Open Source Deb

Last month, Microsoft surprised many people by announcing they are changing their .NET framework to be open source *and* cross platform. It’s a remarkable sea change for the tech behemoth that built a global empire steeped in the spirit of closed gates and proprietary code. Their new attitude speaks to how the world has changed in the past 15 to 20 years.

We all benefit from shared discoveries
We all benefit from shared discoveries

It reminds me of my own gradual evolution towards transparency and living a more open and exposed life, even as every new spate of headlines chronicles the pain caused by corporate data breaches, the doxxing of celebrities and private citizens alike, and the viral nature of human foibles that is the social sphere of the internet these days. Having grown up in the time before everyone had 24-hour access to one another, I always valued and guarded my privacy. As an Army broadcaster, one of the first tenets I learned at DINFOS (the Defense Information School) is that I should consider the mic “always on,” so I ensured my public utterances were fit for public consumption and would never bring embarrassment to myself or Uncle Sam. I have worked in other data-sensitive careers and have been responsible for the personally-identifying-information of many other people, from Social Security Disability claimants to victims of severe identity theft. I am keenly aware of the impact the loss of control over one’s personal information can bring (whether it be identifying data or simply personal brand or messaging.)

In recent years I have marveled at the way in which it seems many young people have little concern over the permanence of their every internet move. I know they realize that nothing is ever truly deleted, and yet they post photos and comments with which I suspect they may not want to be associated in the future. Then again, that could just be the bluster and exuberance of youth itself. I know I spoke more freely and with more (unearned) authority back before I learned how big and small the world really is. I just didn’t have the internet and a global community of strangers at my fingertips to act as my friends and provocateurs.

But now open source beckons, with its truly communal mechanics, its spirit of shared contribution and benefit. I sincerely appreciate the opportunities it affords, even while I steel my resolve as a new coder to have any work I may contribute evaluated and surely found wanting or begging for improvement. That daunting aspect is also the key to its beauty; of course the code can be improved. In my understanding, that is the very point of open source. (Is this what is meant by the wisdom of crowds? That our work is at its best when it is the product of many different perspectives and skills?) This system also lends a vitality to every coding project, as it is by necessity bigger, more permanent, than the work of any one person could ever be. Open source projects live on past their originators.
While this way of creating code has existed for many years, it is a philosophy that seems to be reaching critical mass if even Microsoft has finally embraced the inevitable. For myself and my own evolution, I look forward to finding a sweet spot, a balance between greater exposure and continued caution when either feels right.

A First Day of Firsts

It’s the first of December, and while we are all gearing up for the end of another 12-month cycle in our lives, I enjoyed an enormous rush of fresh, new energy all day long. It was the first day of a new month, which is always full of promise, no matter how late in the year. Despite the very frigid wind here in Portland, it remained sunny for the ever-briefer hours of daylight we received.

It was the first day of Hack Summit, the world’s largest-ever virtual technical conference, featuring dozens of tech celebrities and teachers, many of whom I’ve been following for a while and some who seem likely to become enduring inspirations.

Woman studies alone
Learning alone, among the vast and populated universe.

It was a full day of live presentations and Q&A sessions with such tech luminaries as Scott Hanselman, (who now works for Microsoft and totally rocked his multi-platform demonstration of Azure using a Mac to deploy AspNet vNext apps to Linux docker containers.)*
I was especially impressed with the last speaker of the day, Sarah Allen, the Co-creator of After Effects among many, many other accomplishments. She took us down memory lane to the not-too-distant past when software shipped on floppy disks and came with thick, printed manuals. (I remember! I still have some in dusty boxes atop closet or attic shelves. When The Disturbance comes and the Cloud dissipates, I will still be able to play Zork.) Sarah’s presentation explored how much the world…and tech…and us as people have changed since those days. What really excited me was her vision for how we as coders effect societal change and human behavior with the software and tech we create. It’s a significant responsibility that should not be taken lightly nor without deep and collaborative forethought. She ended her talk with this advice: With every line of code you type, think about what you want to happen when somebody runs it. Seems simple enough, but through her examples of work she has done with virtual volunteers at the Smithsonian and 18F, the U.S. Government’s Midas project that is bringing crowd-sourcing to civic goals, we can see that the user experience is truly what breathes life into our work. Among her words ripe to become hashtags, she reminded us that #yourappisnotyourcode. We need to remember the audience.

She was asked about her experience as a woman in tech, and she spoke of the field’s origins at the hands of talented women (a history of which many people today aren’t aware), and said that if her first years of programming had not been such an amazing experience, she would not have wanted to continue. She also championed RailsBridge, the wildly-successful global workshops and meetups she co-founded to help foster diversity in the world of code.

All of the sessions were interesting and full of great information, and I am grateful to have been able to experience all of the day’s talks live via the internet. (It was a multitasking kind of day. I even tweeted to @hack_summit that they had finally given me a reason to use the multi-window feature on my phone. I was able to keep the conference up all day in one window and still take care of my personal business in the other, all on the go.)

There are three days of Hack Summit() remaining, with a great line-up ahead. To be honest, even though I suppose networking at this event takes more initiative and creativity, it’s the kind of conference that suits me. All of the knowledge and none of the travel/expense/small talk/nightlife. (Still, paying attention all day has rendered me bone-tired — though in my defense, I did run 4 miles on the treadmill, study for an upcoming class, shop for needed supplies, fed and coddled the cats, and cleaned the house at the same time, all with one eye on the live video feed.)

On this day of firsts I accomplished quite a bit, not least of which is this post, the very first entry on this blog. Creating this online journal is an endeavor I’ve been putting off for months, no – make that about 20 years, going back to 1994 when I first opened a Prodigy account and set course for cyberspace on what they were calling the Information Super Highway. In an upcoming post I’ll explain what took me so long to pull-over and make camp here. It will be nice to get to know my new neighbors.

*I confess to understanding only parts of that sentence. But I did witness the feat live on the internet, so I suppose that lends me some much-needed street cred.