Accidentally Pulling My Bootstraps – Post Meritocracy?

In a telephone interview for a technical role I was asked “What do you think of Open Source Software?” Without missing a beat I responded with “I’m an Open Source Nut!”

I love Open Source software. I’ve been dabbling with software development since my mid-teens; Y’know a little Visual BASIC, Borland Delphi,  Macromedia Flash, BYOND? Even a teensy bit of C in the IDE Bloodshed Dev-C++.

But then in my early twenties I wandered off in to the wilderness for a while… stopped working in the shitty supermarket I was at, and partied rather frequently.

After a couple of years of this I was knackered, so to wean myself off the high life I needed a hobby. Sat in the corner of a room, at my parent’s house where I lived at the time, by the back door, where it had always been was my computer.

I was broke! Had nothing left really, but this low spec machine… Games weren’t an option. They cost money and the computer was too naff for it anyway! I’d already installed Ubuntu for some reason (psilocybin is one hell of a drug!) and deciding I wanted to pick up from where I left off I resolved to finally learn SDL and make a “real” game.

The project, a point ‘n’ click adventure game/engine, never saw the light of day, but by developing that and with some forced distro hopping when upgrades didn’t go to plan, I was tangentially learning some useful shit about Linux/Unix-like operating systems, development, revision control, compilers, libraries, command line utils, etc. This is what I did through the day, at night I’d got a job working in a warehouse. Building cardboard sales displays… I was terrible at it!

Now, also since my mid-teens I’d had this long distance relationship with a squeaky nutcase in the adjacent country. I was getting sick of the distance, and living at my parents (by this point I was 25) and I really wanted to move on. I hopped on a job site and started looking for “linux jobs” – pie in the sky kinda stuff! One came up that surprised me, in the town where my lady-wench was from was a job for a Trainee Developer and they were asking for people with any experience, the word “home” was even in the job description.

I distinctly remember telling my other half, “I feel different about this one, this one is **my** job!”

So I applied for it, and then promptly received a test… Oooh! It was to debug a function in the most retarded looking code I’ve ever seen. It was in Perl. I’d heard of that, its creator Larry Wall was enigmatic, cool and had given his swiss army chainsaw away for free!

I was excited but the code was a ball-ache to read. I pored over it for ages, I Googled free tutorials. In the end I rewrote it, rather than just fix the bugs, but I must’ve missed the point and didn’t hear anything back.

So life went on and I was holding out for a job at the tax office, a big recruitment intake was coming up. There was some sort of online test to get it, but the pass grade was stupidly high and I didn’t get it. Man I was pissed off, it brought up a load of bad feelings. There was that one I was sure was my job… The Trainee Developer, so glum and pissed off I decided to chase it up – here is the email I sent. Behold its arse-y tone!

Hello, my name’s Myke and I applied for the role TRAINEE DEVELOPER on 1st August 2012, whereupon you sent me your Perl test which I responded to promptly on the 3rd August 2012.

I waited for a week or so, and sent another email to ascertain whether or not you had received my response. I have not received anything back.

The reason why I am writing to you today is to request feedback on my application, for if a role arises within your company I would love to apply for it and would like to stand myself in better stead of doing so.

Thank you for your time

This stirred some motion and the Director of Development followed up and asked me to look at the Perl test again. I did, got ignored again, chased it up again. Then it happened… I was in my pyjama shorts and a hoodie in my parents living room… I received the 18 words that have made me the happiest I have ever been in my life.

I did get it, yes.

We’d like to interview you. [REDACTED], can you organise an interview with Myke.

That was it! In my head I had it in the bag. I could prove I was capable of learning this shit! I had half a point n’ click adventure game working in C!

And you know what? I did…

Quite the lengthy preface, but this Post Meritocracy stuff that’s flying around in the wake of Linus Torvalds stepping down from the kernel kind of bums me out.

Free/Open Source software (FOSS) always provided me with a means to an end. I’d been given all these skills and tools for free! Things that empowered me in the job market! More than any of the horrendous shit the state would make me do for my dole. The sense of community was that “we put it out there, and anybody can pick it up – from any walk of life”

It’s all out there and if you have the inclination and even the smallest modicum of computing power you can start acquiring skills to be useful in this space, you’ve just gotta be in to it, and like it. You can make things that have utility, that’s the joy, and you can duck out there.

Meritocracy is a great equaliser! Someone like me with no money, no degree, no prospects, a burnt out little druggie still living with his parents, could accidentally pull himself up by his bootstraps. Just doing what he loved… picking the fruits of other people’s labour and running with them.

It doesn’t matter who wrote Linux, GNU Core Utils, GCC, glibc, SDL, etc. – as well as the reams of tutorials I read/watched and StackOverflow answers. They were correct and empowered me to do more than just make a silly little game with my long distance girlfriend.

It now pays my mortgage.

My salary has tripled in 6 years. (I have moved on to another employer though…)

Co-opting someone else’s brilliance by complaining they’re not diverse enough is shamefully inserting yourself somewhere you have no ability to work.

If you want to contribute to a project and you think they’re odious – you can simply fork it and move on. Alls you have to do is spend the time figuring it out, have actual passion.

If you wanted more diversity in the world of FOSS a better way would be to take these resources that are all readily available in the wild and put them in a format where these less privileged folk can digest them.

All it takes is a little tenacity on your end, and a nice person to take a risk…

I love you guys.

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