The power of a story. I first wrote about this 7 years ago in a series I titled Lessons from a Two Year Old. But it is a reality as old as time itself – humans are wired for stories. We enjoy listening to them, telling them, and they help us to relate to others and to remember things.
And everyone has a story to tell – many of which haven’t been told yet.
Our own Mark Miller is working on sharing the previously untold stories of the people in open source. He has a unique gift for pulling stories out of people and showcasing what made each person who they are today and how their journey resulted in some of the top open source projects of all time. Each person is making a positive difference in our world, and each one has their own unique journey.
Mark will be sharing these stories in our upcoming, aptly named podcast, The Untold Stories of Open Source. It will be formally launched at the Open Source Summit North America and OpenSSF Day in June, but you are in luck and he has soft-launched with his first episode, telling the story of Brian Behlendorf, General Manager of the OpenSSF. But, Brian had quite the journey before his role at OpenSSF and that story is now being told.
Like myself, Brian was coming of age when PCs were being introduced to the world, Oregon Trail was the game of choice (okay, it was about the only game), and the Internet was still a project at the National Science Foundation. Brian’s parents worked in the science and technology field – they even met at IBM. His father was a COBOL programmer, which gave Brian a look into the world of programming. Imagining a life of coding in basements, away from people, is why he decided against majoring in computer science. I can relate – we both started college in the fall of 1991, and, I too, decided against majoring in computer science because I envisioned a future of myself, a computer, a pot of coffee, and little social interaction.
The Internet was just getting introduced to the world in 1991 – and Brian, like all incoming freshmen at the University of California – Berkeley, received an email address. With this, he connected with others who shared a common interest in R.E.M. and 4AD and the rave scene around San Francisco. He built a mailing list around this shared interest. Yada…yada… The first issue of Wired magazine mesmerizes Brian in 1993.
Turns out one of the friends Brian met in his music community was working at Wired to get it – well wired. It started as a print newsletter (ironically). His friend, Jonathan, reached out and hired Brian for $100/week to help them get back issues online. Unlike today’s iconic, stunning design, it was black text on a white background.
Besides just digitizing previously published content, Brian helped produce digital-only content. A unique approach back then. It was one of the first ad-supported websites – hotwired.com. Brian jokes, “I like to say I put the first ad-banner on the web, and I have been apologizing for it ever since.”
As Brian worked on the content, he had a vision of publishing books online. But, turns out, back then publishers didn’t have the budgets to devote to web content. But bigger brands, looking to advertise on Hotwired, did, and they needed to have a website to point to. So he joined Organic, a web design firm, as CTO at the ripe age of 22. They build the websites for some of the first advertisers on Hotwired like Club Med, Volvo, Saturn cars, Levis, Nike, and others.
Back then, Wired and the sites Organic built all ran on a web server software developed by students at the University of Illinois, in the same lab that developed the NCSA Mosaic browser. Long before the term open source was coined, software running the web almost always included the source code. Brian notes there was an unwritten code (pun intended) that if you find a bug, you were morally obligated to fix it and push the code upline so that everyone had it. He and a group of students started working on further developing the browser. Netscape bought the software, which halted ongoing student support for the browser. Although the code remains open. Brain and others kept updating the code, and they decided to change the name since it was a new project. Because it was a group of patches, they chose the name Apache Web Server (get it – a patchy server). It now runs an estimated 60% of all web servers in the world.
As interesting as Brian’s story is to this point – I really just scratched the surface. Mark’s first episode of the podcast shares the rest, from founding Collab.net to a medical records system in Rwanda to working at the White House to his roles at Hyperledger and now OpenSSF and more.
Okay – I have said too much. No real spoilers. You can listen to the full episode now on Spotify. (more platforms coming soon).
Mark has been recording and stitching together episodes all year. I look forward to listening. Look for the formal launch, and several new episodes, at Open Source Summit North America and OpenSSF Day on June 20, 2022.