls into that category as well. It's all well and good to be a consumer, but when you actually spend a few minutes expressing yourself and sharing your wish list you help to shape what you get. It's a very open-source concept. You give a little here and there to get what you want. If you do nothing, you get what you get.
How are you using social networking today? Do you see it changing in the future?
I have mostly used social networking for personal things outside of IBM. It's only as I stepped into the editorial realm that I've appreciated the value of what social networking can provide for me professionally.
I've been on MySpace, though it was really hard for me to keep up with it. I got onto FaceBook and find myself being much more active there. It think it's because FaceBook does more to get in my face and remind me of opportunities to interact. When I see an email about a comment that someone left I'm a lot more driven to quickly give a comment back.
I'm really intrigued by the new tools in My developerWorks. I've started a Wiki and a group called Real World Open Source to help accumulate people and ideas about how to use open source solutions in our daily life.
What are some of your favorite websites/feeds/twitter accounts to follow?
Slashdot is great, of course. There's a lot of noise there sometimes, but you definitely find a core of people who are passionate about their technology. I also like to get on different lists with various kinds of news. One that I've been enjoying lately is Fast Company. It has bits of tech news with marketing analysis and other diverse business views of the world. I've had several things that I've explored as a result of one of their articles.
Most of my exploration is less driven by specific sites and more by my own searching. Google provides. I punch in what I'm curious about and it always seems to find things that are useful. What I search for is driven by whatever is happening to me today or the problems that people have to challenge me.