March 6, 2001

Stoking the FreeBSD fire with committer Murray Stokely

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -

Open Source people
Twenty-two year old Murray Stokely is one of 200 or so "committers"
to
FreeBSD.
"Committer" is a tier below "core" team member, and one tier above
"read
only," in the FreeBSD access tree. It's a term derived from the CVS
commit command, which is used to bring new changes into the CVS
repository. Committers are those granted write access to the CVS tree.

Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Stokely had never left the
East Coast before moving to Pleasant
Hill
, California, six days after his graduation from Nease High
School, to work for Walnut Creek CDROM. He
wasn't nervous about the move, wasn't reluctant, he just packed up his
bags and flew to the other coast where he resumed life as an adult. No four- or five-year transition via college bars and canceled appointments with career counselors, no second job necessary to supplement income while he pursued a dream job. He simply started right where he wanted to be. As far as leaving home goes, he was ready. He goes back to see his family several times a year but as for a future in the Florida,
he couldn't see it. Plus he was getting some good offers.

He's pursuing a B.A. at night now but it's really just for the sake
of personal betterment.

"I've been offered six figure jobs since just out of high school, so
I don't really see the degree as a path toward work but it's important to
me to keep learning." If he continues on his current trajectory he should
be boasting a bachelor's degree in theoretical math within the next two
years. Unlike the way he develops software, which he can focus on into the
witching hour, his higher education is more of a meander through the pages of a
course catalogue. He has taken classes in cultural geography,
anthropology, linguistics, speech, just about every science you can
think of. The only subject he's reluctant to tackle is film because all the
people he's known who took it don't like the silly films anymore. He's
not so sure he's ready to give up the joys of slapstick.

He is voracious more than ambitious. When explaining the difference
between a core contributor and a committer he refers to the core
members with adulation. At first he is credulous, "I could never be one of
them, they are the best." But when I question it on him he is quick to
concede, "plus, I wouldn't really want all that administrative burden." As a
kid, he was more into art than he was technology but once he learned PASCAL,
started BBS-ing, he switched tracks and tearing through every O'Reilly book he
could get his hands on.

Nobody else in his family is technical, which is why Mr. Stokely was
shocked when his son handed him not only the $400 phone bill Murray
racked up using his new modem, but the money to pay for it, too. The elder Stokeley had bought a PC for Murray when he was in middle school. Murray learned the rest on
his own and started, in addition to the standard high school rigmarole, a small
Web design and development company. He had been using Linux until other
projects and requests led him to BSD, which in turn led Walnut Creek to him.

"I discovered BSD in 1996 when I was asked to help maintain an
archive on the world's busiest public Internet site, ftp.cdrom.com (now
ftp.freesoftware.com). I began writing PERL scripts to search out and
delete commercial software, create HTML indices of the files ours
contained, and provide an online archive-viewer that allowed users to sample the
artwork in a collection before downloading the whole thing, etc... I
became very familiar with emacs and PERL in a FreeBSD environment at that time
and the amount of stress that this machine was putting up with was really
impressive. At the time the machine was handling over 2000
simultaneous users on a single Pentium Pro 200.

"Eventually Walnut Creek CDROM, the company behind ftp.cdrom.com,
recognized the work I was going on the ftp site and offered me a job.
When I first started working at Walnut Creek CDROM I was still using Linux
but after a couple more months I was cured of that once and for all."

He likes FreeBSD, too, for its structure, because it's complete OS instead of a
kernel, and because the development model, which involves notification when committing new code. The code can be submitted by anybody but must be committed by an elected member.

After officially adopting the name FreeBSD and essentially starting
a stand-alone project, FreeBSD co-founder Jordan K. Hubbard contacted
Walnut Creek CDROM in the interest of developing stronger distribution
channels. More than producing FreeBSD's CDs, Walnut Creek became a strong
supporter of the burgeoning Open Source operating system, eventually merging in March of
2000, with FreeBSD's corporate counterpart, Berkeley Software Development,
to become BSDi.

So now Stokely gets to work with some of his most respected committers
and core member colleagues like Hubbard, who is vice president of Open Source Solutions for BSDi. Stokely himself spends days working on writing device drivers for
FreeBSD, micromanaging the production of CDs for shipment, quality
assurance, FreeBSD snapshots and manages tech support team that helps
clients get FreeBSD installed.

Between school, work, and his live-in girlfriend, he doesn't even
have time to maintain a personal Web page anymore. It's a pace he enjoys so
much that he refuses to buy a television knowing full well that if he does
he'll do nothing but watch it. At this rate he spends his free time reading,
going to museums, day hiking, traveling, and, of course, long nights
coding.

Murray Stokely's favorites

Favorite place: Yosemite National Park.

Recent books:The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism
Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else
, by Hernando De
Sotto, and History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
Vol 1 : The New World 1939-1946
, by Richard G. Hewlett, Oscar E. Jr.
Anderson.

Favorite all time books:Catch 22, Brave New World, 1984.

Favorite television show: The Simpsons!!!

Computer game: Has stayed away since high school. Last game he
played was Warcraft II.

Next big hike: Mt. Diablo in Concord, Calif.

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