A Year Ago: From Linux hobbyists to hotshots

Originally published Mon, 12 Apr 1999 07:29:57 GMT

Meet the code warriors who are coming in from the cold -- and leading the Linux revolution.

After a long day at work as the principal member of the technical staff at Oracle Corp., Zubkoff would fire up his Linux machines and practice his passion while the corporate types slept: hacking away on Linux code, getting the alternative operating system to run better and faster on all kinds of hardware.

For four and a half years, Zubkoff, 41, made a ritual of Oracle by day and Linux by night, often spending as much as 20 hours each week on the code on his home computers.

Then last July, his hobby became his day job.

Zubkoff was wooed away from Oracle by VA Research Inc., a California.-based Linux reseller, which tapped the hotshot Linux kernal developer as its new chief technology officer. "We are doing leading-edge work," Zubkoff said with all the gusto of a geek in a computer store. "I get to do things I never would have otherwise."

Developers in the Linux community -- who until recently roused rabble through e-mails rather than meeting face to face -- are finding themselves in increasing demand in the corporate world, as companies augment their Linux forces. The search for Linux developers has kicked into high gear during the past nine months, since industry heavyweights began jumping on the open source bandwagon and more Linux users started coming out of the closet. (Ironically, three weeks after Zubkoff defected, Oracle unveiled support for the alternative operating system.) "There's a lot more acceptance inside mid- to large-sized companies of giving Linux a try," said Jeff Dickey-Chasins, a spokesman for the job site dice.com.

Since the alternative OS entered the mainstream in the past year, job listings seeking Linux experience have more than doubled on sites such as dice.com. A search on the word "Linux" there yields more than 500 results. And it looks like the momentum will only grow. International Data Corp. has predicted that Linux will grow at a rate of 25 percent over the next five years, faster than all other operating systems combined.

Though that means whopping demand for Linux-lovers, it's not always for developers to choose to turn their hobby into something they're forced to do day after day. What's more, many of the companies jumping into the Linux game also sell closed software and hardware -- a concept akin to blasphemy in the free-wheeling world of open source, where anyone has access to the source code, and can tinker with it as long as the changes are shared.

Zubkoff took months to weigh his decision, afraid his labour of love would become just labour if he began collecting a paycheck for Linux work. "Money and stock options are not the only motivating factors," he said. In fact, in the Linux community developers value their reputations above all else. Their code hangs out in cyberspace, where anyone is free to praise it -- or poke holes.

In the end, Zubkoff said VA Research presented him with a chance to work on hardware he simply couldn't afford on his own, allowing him to experiment with multiple processing and other heavy-duty projects. Plus, being aligned with a company gives him earlier access to technology such as Intel Corp. hardware, though he insists he will always fight to keep the Linux software open and available. What's more, Zubkoff said his new CTO title gives him more influence. Though he was well-known in the Linux community, the corporate world didn't always care about his hacking skills.

If he found bugs in hardware programs, he couldn't just call them up and request fixes. Now, with VA Research behind him, he can. "Instead of just hoping for the best, I've got the clout to get things done," he said.

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