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Interview

Open-Source SourceForge's Ross Turk on Curiosity and FOSS

"Hackers in General Aren't Happy With What They've Been Giving by Someone Else"

SourceForge claims to have the largest collection of open-source tools and applications in the Wide World of the Web. With 230,000 projects registered by 2 million registered users, who am I to complain?

With such reach, maybe this interview will get slash-dotted--slashdot.org being part of the SourceForge network that reaches 30 million+ people per month--get it? :-)

Ross could have certainly talked to me about a million different things, but I tried to focus on a small amount of the big stuff that drives him. I started with a really dull question, then tried to improve as things went on...

NOW Magazine: As Director of Community, what are your main responsibilities?

Ross Turk: In a sentence: my job is to understand how people use our services, represent SourceForge, and keep my company from doing dumb things.


NOW: So how do you keep your company from doing dumb things?

Ross: Naturally, there are a lot of tasks that have to be done to accomplish that, many of which involve getting on an airplane. So I go to a lot of trade shows and talk to as many people as I can, including our users, people in the FOSS and business communities, and the media.

I also work on a few different programs for our community, like the Community Choice Awards program. Most importantly, I represent our community when we discuss the future of SourceForge.

NOW: Why are you the one person in the world who should have this job?

Ross: I used to be engineering manager for SourceForge, and it slowly dawned on us that we needed someone who could manage the relationship we have with our community. I thought it would be easier to find a good engineering manager to replace me than it would be to find someone who knew SourceForge well, understood its community dynamics, and could represent us with authenticity. So I took the job.

But to answer your question, ultimately, I don't think I'm the only person in the world who could do this job. Even though I care very passionately about open source, I understand our community, and I love what I do, there are a lot of other people who could do it well.

All the job really calls for is honesty, good communication skills, and the ability to understand where other people are coming from.

NOW: Really? That's it?

Ross: Well, I suppose that having an engineering background and being able to gracefully take a punch probably doesn't hurt.

NOW: You mentioned you have a natural curiosity about a lot of stuff. This seems to be in line with a lot of people involved in the FOSS community...

Ross: Let me answer it by first noting that The Jargon File defines a "hacker" as someone who gets delight from exploring how a system works and making it do something new. (Editor's Note: The Jargon File was created by Eric S. Raymond and can be found at http://catb.org/jargon/)

In other words, hackers in general aren't happy with what they've been given by someone else; they want to dissect it, understand it, and augment it to make it uniquely theirs. That kind of natural curiosity, augmented by the ability to transmit software and communication instantaneously, made FOSS what it is.

You know, most people are satisfied running what Microsoft, Adobe, or Apple have given them and nothing more—or at least satisfied enough not to do anything about it. People in the open source community, on the other hand, want something different. It's part of the culture of my community.

NOW: Big picture, what is it you wish to accomplish with your job and your life?

Ross: I want to help people do interesting and important things. My job is my life, so the same answer applies to both!

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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