Friday, October 30, 2015

Faces of FreeBSD 2015 - Michael Dexter


Back by popular demand we're again sharing a story from someone involved in FreeBSD with our Faces of FreeBSD series. It may be a story from someone who’s received funding from us to work on development projects, run conferences, travel to conferences, or advocate for FreeBSD. Or, it may be from someone who gives back to FreeBSD financially or in another way. But, it is always from someone who is making a positive difference in the FreeBSD world.

Here’s a chance to get to know your fellow FreeBSD enthusiasts. Sit back and enjoy the next 2015 Faces of FreeBSD story.

Michael's Story

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Michael Dexter and I first used BSD Unix in college in January of 1991. I am very grateful that I had a glimpse of the Unix world before the announcement of Linux and the modern BSDs. This was also years before the World Wide Web became relevant, when the Internet was characterized by console-based e-mail, telnet, FTP and the flame wars on Usenet news. Thinking back, the single most flashy Unix-related thing was either the xv splash screen or whatever you could come up with in raw PostScript and ship over to the laser printer. There were very clear hardware, software and network limitation and I am glad to have studied computer science in that environment. What was missing though was a clear sense of software freedom, particularly because the term "open source" would not be coined for another seven years. The Free Software Foundation was alive and well but everything it did seemed radical given the more or less source-only environment I was in at college. While exciting and educational, it was also all very frustrating.

When I finished school I knew the Internet was the industry for me but the computer industry was a strange era characterized by a floundering Apple Computer and the Windows NT drumbeat. I confess that Windows NT sounded great on paper and I admired its support for MIPS, Alpha, PowerPC and x86 but I could never afford it and it is arguably still struggling to deliver on its countless promises. I knew I wanted a Unix environment and between Coherent, UnixWare and RedHat 5.2, RedHat was source-friendly and offered a simple X11 environment like I had access to in college. For a moment it was clear I had found what I was looking for but then an unfortunate thing happened: RedHat 6.0 introduced the then-primitive GNOME environment in a concerted effort to go from an elegant Unix clone to a stunningly-bad Windows clone. If I were to fault the community for one thing back then, it was the notion that all open source applications should be bad clones of decade-old commercial software for Windows and Macintosh.

One thing lead to another and I worked briefly at MandrakeSoft SA, the developer of Mandrake Linux. I dropped everything to take that job and when they ran out of money, I simplified my life and moved to Latvia to clear my head and re-investigate if better Unix environments existed.

How did you learn about FreeBSD and/or when were you first exposed to it?

I remember receiving the Walnut Creek CD-ROM and similar catalogs and reading about FreeBSD but I was clearly in a RedHat town. I had asked about BSD and received the somewhat snide comment, "I have seen just as many misconfigured BSD systems", which I found confusing but discouraging none the less. In around 2003 I read about FreeBSD jails and they sounded like a plausible solution to the "RPM Hell" I had experienced on RedHat and with FreeBSD I once again found the no-nonsense Unix environment I was looking for. FreeBSD 4.8 proved fast, elegant and logical. Inspired by a BSD user in Latvia I wrote an rc script to build and manage jails, unknowingly laying the groundwork for everything I do today with FreeBSD. Like clockwork though, this era was to be cut short: a user discouraged me from experimenting with compat_linux jails and the flashy new FreeBSD 5.0 release with its new jail management tools like jls and jexec proved frustratingly unreliable.

Once again mired in frustration, I continued my research and turned to OpenBSD and NetBSD on which mandoc developer Kristaps and I explored virtualization options with the systrace-based SysJail and the mult pluralized NetBSD kernel. I later went on to use NetBSD/Xen to assist with mult development and all in all, I could see the potential of all these tools but none of them were exceptional. To this day I run OpenBSD on my web server but my FreeBSD involvement has picked up in rather unexpected ways.

What is your involvement in FreeBSD?

