Meet Barry Warsaw

Barry Warsaw mugshotOur previous Meet the developers interview was with a man known by his irc nick rockstar.

On the Launchpad team we have another rock star, the bass playing Mr Barry Warsaw!

Matthew: What do you do on the Launchpad team?

Barry: In general, it is my life’s work to see Zawinski’s Law fully realized in everything I touch. To that end, most of my Launchpad work has been to add spam vectors, er, I mean mailing lists to Launchpad. I don’t know why anybody would think I know something about mailing lists, but there you have it.

These days, the basic mailing list features are working pretty well, so I’ve been concentrating on other things, though often email related, such as the recent “Contact this user” feature.

Matthew: Can we see something in Launchpad that you’ve worked on?

Barry: If you’ve used the Launchpad mailing lists, you’ve used stuff I’ve worked on. If you try out the new “Contact this user” feature in Launchpad 2.1.11, you will be using my stuff. Well, that’s only if you like those features. If you hate them, someone else did it.

Matthew: Where do you work?

Barry: I work out of my home in Silver Spring, Maryland USA. Well, I did up until about a week ago, when I moved into a temporary rental house while we’re doing some work on our real house. I live about a mile walking distance from Washington DC.

Matthew: What can you see from your office window?

Barry: Right now, not much other than the side of my neighbor’s house, but when I’m back in my real home, I have a somewhat less boring view of the neighborhood. I can see all the way up the street leading to my house, so I’m always prepared when the Fedex truck drops off the latest awesome mugs and hoodies from the Ubuntu store (/me waits for his endorsement bonus check).

Matthew: What did you do before working at Canonical?

Barry: Directly before coming to Canonical I worked at a company called Secure Software, incidentally with Mailman’s original inventor John Viega, though we were not working on Mailman. Secure built products around static analysis of C, C++, and Java code for security vulnerabilities. It was very cool software and allowed me to do a lot of C, C++ and Java hacking as well as the usual big pile of Python. I also did more Windows development than I’d ever done before, and let’s just say it’s nice to be working for the makers of Ubuntu now! Unfortunately — or maybe fortunately — Secure did not overwhelm in the market and, here I am!

I’ve been pretty lucky to work at some great places, though my career has been pretty eclectic. I’ve been able to do a lot of open source and free software, both officially and incidentally in my career. I won’t bore you with the ten page resume though.

Matthew: How did you get into free software?

Barry: Well, I’m an old timer so I’ve actually been into free software probably before the term was even invented! My first real software job was as a summer intern at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST), a US Federal research lab in suburban Maryland. I was hacking on homebrew graphics systems for robotic real time control and visualization, and most of the work was in FORTH. There was a pretty vibrant FORTH community and we shared lots of code, often by 8″ floppy disks, 9 track tapes and over the original ARPAnet and uucp. I continued with NBS/NIST after I graduated college and our lab eventually migrated to early SunOS systems. By that time I was learning C and hacking Unix, Emacs, window systems, etc. Back then at least, the software that US federal employees wrote was not subject to copyright (because it was taxpayer funded), so it was easy to give away, and it’s always seemed very natural for me to share code.

A few years ago I searched some of the various Usenet archives for early postings of mine. I think my first public post was of some Emacs trinket I wrote in 1985. It was probably what eventually became Supercite. In any case, tapping into that culture and its social interactions really got me hooked. I made a lot of friends online and I’ve been very luck to keep many of them and even meet some of them in the real world.

Matthew: What’s more important? Principle or pragmatism?

Barry: The Zen of Python says “Practicality beats purity”.

Matthew: Do you/have you contribute(d) to any free software projects?

Yes, quite a few actually.

These days I’m most active in Python and GNU Mailman, though there are probably a dozen or so FLOSS projects I contribute to in various ways. I used to contribute a lot to Emacs and XEmacs, but these days I prefer to just be a (l)user. I also tend to scratch my own itch, and hosting projects on Launchpad and using Bazaar makes that just incredibly easy. For example, I needed an email robot on some of my public email addresses, so I wrote ‘replybot‘ which tries to do that totally anti-social job in the most standards-compliant way possible. Even though the package is published on the Python Cheeseshop, all the project management happens on Launchpad. In fact GNU Mailman itself is hosted on Launchpad now too.

Matthew: Tell us something really cool about Launchpad that not enough people know about?

Barry: Merge proposals are my latest kick. We use them a lot on the Launchpad project, and I think they’re a great way to manage branches, review code, and link them to bugs, milestones and releases. I’m not yet sure how useful all that stuff is for smaller projects, but for a large complicated beast like Launchpad, merge proposals are really great.

Matthew: Four string, six string or fretless?

Barry: Ah, what a great question, but those are not either/ors! :) I firmly believe that if you can’t play a 4, you have no business with more strings. Guitar players would be wise to heed that advice. :) I played bass for almost 25 years before I got my first 5 string, and it’ll probably be another 25 before I get a 6. My grandkids will have to slap and pop that hi C string for me though.

Fretlesses are very cool, and I played a 4 fretless (with a hipshot) almost exclusively for many years, though I am no Jaco. A good “mwaahh” just makes me so happy. My main axe these days though is a fretted MTD American 535. Having that gut rumbling low B string is just too much fun, though you have to use it tastefully. I’m still saving up for a fretless 535 to match my main axe, but it’s much harder to sneak those things past my wife these days. :)

Matthew: Kiko‘s special question! You’re at your computer, you reach for your wallet: what are you most likely to be doing?

Barry: Okay, this is a family show, right?

I do purchase a lot of stuff online. I hate going to the malls and I really hate shopping so if I can get through the holidays without getting in my car, it’s a success. One of our favorite places is Zappos because you can just order like $10,000 worth of shoes, keep the one pair you like and send them all back for free. I do buy the occasional software, but not too much ongoing services, though I’m currently looking at encrypted, secure online backups. I do tend to like to roll my own though, since hacking is so much fun.

Thanks for listening!

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