Open Source Stories: Andy, Linux Programmer @ Microsoft

Courtesy of Andy Schwartzmeyer

Andy Schwartzmeyer, Linux Programmer for the Open Source Technology Center at Microsoft, talks about transferring from Political Science to Computer Science during college, Linux and his Aunt Diane.

What do you do at Microsoft?
I am a Linux programmer for the Open Source Technology Center — technically I’m on the System Center Cross-Platform Team. We’re the people that are given projects to port. Most of the team takes care making System Center and Ops Manager work on Linux. I’m also working on an upcoming, to be announced, open source project with Microsoft that should come out around LinuxCon.

How did you get to Microsoft?
Through college, I heard about Microsoft and — at first — I didn’t think it was a place I wanted to work at. But the person I interviewed with (also my current boss) said he was a UNIX programmer at Microsoft and I thought to myself, “Wait — what’s going on over there?” And that’s when I heard about the Open Source Technology Center, which put me on the path to where I am now.

How did you get into computer science?
When I went to college, I started out in political science. Around that time, I was also working in IT as my first job in school. After a year of political science, I realized that I didn’t like arguing with people but did like working with computers. After my freshman year, I transferred to the University of Idaho and did four years in computer science as well as some math too. It was a great four years.

Was there anyone that influenced your interest in computer science?
My Aunt Diane, actually. When I was four or five years old, I would hang out at her house. She had a computer back in the day because she was a teacher — it was so much fun. When she upgraded her computer, she gave the old one to my family. I took right to it — we didn’t even have Internet back then. But from that day forward, I just hung out with computers.

How did you get into Linux?
At one point, I got my grandfather’s old laptop and at the time, it didn’t run the latest version of Windows well so I ended up getting Linux on there, which really pointed me towards the whole world of Linux and open source software.

What drew you into open source?
I liked that I could change things on my own. It wasn’t just a black box. If it’s open source, it’s yours. You can download it, modify it and you can try to fix your bug… try and fail usually, but also try and succeed. And when you succeed, you become a part of something larger than just you — it’s the great open source world. Unlike school projects, open source projects are real — people were actually using them and usually you were working with people who were far beyond your own abilities, especially when you’re a new programmer.

And when you succeed, you become a part of something larger than just you — it’s the great open source world.

What’s surprised you most about working in open source at Microsoft?
Really just the change here — I didn’t expect people to be so pro-moving-their-things to open source and moving them into Git. The majority of people want to put it out there for the world to help them with because that’s the nice thing about open source. You’re no longer alone or just your team. Your customers and the other developers out there — some of which are your customers — get to work on it with you. So that surprised me a lot. It’s been really open source friendly.

How does someone get started in open source?
It’s an interesting question. Do you dive into open source or are you drawn into it? In my case, I was drawn into it. If you’re looking to get into open source, maybe you take a look at the tools that you’re already using and see which ones are open source — chances are that you’re using some that are. If you find a bug, you can try to fix it. Start with just contacting developers — you can go to GitHub, select “File an Issue” and message them saying, “Hey, I want to implement this new feature — what do you guys think?” These developers will usually point you in the right direction, which is really handy. It’s a lot easier than just diving in blind.

How can someone get a job like yours?
Get involved — early on, if you can. You don’t have to start work to start doing open source. That’s the nice thing about it. I started in school, but you can start even if you’re not in school studying programming. Just get on the Internet, find a cool tool (hopefully it’s open sourced) and if it is — go for it. If you are looking for a job, the Open Source Technology Center here is an amazing department — it’s pretty great.

Quick Bytes
Favorite Coding Environment & Tools: Emacs, Hyper-V, Git.

Favorite Late-Night Coding Snack: Chocolate-covered things — almonds, raisins, banana chips…

Favorite Swag: T-shirts and GitHub Stickers

Role Models: Richard M. Stallman, KY Srinivasan, Linus Torvalds, Greg Kroah-Hartman

You can find Andy on Twitter and GitHub. His personal website is at: www.schwartzmeyer.com.