October 3, 2000

Not better, just different

Author: JT Smith

By Julie Bresnick
NewsForge Columnist
Open Source people

Alex Chamandy is the owner and founder of Black Hat Networks, a full-service IT consulting and development firm that he currently runs out of the
attic of his parents house, which he is still young enough to refer to as
his.He is 20 years old. That means he was born in 1980. In 1980, I was
9 and my mother was convincing my father to send me to private school
because she refused to accept my teacher's suggestion that I belonged in
remedial reading. I thought my world would end, and I wore corduroys to the
interview in protest of the dress code. Five years later I smoked my first
cigarette. Alex, by then a total of 5 years old, started
tinkering with his first computer. Today I turn 29. I rent a small
apartment, use the MTA as my primary mode of transportation and don't,
technically, have a full time job. Alex is looking to rent office space and
buy a home.

He sold his first car, an Acura Integra, shortly after graduating from
high school, to fund the realization of his teenage dream, owning his own IT
company. So now that he's made his money back and then some, he's looking
to buy a car, too.

He's even younger than last week's subject. In fact, he makes James look
like a veteran, not just because he's two years younger than James but
because where James talked about the past, Alex is pumped for the future. He
talks really fast on the phone and he sounds a little winded, like he's
running around the attic. I imagine him in a headset expediting small tasks
on large systems, until he mumbles out of the side of his mouth to a third
party, "food's here." Then I figure he's actually got the run of the first
floor, too.

His speech and the copy on his site subtly boast the mind of an idealist.
He is an activist in corporate clothing. He is passionately pro Open
Source, anti-commercial and a staunch vegan even.

His energy is contagious, and I find myself trying to issue questions as
rapidly as he answers them. It seems appropriate that his other passion,
besides computers and his business, is percussion. He plays the drums and
the congas and bongos. Among his favorite bands are Phish and Nine Inch
Nails, each profession delivered with a disclaimer that the artists had gone
too commercial for his tastes. If he ever takes a vacation it would
probably be to catch a slew of concerts.

He says he's been tinkering with electronics ever since he had the
dexterity to tinker with anything.

But unless it skips a generation and his grandparents were prodigious,
this kid's geek gene was not hereditary. His mother's a psychiatrist and
his father is a psychologist who uses a computer to administer and grade
tests. It was at his father's office that Alex first started exhibiting the
behavior that led his parents to purchase him a computer for his fifth
birthday. At 8 he took his first class programming in BASIC. When he
was 12, requests for his help to fix a friend's computer or install
software became too frequent, and he started charging a fee as a deterrent.
When that didn't work, Alex soon started cooking up the idea of starting his
own company.

He discovered Linux at 14 and has been an advocate for Open Source
ever since for both practical and philosophical reasons. He is a
self-teacher, which explains his initial attraction. When he first
downloaded Linux 1.2 and realized that it came with everything he needed to
learn the ins and outs of the software, he was hooked.

He is remarkably aloof about the name of his company, which effortlessly
calls forth ties to hackerdom. He says it's one of those corporate high
tech dot-com names that just has a ring to it. I say it's going to be very
effective in luring a lot of people who deem it expedient to put the
potential enemy on the payroll.

"I have a history of being on both sides of security. And that was in
my, I guess, more youthful time," he says with a devilish laugh that,
ironically, sounds deeper and older. "I fooled around with some things that
maybe I shouldn't have been, but there was not, at that point in time, any
legislation against what I was doing. It was still, I guess, white hat
exploring, maybe gray hat exploring."

His seriousness intensifies.

"If we're going to be securing a network of machines we want to secure it
not only as if we were going to hack into it but secure it from every single
angle and still have the network operate 100 percent."

He doesn't turn away clients that use NT but he does attempt to translate
into plain English the benefits of alternatives.

"It's really important to have Open Source. Not only for the company
creating the software but for the security of the community that is using
it. If there is some kind of exploit in that software it will be discovered
and publicized a lot faster than if it's proprietary software.

"A well put together Unix network won't be crashing every few hours or
weeks. I still do manage the security for Windows networks, but I basically
suggest putting some sort of non-Windows-based firewall in front.

"They can pay for a support contract with a company that doesn't
necessarily have the resources to provide that support in a timely manner to
them or they can get the software for free and hire an engineer on staff
that can give them 24 hour support."

On the Black Hat Networks homepage they boast the use of

Now, in the face of the growing trend in commercialization of Linux, Alex
grows passionate about the importance of the Open Source community and he is
characteristically pro-active. He is not only encouraging communal exchange
through the support and development of NixFreak Networks, he's also getting
ready to release something for fellow developers to chomp on.

"At Black Hat Labs we're working on a project that is completely Open
Source, porting FreeBSD's port collection to Solaris so that Solaris users
won't have to spend so much time searching the Internet for files and having
to download them and install them. It will just automate the whole
download-install process sort of like the Linux package manager except that
it will offer either binary or source.

"We're going to need assistance from the Open Source community fixing
bugs and of course we're going to want to port it to a number of different
Unix labors besides Solaris."

Considering his clarification that he only considers himself a hacker if
it is defined as someone who likes to keep his/her mind satisfied, it is an
act in tribute to his fellow developers as much as in expediency that he
dedicate personal and corporate resources to facilitating the transfer
of a complex technology from one platform to the other and invite assistance
in doing so.

After all, it's not like he can just take everybody out for a beer,
which, of course, is what I'd do.

(They won't deploy a site for the porting project until it's ready for


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