Being an only child with astigmatism, moderate short-sightedness, and congenital oral deformities, it was all but inevitable that I'd fall in with the nerd clique in elementary school. Naturally, seven year olds don't have access to computers, so we were always stuck for something to do during breaks. Maybe not so much for lunch; the majority of us were overweight, chomping towards obesity. However, in the mornings, we had ample time to discuss matters such as black holes (hold the jokes about our mouths, please), our inability to make friends with girls (or boys, I'm not picky), and awesome books we'd read. While seeking fodder for the latter, I headed off on a fateful trip to the library. You must bear in mind that this was the 1980s, when the Web was only a twinkle in the eye of a cedar-toothed British douchebag. I thumbed the shelves for material, having difficulty since I felt I'd exhausted the typical topics of cosmology, amateur electrical engineering, nuclear physics, college-level mathematics - the usual geek braincandy. So off I went to an adjacent aisle of books (similar fields of study are usually located close by) and came upon a book about compilers with a dragon on the cover.
In my circle of friends, I'd only heard about computers from those of us whose parents had a great deal of disposable income and a tendency to lavish it upon their antisocial, closeted offspring. (If you're guessing that I'm talking about the boys with high-flying mothers and fathers that had divorced acrimoniously, you win.) From them, I'd learned about Ritchie and Thompson's carefully crafted Unix Programming Environment, in scraps of information gleaned from people known, systems namedropped, home computers tinkered. I had heard of compilers, but only in reference to the C programming language, not as a general concept. (And I'd still yet to discover interpreters, assemblers, linkers, libraries, and the rest of the coding jamboree.) The dragon book pushed me into investigating computer science. Within months I had cultivated both the knowledge and the determination to implement my own Unix kernel. Sadly, the variant of Unix I spent many a night developing over one lengthy summer became an evolutionary dead end because I changed the name of the creat() system call to create(). Although this fixed a mistake to which Dennis Ritchie has publically admitted, it prevented my new OS from gaining any market share, enabling Linus Torvalds to pip me to the post with his hobby some half a decade later.
By this time, I'd earned a massive amount of credibility throughout my social sphere. If I could've outgrown it, I would've easily made the jump into the hacker scene. Unfortunately, when you're 14 years old and lacking an Internet connection, this is impossible. I made do with alienating my friends with a rapidly-inflating ego, and bemoaning my inability to procure a significant other. Or just a friendly fuck. As I believe I've previously said, I'm not picky. I found myself in an ever-decreasing spiral of reclusiveness and Unix. Upwards of eight hours a day were spent perfecting my project, even though I knew it would never make me rich, famous, or successful. I was learning, and that was all I needed.
It wasn't until college that I found an outlet for my skills at the computer lab. No way in hell could this be confused with an organised club; it was nothing but an ad-hoc agglutinisation of coders and gamers that happened every evening while students milled around waiting for documents to print. They first took notice of me when I replaced their CUPS installation with a far superior lpd and printing system of my own design, capable of handling hundreds of pages of academic puffery per day. It's a wonder the hardware didn't die under the load, the machinery choking us in a continuously replenished cloud of its own nauseous toner.
It was around this time that Linux started to poke its sunbeams through the clouds of hacker culture. The idea of becoming a contributor to the ages warmed my heart, and I bashed out a device driver in order to use Linux with my old computer. Online and feeling fine, I insinuated myself into the community and carved out a niche as someone who could dash off a useful hack mere hours after a request arrived in my inbox. My reputation came under attack sporadically when someone emailed me for help and their message was silently dropped (sometimes with a spurious error message) by sendmail. The consequent failure to reply was then interpreted as evasiveness and rudeness. Fed up by this, I wrote my own MTA, uploaded it to my website, and set it running on my system. I never received flame mail again, but unfortunately the requests for assistance (read: opportunities to improve my stature) also ended.
Buoyed by my success and no longer held back by interruptions, my productivity went through the roof. I spent so much time hacking on work that I worried I was withdrawing into a shell. (There's a pun in there somewhere.) I started attending conferences on usability, security, graphics, distros, anything even tangentially related to my hobby. It paid off; meeting people in person really does help make your name known. Consider this some free jobseekers' advice.
I eventually must've impressed a manager at Red Hat, because I ended up with an interview. They almost missed me, as a matter of fact, because their emails failed to reach me. Here's some more jobseekers' advice: include your phone number on your website and anywhere else you give out your contact info. I breezed through the face-to-face meeting process, impressing the interviewer with a lively discussion on the merits of Perl's ~= syntax.
