ROSE Blog Interviews: Carla Schroder

Rikki Kite

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Aug 18, 2009 GMT
Rikki Kite

Recently I posted some interview questions and asked for volunteers to respond. Dru Lavigne and Amber Graner promptly responded (see comments). And then there was the sound of crickets chirping.

I know for a fact that there are many other interesting women working and playing in open source, and plenty of them I haven't had the pleasure of meeting yet. Last week I met Kelaine Vargas at OpenSourceWorld and she sat down and answered my questions in person. I enjoyed that meeting so much that I've decided to continue my efforts to find out what women in open source are doing and why they do it. And if I can't meet you in person, I'll try to track you down online.

Carla Schroder took time out of her hectic schedule yesterday to answer my nosy questions (Thanks, Carla!):

Q: Who are you?

A: Carla Schroder, ace Linux geek, sysadmin and network admin, herder of mixed Linux/Windows/Mac networks, and believe me after years of trying to make Microsoft and Apple play nice in the real world I'm ready to ship both of them to the bottom of the Copernicus crater, where they can peck at each other and quit bothering the rest of us. Author of the Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook, and the upcoming Build a Digital Recording Studio With Audacity. Author of many Linux howto articles for various publications since 1996. Currently the Managing Editor of Linux Today and LinuxPlanet.

Q: What do you currently do in open source? What do you love about it?

A: First of all I make a point of calling it FOSS – Free and Open Source Software, because freedom is paramount.

I don't write as many howtos as I used to since I took over LT & LP, which is sad, but Linux Today is influential and important, so that is good.

I'm very big on the freedom, transparency, and accountability bits. It's a cliche, but when Phil Hughs said that using closed, proprietary software was like buying a car with the hood welded shut, he said it all. Well not quite all; since then vendors have discovered all kinds of exciting new ways to shaft customers and invade our privacy in ever-more creative ways, and to take away hard-won consumer rights. These brave new tech companies can't sell us out quickly enough. Technology is one of the pillars of modern society, so whoever controls the technology has way too much control. This is the big battleground right now, and I fear that hardly anyone recognizes this. FOSS is a powerful force on the whole tech industry, keeping it more open and honest. Without FOSS or something like it, we'd be in deeper doo than we are now.

When my Audacity book is finished I am going to learn to program, because programming is still the #1 job. All jobs are important – documentation, artwork, marketing, distribution, community management – and I do not believe that programmers are superior beings who should get away with crappy behavior. But it all starts with the code, and that is where I want my future contributions to be.

Plus I just plain love tech and have always been some kind of geek – auto mechanics, woodworking and carpentry, photography, audio production... I need ten lifetimes to do everything I want to do.

Q: You're speaking to a group of women from other fields who are considering switching careers. Why should they consider moving into an open source-related career? What should they know about the open source environment to prepare them for the transition from a different field?

A: First of all you need to be self-directed. No one will tell you what to do. (Except icky people you don't want to listen to.) Open source is perfect for women who have things they want to do, and can't do them in traditional spheres. There are opportunities for all kinds of tasks, not just coding.

It is often said that FOSS is a meritocracy, and while that is not 100% true because after all humans are involved, it counts far more than it does in traditional business. It is especially excellent for coders because the best coders in the world are in FOSS. You have gigabytes of the best code to study, and the best minds to learn from. There are many generous people who give freely of their knowledge.

The downside is because it is all open, you need a rhino hide to deal with the crap. But then the corporate world is just as full of creeps and jerks, so FOSS is really no different, just more open about it. There are many women's groups that are invaluable for support and learning, such as Linuxchix, Ubuntu Women, and others I forget now. There are a lot of really cool people in FOSS, so you want to seek them out and build relationships.

Q: You're speaking to a group of high school students (male and female). Why should they consider exploring career options in open source?

A: Because that is where all the opportunities and challenges are, and where the future lies. If you just want to learn some pointy-click crud like Visual Studio, punch a time clock, and never learn anything after you leave school, forget FOSS. But if you like being challenged, aren't afraid to learn, like the idea of endless opportunities and the chance to make real contributions that people all over the world can benefit from, if ethics and morals and making the world better are important to you, then FOSS is for you.

Q: What question do you wish I'd asked? And how would you answer it?

A: Values and ethics. What kind of a person do you want to be? What kind of a mark do you want to make on your part of the world? How do you measure success – by how much you can get away with? Or by other measures? Do you have any ideas about privacy, personal freedoms, civil rights, and consumer rights?

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If you are a woman in open source, I'd love it if you'd take a moment to answer these interview questions and send your responses to me at rkite AT linuxpromagazine DOT com. (Otherwise, I'll try to track you down at an event or online!) If you'd like me to interview a particular woman in open source, drop me a line and let me know who she is and where to find her.

Additional reading:

Interview with Kelaine Vargas

Interview with Beth Lynn Eicher (Ohio LinuxFest)

Interview with Moose (Ohio LinuxFest)

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