Ever seeking an "Ah Ha!" moment, by somewhat dumb luck and without an invitation, I found myself in Neel Natu and Peter Grehan's BSDCan 2011 presentation where they introduced the BHyVe hypervisor. I instantly recognized that this was a new, plausible option that was worth tracking. What I did not immediately realize was that it was the direct result of the 2010 MeetBSD UnConference where just about everyone concluded that BSDs needed their own hypervisors given that NetBSD/Xen was both obscure and incompatibly-licensed. A few months later I finally asked Neel and Peter how things were going and if I could try BHyVe. They kindly responded and helped get me up and running. The rest as they say is history: a few hundred hours and kernel panics later I had a simple framework for helping people try BHyVe and I offered Neel and Peter every suggestion I could imagine. Fast forward to today and bhyve (mercifully no longer BHyVe) supports most BSDs, GNU/Linux, Illumos and Windows. My work here is finished, or possibly has just begun. Looking back, my single biggest contribution to bhyve was helping it land in FreeBSD release 10.0, rather than 11.0 or 12.0.

Why do you like FreeBSD?

Obviously I have sought a personal workstation Unix environment for nearly 25 years. I started with genuine BSD and while OpenBSD delights the Unix purist in me, FreeBSD's bhyve and OpenZFS allow me to finally have a BSD Unix day job. I have been working with iXsystems to provide FreeNAS support for several years and this experience plus my time with bhyve and OpenBSD have forced me under the hood of FreeBSD in wonderful ways: I creatively connect what works and report what doesn't. The FreeBSD community has been amazingly responsive to input and somehow I have 40 mentions in despite my having at most a login. My bhyve experience led me to recently push for FreeBSD Xen DomU packages to be built, along with Docker packages in with the hope of making it easy for people to try these technologies.

As for what I like most about FreeBSD on a high level, it would be its flexibility. Tools like NanoBSD convinced me early on that FreeBSD is designed to be pushed around but always within the structure that one unified source tree provides. I see this approach as avoiding vast duplication of effort and its community is large enough for new ideas to get reasonable reviews before becoming incorporated.

Have you worked with or been helped by the FreeBSD Foundation?

The Foundation has been great about providing travel grants when for one reason or another, I could not attend a key conference or event such as BSDCan. The BSDCons already provide the best speaker travel and accommodations in the open source community and the Foundation is key in both supporting those events and individuals who need help attending them.

How did our funding you help FreeBSD?

The Foundation's travel assistance directly helped bhyve arrive in FreeBSD and now that bhyve supports Windows, fasten your seat belts.

Final thoughts? 

I find it funny that FreeBSD developers still often think of me as "an OpenBSD guy" and OpenBSD developers now think of me as "a FreeBSD guy". I still see myself living in the early 1990s before these distinctions arose and I profoundly appreciate efforts like Kristaps' work on mandoc which has replaced groff in FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD and Illumos. Portable efforts like mandoc, LibreSSL and bhyve are what will re-establish the BSDs as authoritative sources of definitive Unix software.

At OSCON this year, the cracks started to really show in the various Linux and cloud-related vendor consortium foundations as their participants jockey for position and influence. Joyent's Bryan Cantrill did a great job of illustrating this point in his talk and I just sat there thinking "yep, you want a public-benefit foundation like the FreeBSD Foundation" and "yep, you indeed want to start with an open source system rather than trying to de-proprietarize one."  The FreeBSD project and the Foundation get this right in countless ways. I encourage everyone to support the FreeBSD Foundation with a donation, even if you prefer a different operating system. Their efforts, such as supporting clang/LLVM, benefit far more than just FreeBSD users. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Conference Recap: Grace Hopper Conference 2015

The 2015 Grace Hopper Conference was held in Houston, TX, October 14-16. The conference is for women in computing and most of the attendees were female computer science majors, female software developers, and college professors. A few men that attended as well, but of the 12,000 attendees, the majority were women. 

Arriving in Houston
I think everyone attending the conference arrived at the same time. The transportation services sure weren’t prepared for so many people needing rides into the city. It was a long wait for the shuttle, but it gave me a chance to meet other women in computing. Groff the BSD Goat was there as well and became very popular.

Made friends while waiting at the airport in Houston
I continued networking once I got on the shuttle. I started talking to the only man on the shuttle, who happened to be sitting next to me. We realized that we knew each other over email, but had never met in person. He was the Director of Engineering at Juniper. Juniper is a FreeBSD user and a Foundation donor. I had his undivided attention for more than an hour! It was a great opportunity to talk about what our companies are doing, and he told me he wanted to hire two FreeBSD committers. 

