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I landed my dream job: Open Technology Systems

Posted by n_alex on June 21, 2004 at 12:07 PM PDT

It's been a long haul since I started working with Open Source technology. There have been times when I've joked about the rice and lentils diet, only I wasn't really joking. I was putting a brave face on a pretty frightening and hungry lifestyle. I've never known for certain if my work in Open Source was going to pan out, and I've been just barely scraping by for longer than I care to admit. I figured if that's what it took to do what I really love, which is to write software and write about software, then that's what I was going to do. I had long since resigned myself to the "starving artist" mentality, because of my devotion to writing and poetry.

I actually majored in writing and poetry in college, and there's an interesting story behind that. I was nearly expelled half-way through my senior year in high school (1997) for hacking past our school's security system (with a Mac, no less) and into the local bank. I had accidentally gained access to the district's payroll system (quite without knowing it, I swear!)

In Saint Croix Falls Wisconsin they don't really know how to deal with that sort of thing. So, for the second half of my senior year in high school I wasn't allowed to use a computer at school unless a teacher was sitting next to me, watching my every move. No lie. It was a tremendously painful experience. I'd already taken almost every class I needed for graduation, and had very few electives to choose from (small school).

So I doubled up on the independent art classes and took FOUR English classes with Mr. Beversdorf (sorry if I mangled your last name, sir--it's been a while), a weight lifting class and study hall. That's right. Full enforced immersion in the humanities for one semester, and I never quite recovered. I didn't have a computer at home (much less the internet), so this was a crippling blow to my hacking career.

I learned during that semester that I wanted to study the liberal arts when I went to college, and not computer science. And that's what I did. I ended up taking a class on first and second order sentential logical languages my first semester, but didn't begin programming in earnest until I got a gig as a web designer at Dain Sundstrom's first company, Arcane Logic. (Here's a bit of trivia--one of Dain's parters at Arcane Logic was Charlie Demerjian, who writes for, and who is my roommate. Small world, eh?)

By the time I took my first (and last) computer science class in college, I'd already been studying Frege and Russel's linguistic theory, and had made it and lost it in the boom. I could have been a better computer science student, but language theory itself is what commanded my interest, along with human-computer interface theory and language/literary theory. Also the University of Minnesota's computer science classes have upwards of 400 students in them, and the labs didn't have enough seats for all the students. I was bored stiff during lectures on control flow and when all was said and done I decided not to take up CSCI as a second major.

I stuck with language and literary theory, and I'm still doing it (working with semantic modules in Drools right now). And when I had to choose a major I decided to go with learning how to write the perfect words in the perfect order, which is something that programming and poetry have in common. "Poet" just doesn't look as good on the resume as "M.S. CSCI", though.

So for a while, Open Source has been my only shot at actually writing good software or working with smart developers. I kept at it, hoping it'd pay off in the long run, and decided that if I couldn't get a job as a developer that I'd start my own company and go after small clients. I don't need to tell you, bootstrapping a company on zero budget is no walk in the park.

Very recently, I worried that I'd have to take a "bench" position at one of the giant, soul-crushing consulting firms here in Minneapolis, or give up the ghost (to borrow an expression from Hunter Thompson). And then, one day, while I was coding out loud on Drools at the Dunn Bros coffee shop on University Avenue, I met a guy who, by chance, knew some guys starting an Open Source company. . .

He asked "are you a techie?"

I nodded.

He asked "do you do Open Source?"

I nearly choked, and gave him an affirmative nod.

He didn't waste any time. He asked me for my resume right there, and since I'd just applied for a job at the University I had a copy with me. He referred me to a company called Open Technology Systems (try googling that ; ) and made me promise I'd send an email to the company's VP.

A week later I met with the company's President, Gregg Kloke and the VP, Randy Olson. Gregg's background was with a company called Simon Delivers, an online grocery deliver service here in Minneapolis. Randy had done consulting with Onyx (a bit before my time, I'm afraid) and they are both really into Open Source technology. Their business is based around providing Open Source solutions to small and medium sized businesses. After an hour with these guys, I knew I wanted to join their company. Last week they invited me to their office to sit in on a meeting with a local retailer and talk about Open Source in the context of their business. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and got along really well with the others I met there.

It's been a sleepless weekend, but I got the offer letter last night, and I started this afternoon.

The reasons I'm blogging about this is are pretty straightforward. First of all, I'd like to share the news of my good fortune with some of my friends out there, many of whom have been trying to help me land a regular gig for a while. Second, I'd like to thank Joe, Randy and Gregg (in order of introduction) for giving me a real chance to do what I love.

Finally, it's to remind all the local guys I've met, who've studied computers because they thought there was a future in it, that there is a future in it, and that it's as bright as it ever was. And Open Source is going to play a huge role in it, perhaps bigger than anyone really knows. If you're a young developer (or language geek) and the times have got you down, stick with it anyway. Things will pan out.

Now, lest I jinx my good fortune, I'm going to get some work done.

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