|By Heidi Dailey, March 2006|
Our first highlighted OpenSolaris Champion, Ben Rockwood, is passionate about the OpenSolaris community. A native Californian, born and raised just north of Silicon Valley, this diverse developer is a Senior UNIX System Administrator for Homestead.com, Founder and CEO of Cuddletech, and an active participant in the OpenSolaris community. Rich Sands, lead columnist for the Sun Community Champions Program, asked if I'd interview Ben as a guest columnist and I jumped at the chance. It's clear to me that Ben Rockwood is a guy who maximizes his time and his talents. Lucky for the OpenSolaris community, he chooses to spend much of his time and talent there.
I'd like to know a bit about your education, training, interests. How did you get to where you are now?
I'm self taught. I grew up just north of the Silicon Valley and when I was in my second year of college the big tech boom hit and everyone and everybody was getting work whether they were good or not. The point of school is to get a job, right? So I dropped out and got hired at MCI Systemhouse, and I moved up the ladder through the "bubble years". I got to where I am through nearly a decade of sleepless nights. Playing, learning, documenting, and just being actively involved.
Tell us a bit about Cuddletech.
Cuddletech is my personal website, a dumping ground for things that I work on. I created the site in 1998 with the intent to create a UNIX site that was sexy, like I think UNIX systems are, not just boring text on gray. The site, like the content, is intended to be natural, simple, and to some degree, entertaining.
Let's talk about your involvement in the OpenSolaris community. Why did you get involved? What has been your greatest interest in terms of OpenSolaris?
I requested to be added into the OpenSolaris Pilot Program in October 2004 when Jim Grisanzio blogged about it. My primary focus with OpenSolaris to date has been on evangelism, documentation, and governance. There are more than a dozen parts of the project that I'd enjoy coding on more actively but currently I think growing the community is the most effective way to establish a well rounded and exciting project.
What have been the biggest challenges and benefits of using OpenSolaris so far?
The biggest challenge is managing time. The project is (publicly) less than a year old and already just keeping track of what's happening in all the different communities and projects is a daunting task. We're all working together to find solutions which allow every one to stay as informed as possible, but it's a learning process for all of us.
The benefits are clear. I can peak under the hood of Solaris any time I need to, talk to the developers who wrote it, contribute fixes and improvements to it, and do it all without having to be someone special. Anyone off the street can just hop right in without signing your life away to Sun Legal or waiting behind a velvet rope. For example, a few weeks ago I was doing some LDAP work and had some trouble getting Solaris and my LDAP server to play together just right. In the past I'd have to call Sun Support and escalate a ticket with hopes that someone knew what to do, but now I have the ability to look up the LDAP code using OpenSolaris' OpenGrok. Within seconds I found the exact code I needed to explain the behavior I was seeing and I had corrected it minutes later.
What project do you think holds the most promise?
It is the community itself that holds the most promise. The ability to get involved wherever you choose, coder or not, and to be able to drive new projects that are tailored to your interests and needs.
How does the OpenSolaris community differ from other development communities?
The big difference is that we're working with an established corporate engineering team. The engineers at Sun are now not just staff engineers for Sun Microsystems Inc., but they are also core contributors to the OpenSolaris project. Many of these engineers have more than 10 years of experience working with and developing the platform, while many of us "on the outside" are working to catch up. Because of this we still aren't seeing a lot of external contributions, but Sun engineers are helping us throughout the adjustment process and we're seeing more and more contributions all the time.
One of the distinct advantages of this is that the community was seeded with the developers that built Solaris in the first place and who are employed full time to work on it. External contributors have the ability to tap that pool of knowledge by simply sending mail to a community mailing list. Additionally, universities and enthusiasts who are seeking to explore enterprise code and processes have an ability to look right into the heart of one of Silicon Valley's most influential engineering houses and learn from the experts.
Wow. That said, how do I get involved with OpenSolaris?
Just dig your fingers in and go! There is a place for anyone and everyone, from support, to evangelism, to governance, to tools, to integration, to kernel hacking, and on and on. And, in the unlikely event that you don't see something that excites you, just propose your idea the OpenSolaris-Discuss mailing list. Start at OpenSolaris.org and take a look at all the various communities, join mailing lists, read blogs, download the OpenSolaris source and all the tools that you need at no cost. The most important thing about any project is that its both fun and rewarding, and OpenSolaris provides hundreds of opportunities for both.
What do you hope to see happen in the near future? What do you dream about?
That Sun will soon release their iSCSI target implementation and Oracle will finally get Oracle 10g R2 for X86 out the door! Other than that, I dream about having coffee with my wife every night... I'm a simple guy.
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