September 5, 2000

Open Source people

Author: JT Smith

By: Julie Bresnick
NewsForge Columnist

I am geek, hear me roar

Earlier this month, the non-profit Apache Software Foundation released
the fifth and final alpha test version of Apache 2.0. Earlier this year I
had a chance to speak with Ryan Bloom, one of its developers, We talked extensively about his
true loves and how he got started in both of them. He is smart and shy and
genuine. It was, he claimed, his first interview ever.Ryan is a senior software engineer at Covalent Technologies in San
Francisco. He is also one of the lead developers in the Apache 2.0 project.
It's common knowledge that Apache maintains a solid 60% share of
the Web server market. Considering that Web servers are making America's
love affair with the Internet possible, that's a sizable responsibility he's
got. Impressed, I imagine Ryan in a hat just like Willy Wonka's, bringing
candy to the scrambling masses.

Odd perhaps, but I'm sure I am drawn to the parallel because I can't get
over how young Ryan is. It's more than his age, 24, that amazes
me. It's also how clear it is that the only thing he loves more than his
work is his wife, who he speaks of with the intensity of a child talking
about a pending trip to Disneyworld. He refers to her many times throughout
our conversation, each time with a sense of anticipation, awe, disbelief.
He fiddles with his wedding ring, getting used to it, making sure it's still

Granted, he's a little nervous because it is his first interview ever, but
heck, when I was 24 most guys I knew couldn't keep their mind on
the same girl long enough to return her phone call.

Before signing on with Covalent, Ryan worked for IBM in Raleigh N.C. It
was there that he met his wife, Kelly. When he's not practicing Hapkido
(similar to Karate) to release tension, he likes to go swing dancing. In
Raleigh he'd usually go every Thursday but on this particular Tuesday there
was a band in town. All his usual partners were either not in attendance or
taken. He spotted Kelly in the corner, took her to the dance floor and
three months later they were engaged. Their honeymoon last October was
his best vacation ever because it was his first with her.

First honeymoon, first interview, for conventional stars this is a
rarity. And a star is exactly what Ryan is now that people have begun to
recognize and approach him at trade shows, eager to carry the collaboration
off the Web and into face-to-face conversation.

It used to be that you could spot a true artist in Hollywood when they
"confessed" that what they really missed and loved now that they'd achieved
fame was the theater, that performing live and on stage was where they
really got a thrill, where they were at the roots of their craft. Now,
nobody would be impressed if some Webian claimed that what they really love
to do is write code. It wouldn't take much to debunk a false claim anyway,
given the right situation. But true coders aren't hard to find. They're
the ones who admit that in front of a computer screen is where they really
like to be. They're the ones from which code, as Ryan puts it, "just kind
of falls out" of their fingers.

More than his penchant for code, it is his humility that makes him so
genuine. He is proud of Apache but resides far from conceit, adamant that
credit goes to everybody involved, sure that he has never released code that
someone else hasn't fixed.

It's clear that Ryan is the real thing. He's very up front with the
reality that he has spent his free time programming since the second grade.
He used to fight with his dad not about curfew but about the necessity of
upgrades. His parents couldn't understand why papers for school would
require more than a 286.

While other kids were playing football, Ryan was setting up the school's
library with a network. He saved his own money for a new 486, not to head
south for spring break. He hesitates at first when he admits some of these
details, but eventually concedes his geekhood willingly and with relief. I
guess being so young and achieving a position that is more respected than
those of most of his peers finally means he doesn't have to be bashful

The grace of swing dance, the poise of martial arts, he even bakes bread from
scratch, not to mention the whole part about residing on the cutting edge of
technology. Hmm, I wonder what the football star from Ryan's high school class is
doing now?


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