A Hobby Takes Hold
Well… I guess I failed at entering retail management. That’s where I was headed when I fell backwards into Information Technology. I got lucky when I was offered a job in the industry without any real professional technology experience. One of my good friends knew that I had filled up the spare bedroom in my apartment with computers and played with them in my spare time, and asked about positions without me prompting him to do it. I was able to speak intelligently enough about various topics to get past a technical interview and have the company take a chance on me. It was definitely a non-traditional beginning to a career in IT.
A Start in Building Automation
Providing local server, network, desktop and technician laptop support to the engineers at a building automation company, I started to get more involved in development by scripting tool installation, system configurations and common fixes for issues. Building automation is all about taking action on physical things through software. HVAC systems, fire safety and security systems – taking information from the environment and doing something with it. Automation can be powerful when the data harvested from the real world is turned into decision trees with purpose. Moving into a more customer-facing role, I focused on integrating control systems with IT networks and even wrote some custom applications which integrated weather data and demand response programs into the control logic for large campuses.
Curiosity to Contribution
My curiosity has definitely always been driven by my desire to automate anything and everything. Maybe it’s the boredom associated with doing the same thing over and over again, or just a fundamental laziness… but I absolutely hate manual processes. Developing scripts to ease the chore of any repeatable process, especially those that result in predictable outcome, drives me to learn new things as I find more areas to automate. My first formal automation framework was Puppet. It was a good choice for the environment I was working in at the time, and it also prompted my first foray into open source as a contributor. Ultimately, this led me to the SALT community.
While working in cloud consulting, focused on automating Big Data systems for use by precise and rigorous data scientists, I was introduced to the SALT project by some very technical and esteemed mentors. I began writing states and formulas using SALT, discovering edge cases in the code where I could contribute. In 2017, I attended my first SaltConf and signed up for an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with senior leadership, in this case my choice was none other than Thomas Hatch. The coordinators for the meeting asked me to outline the topics I’d like to cover, and not really having a clear agenda, I wrote “winging it” in the portion of the intake form that justified meeting him. He joked when we first met, “Who’s winging it? Am I winging it? Are you winging it? Are we talking about winging it in general?” I’m not sure if he knows it, but he sort of became my accidental mentor. He recommended a book to me, “The Manager’s Path” by Camille Fournier, when I asked him how one moves from being a technical contributor to eventually land in the C-Suite. Fast forward, his words proved worthy.
Filling a Gap
One of our cloud computing clients was looking to automate a bunch of infrastructure in Azure using SALT, and many of the capabilities they needed weren’t available in SALT at the time. I dug into the code for weeks, making sweeping changes to the Azure cloud provider and writing all of the Azure execution and state modules now found within the codebase. I then spent time supporting it from an open source community perspective. In 2019, the SALT project team formalized many working groups and an opening became available to me as the Cloud Working Group Captain. This led to an opportunity to port the Azure code from SALT into the newly launched Idem project at the behest of Tom himself.
A Prestigious Honor
At the annual user conference for Salt, called SaltConf, a member of the community who has been particularly impactful and involved in the Salt community is highlighted. In an open source community of over 10k members, only one of those community members are chosen by the community itself to receive the coveted Community Champion award. This award is given during the keynote at SaltConf and the winner receives a trophy, a variety of swag and the honor of being included in this select group of community volunteers. The Salt Community Champion is mentioned and honored many times throughout the year in various Salt meetings and community gatherings. I am extremely grateful to have been selected as the Community Champion for 2020.
“It’s true what they say about how good it feels to be in service to others.”
An Epiphany: I’ve Matured into a “Joiner”
This journey has had an immense impact on me, personally. While I have always thought of myself as an independent contributor, I have been pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy being involved in the open source community and other communities as a leader and volunteer. Working with others and assisting with code challenges has allowed me to enrich my interpersonal skills and to truly enjoy the experience of community involvement. Pooling resources together to solve problems is far more efficient than trying to overcome issues on your own. It’s true what they say about how good it feels to be in service to others.