The Foundation was a Silver Sponsor of the conference. As we mentioned in our earlier blog post, we provided a travel grant for Shonali Balakrishna to help represent and promote FreeBSD at our table. Shonali was a Google Summer of Code student two summers ago and attended BSDCan this past summer. She’s currently a master’s student at University of California, Irvine.

Our Booth
We had a great location for our table. Dru Lavigne, who attended the conference last year, gave me the heads up that we needed a sign to make us stand out amongst all the large corporations with their big booths. Anne Dickison, our marketing director, came up with two sign designs: one focused on getting people involved in the Project, and the other highlighted what the Foundation does. 

Wouldn't you want to stop by this table?

Above is a picture of our booth. We were on a corner, next to a big aisle, so we had a lot of exposure. We were across from a large Go Daddy booth, which was next to a humongous Cisco booth. It took some thought to come up with a welcoming layout to make sure we didn’t get overshadowed.  

We Were Busy!
The Career and Community Fair opened Wednesday at 5:30pm and was open until 10pm. We were bombarded with students, professionals, and professors from the time the doors opened, and we stayed busy the whole night with people constantly stopping by the table.  In fact, we spoke with more people than I ever expected. Our bright red sign seemed to help draw people in who didn’t know FreeBSD. They’d see our table, then read the sign and ask us about FreeBSD. Most were students looking for internships and jobs. People were also curious about our grant program. It may have helped that we had Groff (with his pink collar and own Grace Hopper badge) drawing people to our table. I also had my BeagleBone Black sitting on the table, and various people stopped by to ask about that too. I wasn’t surprised that people loved Groff, but I was pleased with how many people came by to ask about the BBB. That led to talking about BBB and RPI, and the opportunities with using FreeBSD on those platforms. I also want to thank iXsystems for sending us copies of PC-BSD to hand out.

View from our booth. It was always crowded.
On Thursday,  Shonali and I attended the Keynote that was given by YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki, then we worked at our booth from 10am-5:30pm, finishing with the Plenary by Sheryl Sandberg. Both talks were interesting and inspiring. Afterwards, Shonali and I attended the NCWiT member party, where we sat down to review the "getting started" page on Based on earlier conversations with attendees at events like womENcourage and OSCON, it seemed that people might be confused and intimidated by trying to find out how to get involved with the Project.  We came up with some ideas on how we can make getting started with FreeBSD an easier process. We will work with the Project and community to implement some of these ideas.

In the mean time, we sent people to this link:

Waiting to hear the last talks of the conference
On the last day of the conference, we worked at our table from 10am-2:30pm. We still had people stopping by our table after we were closed, and we made sure we talked to everyone. At that point we had three fliers and a couple of CDs left. We didn’t have a lot to bring home, except for all the cool t-shirts we collected. We then attended the last Plenary session with Groff, and listened to Janet George, Isis Anchalee, and Miral Kotb discuss diversity in tech. I was impressed with all speakers, especially Isis who was behind the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer. But, who most impressed me was Miral Kotb. She simultaneously got a Computer Science degree from Columbia University and a Dance degree from Barnard College. Then, after working as a software engineer, combined her love for computer science and dance and created the dance company iLuminate. We were treated to a performance by the dance company, with all their high-tech costumes. 

While at the conference I talked to many students about getting involved in the Project. Some already knew about FreeBSD, some just wanted to get involved in an open source project, and some were looking for internships. We talked to all about the benefits of working on FreeBSD and told the students looking for internships that working on FreeBSD can be similar to working on an unpaid internship.

I also talked to many professors about including FreeBSD in their curriculum. We had a lot of interest in this and I told them about the website, which should be updated soon.

I was excited when a woman came up to our booth wearing a badge that read Computer Science Department, University of Colorado, Boulder.  The Foundation headquarters is in Boulder, and I’ve wanted to make connections with that department for a while. This is our local university and I’ve been eyeing them as a test site for our FreeBSD Bootcamp. After talking to her, I found out they have more opportunities for us than I expected. I’m excited to start working with them, and creating FreeBSD classes that we’ll be able to video and document for others to use.

