The Lasting Impact of OSS Communities

Before I jump into the meat of this post, I want to point out that I was stumped on exactly where to publish this. I mean, discussing how PHP and open source software has helped me certainly doesn’t belong on a corporate website, right? The more I reflected, the more I was convinced it belonged here. We don’t market GForge as a “PHP company” but it is and my ties to the company are as strong as my history with the PHP Community (phpc). So here we are and off we go…

So Ben Ramsey hit my twitter feed with his response to this post:

To Ben’s point, I haven’t been active in the phpc since I came to work on GForge a decade ago and to get mentioned in this list of people, all of whom I respect, felt good. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my path and the impact that PHP and OSS had in hopes others see the real value in those relationships.

To help set the tone here was my actual response to Ben:

My relationship with PHP started around 1999 when it was still in its infancy, back when Zend was a new company, when MySQL didn’t support foreign keys and when installing Linux was relatively painful.  Back then the internet was all dial-up and I had a mini-tower PC running a version of Slackware that I literally peeled out of the back of a book on Slackware. In those days I was kidless and had just started my career and I wanted to learn as much as I could about things like Linux, Apache, networking and DNS. Being a software guy, it was a natural decision to try and setup my own website.

This day and age, all of that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I mean it’s been a long time since I touched bare metal and if I need a blog, well, there are websites for that. Yet still, that decision set me on a path that I would have found unbelievable back then.

With the server setup I wanted to find an open source CMS solution and stumbled on Geeklog. Geeklog is an open source, LAMP-based CMS and at the time was lead by Jason Whittenburg. I’ve learned that open source projects are really about relationships and it wasn’t long after meeting Jason that he had me making contributions to the project before eventually handing me the project a few years later. During the next decade or so I had the chance to learn how to run an open source project and, just as important, I learned how to leverage my work professionally. How exactly?

Probably the most frivolous was I started and sold an outdoors-based community website running Geeklog. This proved to me that I could build something a company valued enough to buy it but more importantly it proved that PHP was maturing and was nearly ready for primetime.

Fast forward to 2003, I took a position in State government to help lead software development. Everything our team built was in Java and IBM DB2.  Development was slow, you couldn’t run both Java & DB2 on workstation hardware back then which meant the development feedback loop was painfully slow. Thankfully I had bosses that “got it” and by about 2005 we deployed our first LAMP-based system to production. As much as I’d like to take credit for the change, Facebook’s launch put PHP into the spotlight. It was then that I recall seeing legitimate jobs for PHP’ers and software consulting firms that could find us PHP resources to augment our team. Around the same time PHP conferences started popping up not only giving the phpc a voice but allowing someone like me, in Iowa, the chance to meet many of the great people who have influenced me over the years.

While all that was going on with my work in State government, we were constantly improving our software delivery processes and tools. We went from VisualAge for Java and ClearCase to a workstation running CVS and Bugzilla to buying GForge. Back then, GForge just made the shift to a commercial-only license but we got the source code, mostly PHP, and over the years we provided a number of patches back. All of this lead to the opportunity for me to buy GForge. That opportunity was a classic case of “luck favors the prepared” but I can say my experience with Linux, OSS and the phpc made this possible.

The takeaway I want to leave you with is simple. The value of the any community is in the relationships you form. Strong relationships in the phpc can help you with more than Building Better Software. Those relationships can open up future opportunities both professionally and personally.  So while I haven’t been active in the phpc, it is still a part of who I am, a part of this company and this serves a reminder that I need to rekindle some of those relationships. To that end, I’d love to hear from others like me to tell their stories and encourage others in the PHP and Open Source communities.

 

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