An NDA forbids me from discussing in great detail the Red Hat corporate environment, but I think I can cover some pertinent points. The most striking thing is the use of traditional floor layouts, with offices for all but the temps, who share cubicles to save space and so money. Looking back, I suspect that I was probably hired straight into middle management since the other workers on my floor were temps. Turnover was comparable with our competitors! And until this year, each department got benefits including, but not limited to, free fruit and No Code Review Fridays, which was a nice break for all of us. (QA were pretty pissed off about missing out on pay on those days, though.)
In spite of numerous perks and a peaceful work situation, my proclivity for Linux and open source foundered; doing something for pay destroys any outside interest you have in it. I began seeing what was wrong with the OSS movement, whereas in my honeymoon period I'd seen solely opportunity, code galore, and clean-cut PR men promoting software libre with a happy penguin's face. Now my view gained clarity, revealing a toxic wasteland of obsolete protocols, poorly implemented utilities bound by jack-of-all-trades POSIX, and rabid advocacy spearheaded by an aging hippie with a beard untouched by water or detergent, a relentlessly self-promoting gun nut afflicted with cerebal palsy, and a Finn.
You may wonder why I stuck with it. Well, like you unwashed masses, I love convenience and I love money. Besides, I'd a hunch that if I did quit, my desire to dabble in open source would reemerge and I'd be kicking myself for throwing away a lucrative position. Looking at it logically, the sanest course of action was to hang onto my job, gradually subverting it into what I now wanted to do: expose every flaw and every problem inherent in the bazaar software development model.
I initiated a campaign of half-assing1 and slacking sabotage, reformed into an inverted mirror image of the stained-shirt-wearing Linux weenie. I signed up numerous accounts on Google Groups (#1 for your Usenet spamming needs!), Slashdot, Kuro5hin, and any other major discussion group I could use to spread FUD and descriptions of my company's dubious customer service practices.
Of course, I was partially responsible for the poor service. Even though I went nowhere near marketing or the helpdesk, I made things harder for both them and the customers by sprinkling deliberate subtle bugs into my projects (C comes in handy again!) and "forgetting" to put any identifying information into my source code. If a higher-up had ever dinged me for these antics and demanded that I placed contact details and a copyright notice on my work, I'd simply use a 'mistyped' webmail address and a thoroughly outdated copy 'n' paste of an obscure license no one understands, like the Artistic License. Seriously, who knows that shit? Meanwhile, tech support calls were on a monthly upswing.
In spite of this, I became the maintainer of RPM when the original author was fired (he ceased to bathe for three months, culminating in a costly evacuation when a visitor mistook his stench for a chemical leak). On my fourth day of doing nothing in my new capacity, I idly ran a Bugzilla search for outstanding bugs. There were many, and a few of them were actually rather urgent. Not that I intended to fix any!
That was the plan, anyway. Punch in at nine, sit in a chair fusing fatty acids and glycerol for eight hours, punch out at five. For a while, it worked. One bug report that came in was quite a bit of a show-stopper; some luser called sllort reported that rpm could corrupt its own database. It would take maybe 3 lines of code to fix this issue, but I wanted to beat my personal record for Most Consecutive Days During Which I Did Nothing.
Instead I chose to hone my work avoidance tricks. I tried out Deliberate Reinterpretation (thus turning sllort's reasonable request into something onerous) combined with Condescending Dismissal ("you expect me to do all that?!"). I didn't anticipate his persistence, or so many others entering the fray. It was difficult to continue feigning as if they were all talking crap, but I feel I did a pretty decent job of it.
You know, it only occurs to me now that "sllort" backwards is "trolls". I guess trolls have to use Linux too.
This back and forthing went on for months. I was enjoying the biters accumulating on my obnoxious trollpaper, but, as I soon found, my boss wasn't. A couple of complaints had actually gotten through! Under duress I fixed the code and made note of it on the Bugzilla, but the derogatory comments carried on rolling in, with one user going as far as to compare me to an autistic. Spurred on, my boss went over my records with a fine toothcomb. My festering codebases were exposed and blamed for the surge in tech support calls and emails.
This morning I was shitcanned. Right now, I write this on laptop and sofa, watching my House DVDs. (The Jewess is totally hot.) I'd like to think I learned something, but somehow I doubt it. To be frank, I'm satisfied with getting nothing more than a little story out of it. Stay in school, kids. And don't do Linux.
1 No relation to catassing.