I made some great connections with people from the White House, research labs, students from around the world, people working in industry, and professionals from Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon (just to name a few). I’ve already received emails from some students who want to get involved in FreeBSD.

We had our share of students stopping by to give us their resumes. Many companies were there recruiting and interviewing, so it took me awhile to realize when a young woman walked up to our table giving us her name and shaking our hands, she was looking for a job or internship. We always told them about the opportunities that the Project offered and included information about the GSoC program.

Next year the conference will be held at the same venue. How many places can handle 12,000 attendees? Even though it made for long lines for everything from the bathrooms, to Starbucks, to getting into talks and presentations,  it was fantastic to see that many women in computing together at one venue. I connected with people in the Starbucks line, on the shuttle, and walking around on the expo floor, which was so big that was easy to get lost in. I was amazed at how many people stopped by our table, given that we were competing with huge companies, in giant, decked out booths. But, people saw our signs, Groff, and the friendly people staffing the table and came over. 

Attendees loved taking their photos with Groff

I believe this was a good investment for the Foundation to raise awareness of the Project, help recruit more women,  and get more professors to include FreeBSD in their curriculum. We had a lot of interest from attendees wanting to find out how they can get involved. We also had a lot of professors saying they want to add something new to their curriculum and hands-on projects for their students. There are a lot of opportunities for FreeBSD to grow and expand. We'll be working with the community to help get some of these in place. 

Of course, we can't do it without you. We need your help to continue funding these efforts. Please consider make a donation today, to help us further our work in recruiting and creating FreeBSD educational material for events like these and beyond.

Thank you again for all you do!
Deb Goodkin
Executive Director,
FreeBSD Foundation

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

From the Foundation: Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day and an Update on Outreach

Today, October 13, is Ada Lovelace Day and we’re joining people around the globe in celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. There are a number of events taking place today. See here to find an event in your area.

In keeping with today’s celebration, we’d like to share more about the Foundation’s efforts to recruit more women to the Project. If you’ve attended any of the Foundation presentations over the last few months you’ve heard us talk about this, and we’re currently working with other members of the community to further these goals.

As we mentioned in our last newsletter, we sponsored and presented at WomENcourage 2015 in Uppsala, Sweden. The first day of the conference was a job fair, and we were the only open source project to participate. Even though this was a women in tech conference, there were many men who attended the conference too, and we had both women and men stop by our table to talk about opportunities in the FreeBSD Project. Though we weren’t there to offer jobs or internships, we did showcase how the FreeBSD Project offers great opportunities to gain job skills by working on a software project as a developer, coder, writer, administrator, and other areas that someone might want to get involved in. We focused on the fact that working on the Project allows you to work on what interests you; have great mentors to help you; find your own niche; and offers the opportunity for your work to be publicly available for companies to see.

The second day of the conference we were on a panel covering Careers in Open Source, All the panelists and the moderator were members of the FreeBSD community. We had a great turn out, and could have talked about the opportunities on an open source project way past our allotted hour. After our panel, we had a table in the conference hall, so people could stop and talk to us. Professors were interested in the FreeBSD curriculum and a few wanted to host FreeBSD events at their universities.

This week, we’ll be joining thousands of other women in computing at the Grace Hopper Conference in Houston, TX. I’ll be joined by former FreeBSD Google Summer of Code student, Shonali Balakrishna, who will help me introduce attendees to the Project and share with them her experiences and the benefits of being involved with this community.

In addition to attending conferences, we’re also working with Dru Lavigne and others in the community to create a FreeBSD Bootcamp aimed at introducing FreeBSD to young women ranging from middle school to college age. This follows on the heels of our first FreeBSD middle school class, currently being taught by Justin Gibbs and me in CO.

We’re very excited to take these first steps towards reaching our recruitment goals. We will continue to work with others (both women and men) within the Project and outlying communities to discover more areas for outreach, improvement, and growth to help make working on the Project a positive experience for everyone involved. Stay tuned for more updates from the Grace Hopper Conference as the week goes on.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has donated to the Foundation to help us move forward with our goals. Your support allows us to continue our mission to advocate for, improve on, and grow the FreeBSD Project.

