When I was a kid, all I wanted to be was a rock star. I wanted to play guitar, get up on stage, and have everyone scream while I cranked out some hard rockin’ tune. I wanted to see lighters held up in the crowd as I finished my last set – dripping with sweat, completely tired, and no energy left. Leave it all on the stage – that’s what I wanted. My friends all felt the same – we talked about it all the time.
Well, that never happened. Instead I went to college and spent more time in the computer center than I did at parties. The only thing I cranked out was code. Later, I got a job writing software and I’ve been working with computers ever since.
While I still listen to a lot of music and have Gigs of tunes on my iPod, my dreams of being a rock star have faded. I still think about them once in a while, but more than that, I now think about open source. So do a bunch of my friends – we talk about it all the time.
I met a guy at the Softpro computer book store off Route 128 in Burlington, MA, a while ago. (I hang out there now instead of the record shop.) He writes financial applications for a mutual fund company in Boston. All he wanted to talk about was JBoss. He’d spent some time working on the JMS implementation but had gotten too busy to continue. He wanted to get back involved as soon as he could. All those people who were building the latest JBoss – he wanted to be one of them.
In his eyes I saw the same stars I used to have. I used to think that way about Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. I wanted to be one of them. When I was younger, I ran out to buy the latest Led Zeppelin album – now I run out to get the latest build of Gentoo or Hula.
Open source developers are the rock stars of the software world. The parallels actually go pretty far. You can say they don’t get the money and fame, but I think you’re wrong. The average open source developer probably makes more at his or her job than most local musicians make. I’ve met open source developers who have founded software companies and are doing pretty well financially. As far as fame goes, they may not do quite as well as real rock stars but some do pretty well; Linus Torvalds is fairly famous, but I guess not like Kurt Cobain.
They’re also usually the most talented developers. Rock stars get where they are in the music world by being great musicians; open source rock stars get where they are by writing great code.
Naming their projects is a lot like naming their bands. When you hear people talking about Subversion, Ethereal, or Excalibur (all open source projects), it’s hard to tell if they mean software projects or rock bands.
A good friend of mine called me once and went on for 30 minutes about how he was submitting a patch to the Jakarta Struts project (a JSP framework from the Apache Software Foundation). His patch would allow you to define validations for one input field based on the value of some other field (e.g., if you fill in a last name, make sure you fill out a first name…). He was totally excited about it and went into all the details of how he built it.
After he was done telling me about it, he was almost out of breath. I reached in my pocket, pulled out a lighter, and stood there holding it lit in the air.
Leave it all on the stage.