Ah, it's that special time of year again. People all over the world are getting into the holiday spirit. Celebrating the good parts of human nature. Trying to be just a bit nicer to other people. Buying presents for friends and family.
I'm Jewish and live in Israel so I'm stuck with Hannuka. Which I'm pretty sure sucks compared to Christmas. Most Israelis don't really know what they're missing, but I lived long enough in the US as a kid to know better. I'm not talking about any of the religious stuff. What I miss is the atmosphere. Good will and holiday cheers to all! Ho ho ho!
There was a special sort of compassion in the air, a cultural undercurrent of shared humanity and loving kindness that Israeli culture doesn't have a good substitute for.
I remember wondering why it couldn't be that way all the time. Why you had to wait for a special time of year. What it'd be like if everyone managed to hold on to the holiday cheer all year round.
With that in mind I'd like you to introduce you to Jeremy Davis, a somewhat unusual person. I'd say special, but nowadays that's as likely to imply the lack of something rather than that extra something. Jeremy is unusual in a freakishly good way. Both online and off he seems to embody the selfless generosity that the holiday season celebrates but that you don't actually run into very often. Around TurnKey, the guy is a literal pillar of the community. That means if he wasn't around I doubt there would even be a community. For example, when we get a question on the forums, nine out of ten times it's Jeremy that tries to help out. He's been doing this consistently for a few years now since not long after the project's inception.
TurnKey attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each month to the website and forums, millions each year. Nearly everyone who runs into the unintuitive gift culture that is the open source movement focuses on what it can do for them. Of course, if absolutely everyone was like that there wouldn't be an open source movement, but some lucky projects manage to attract enough rare contributors to keep them going.
People that give back in the public interest are a rare breed, and people that adopt a project and give back as much as Jeremy has are so rare that well, in all the millions that have come through we've only ever run into one person like that.
We interviewed Jeremy to try and get to know him better.
Who are you?
(Jeremy and his son Stefan)
My name is Jeremy Davis and I am a 37yo Australian. I live in Launceston, a small (by international standards) regional city in the south-eastern Australian island state of Tasmania (where its mountainous, temperate and green as opposed to flat, hot and dusty). I live with my 14yo son.
If your name's Jeremy, then what's with "JedMeister"?
Jed was a nickname I picked up in High School. I'm not really sure why, perhaps Jeremy Davis? It stuck and pretty much everyone knows me as Jed, even new friends (without any prompting or encouragement from me – although Jez has been popular with a few). At some point another friend of mine with German heritage started calling me Jedmeister (although he hasn't done now for many years). When I first got online everybody seemed to have an online alias so I thought I should too. I played with a few different ones but somehow I ended up with JedMeister and just continued to use it. I have considered dropping it but part of me really likes it and is quite attached to it. OTOH another part of me feels that it's perhaps a little lame to still be using a handle, maybe reminiscent of l33t h4x0rs.
What do you do?
I am a qualified Social Worker and my current position is ‘Youth Support Worker’ in a small non-profit community focused non-government organisation (NGO). Up until this year I also worked part time as a (Primary) School Social Worker (with all the little kiddies) . It's quite ironic really because as a Primary and High School student I hated English and Social Sciences. But somehow a few years ago I found myself at Uni studying Social Work (as a mature age student)! Back when I was at school all I wanted to do was be a computer programmer but I just couldn't keep my head down and dropped out to be a motor mechanic before I really got anywhere with it - Liraz I relate to your pain with Pascal :).
The NGO where I work is primarily a boys and young men's shelter (13-20yo). Another significant component is an employment program specialising in semi-supported work placement (with accompanying accredited training) for people experiencing disadvantage (eg long-term unemployed, ex-cons, indigenous, refugees, etc). We have also been working on an innovative micro housing project, aiming to support young people staying closer to home while they transition to independence. We anticipate that it may also find other uses such as commercial (eg mining accommodation) and disaster relief (temporary accommodation). In the last few years the training component of our service has grown significantly (mostly around the current growth in Agribusiness).
Despite now working primarily with people, my interest in computers and tech has not dissipated and one of my 'Youth Support' position roles is “IT guy” and I supply, service and maintain the NGO's IT infrastructure. When I started it consisted of a single AMD AthlonXP based PC (running Win 2k) and has now grown to a small network consisting of a Server (ProxmoxVE running a number of VMs inc MS Server 2k3 + a number of TKL servers), 6 Desktops (XP Pro) and a few laptops.
How did you hear about TurnKey Linux?