Deb Goodkin,
Executive Director
FreeBSD Foundation

Friday, October 9, 2015

EuroBSDcon 2015 Recap

Photo courtesy of iXsystems
We just returned from another successful EuroBSDCon, which was held in Stockholm, Sweden, October 3-4. There were around 250 attendees from around the world, representing the major BSDs. The Foundation was proud to be a Platinum Sponsor for the conference.

The FreeBSD Developer Summit was held two days prior the conference. The developer summit was very productive and successful. Foundation board member, Benedict Reuschling helped organize the summit. Init AB, sponsored the whole event. We had over 60 people attend. There were many great sessions and smaller groups working together. In fact, Deb ran a session on Recruiting to FreeBSD. We had 28 people attend this session, and almost everyone in the room contributed to the discussion on what we, as a Project, need to do to attract more people to FreeBSD. There were a lot of great suggestions, and the Foundation will be working with the Project to continue this momentum of making some positive changes, helping us to move forward and grow.

Photo courtesy of iXsystems
As usual, we had a table at the conference for taking donations, handing out swag, and talking to people about the work they are doing and where we can help with. We also talked to a few companies about making donations, as well as, providing testimonials. We accomplish so much when we attend these conferences, because we have the opportunity of talking and working with people face-to-face. We know it's the same for the attendees. During the day, people attend different talks on subjects that interest them. At night, everyone hangs out in the hacker lounge socializing, but mostly working together solving problems. It's pretty amazing to watch the collaboration going on.

From the Foundation, we had Dru Lavigne, Deb Goodkin, Kirk McKusick, Erwin Lansing, Ed Maste, Hiroki Sato, and Edward Napierala attend the conference. Deb and Ed gave a presentation on how the Foundation supports a BSD project. Kirk gave a presentation on "a Brief History of the BSD Fast File System," and he taught the two-day tutorial "Introduction to the FreeBSD Open-Source Operating System."

We had over 70 people stop by our table to make a donation. NetGate generously donated a NetGate RCC-VE 4860, which is a low-cost, low-power modern communications platform. Michael Dexter was the lucky winner!

Photo courtesy of Ollivier Robert
In the closing session, we recognized people who have made significant contributions to help further FreeBSD. The people we recognized were:

Dr. Colin Percival: For his contributions as FreeBSD Security Officer 8/2005 - 5/2012, tools he authored that are used daily by thousands of FreeBSD users to keep systems up to date (FreeBSD Update and Portsnap), and his efforts in having FreeBSD supported on Amazon's EC2. 

Michael Dexter: For his FreeBSD advocacy work and support of bhyve and Xen into FreeBSD, and for advocating for FreeBSD at the many conferences he's attended and presented at outside the usual BSD ones.

Shteryana Shopova: For her development work on the SNMP agent, as a GSoC mentor, and organizer of major BSD conferences.

Allan Jude: For his advocacy of FreeBSD and BSDNow which highlights work being done in the FreeBSD and other BSD Projects. Many people have joined FreeBSD because of this program. He has also contributed to ZFS advocacy, documentation, and polishing the FreeBSD end-user experience.

Paul Shenkeveld (Posthumous): For his commitment to the BSDs by co-founding and chairing the EuroBSDCon Foundation in 2011 and being one of the biggest BSD advocates, including running his own consultancy company that supported FreeBSD for 25 years.
Photo courtesy of Ollivier Robert

We look forward to EuroBSDCon 2016 in Belgrade, Serbia!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Trademark Usage Terms and Conditions Update

It was recently brought to my attention that when I updated the Foundation's Trademark Usage Terms and Conditions on February 17, 2015, I didn't update the date of the change or post a notification about the change on our website. I apologize for this unintentional oversight. The terms and conditions date has been updated to reflect today's date and this is a formal notification of the change in section 3 which specifically states that it is a violation to incorporate any of our Marks in a username. 

I'd like to remind the community that permission is required to use the Foundation's trademarks. Please refer to the Foundation’s Trademark Usage Terms and Conditions to get information on how to get permission to use the Foundation's trademarks. 

Deb Goodkin
Executive Director
The FreeBSD Foundation