Now that's a good question! I don't recall exactly. Part of my job at the shelter involves night shifts where we are expected to stay up all night. For me, this often means long hours online browsing and searching for stuff of interest. I'm often on the look out for innovative projects that may be useful, either in my personal life or for my work. If I recall correctly; I was planning on setting up a home server using only free software (I'm a tight wad) but also on the look out for a potential free future upgrade path for work. Less money spent on software means more money for me to spend on hardware. :)
Is this your first time contributing to an open source project?
Pretty much. I have never participated anywhere near the extent that I do here at TKL. I have always been interested in free stuff (who isn't?), which bought me into contact with open source. The more I learned, the more I realised that not only was it cool, useful software, but the underpinning philosophy was something that I really believed in. It was incredibly congruent with my own personal values and my professional qualification. Liraz recently summed it up beautifully in a post on a TKL blog (GNU High) comment: “[Open source] entails [the] spirit of collaboration that allows us to stand on the shoulders of others and reach higher instead of continually reinventing the wheel.” That right there is what I'm talking about!
Initially when I stumbled across TKL, I saw myself only as a consumer and didn't really consider that I had anything to offer (Turbo Pascal anyone? - just joking; I don't actually remember any of it!) Despite my interest in IT, my knowledge is/was somewhat amateur (self taught 'power user' so to speak) and prior to TKL very Windows-centric. Before my simultaneous toying with TKL and Proxmox VE, I had only had fleeting contact with Linux - all of which had ended in various degrees of disaster. Despite my poor previous experience, I could see the potential of open source in general but Linux in particular. The vast improvements each time I dabbled weren't lost on me either.
When I discovered TKL the time was right! I recall the concept and the mission of TKL was what really attracted me. The idea of newb friendly professional software appliances that were easy to set up and free of charge, seriously what is there not to like with that idea?! “Bringing open source to the masses” I'm not sure if that was ever actually said by Alon or Liraz but they are the words that I still associate with my early encounters.
Initially it started as sharing some rudimentary knowledge with other struggling newbs but as I helped people I learned more and gained greater insights and confidence. What really cemented my continuing involvement with the TKL community was when I sussed out how to convert TKL appliances to run as OpenVZ templates (on ProxmoxVE). The sense of victory and the encouraging feedback from Alon and Liraz was gold. Later finding a bug and fixing it made it all the more sweeter!
What were the main challenges in getting involved with the project? How did you overcome them?
To be honest, the biggest hurdle has been my own ego. In real life I can be quite cocky and I like to be right, but as a Linux newb I often don't really have a clue what I'm talking about! This tension/challenge continues but I'm pretty comfortable here now and most regulars would know me as someone who tries to help even if I am a bit off track. I try to focus on what I think I do relatively well (helping newbs and/or provide a bit of a different perspective) but also stretching myself to learn more. By chipping in my 2c where its probably not all that useful, I often put myself in a position to learn from others more knowledgeable than me. I'd like to think that it also adds to the sense of friendly helpful community.
I’m really happy with my involvement here, but sometimes wish I could do more ‘real’ development stuff'. I just have to resign myself to the fact that I can only do what I can do and keep plodding along. Its funny, I sometimes find myself surfing around looking for likely open source candidates and wondering “could this be useful for a TKL appliance?” and “can I join this bit and that bit together to do something-or-other else?”.
What did you learn that surprised you the most?
Probably what has surprised me the most in my learning curve with Linux has been the ease of it all (once you get your head around the differences). Contrary to the 'popular' public opinion of Windows' “user friendliness” and Linux's lack of it; my experience has been that Linux is much lower maintenance and for many things, much easier to work with. While working on my netbook, at any one time I tend to have 5+ windows open with 20+ browser tabs so I miss a GUI when working on a server. Although over time I have become much more comfortable working with the command line and SSH is just like being there! I now run Linux exclusively at home (Bodhi Linux - based on Ubuntu). Initially I still ran Windows at home but I only use it at work now because Linux is just more suited to the job.
What are your plans for the future?
I'd love to see my employer completely transition to a Linux based IT infrastructure. Although I don’t think that is likely anytime soon. Why more organisations, including government don’t use more open source software is beyond me. Especially in fields like education where the software licencing runs into the millions. That money could be spent so much better on things like more teachers... I like to think that its only a matter of time though.
I also have a vision of one day perhaps starting a local business supplying and maintaining open source (TKL?) systems to the community, especially focusing on non-profit organisations and low income households. Via the Internet it doesn’t even need to be limited to locally! Who knows what else the future may hold?