When my boss strongly suggested that I might like to contribute to the company blog, my first thought was, “Sounds like fun.” Then, “What the heck do I write about?” One of the first rules of blogging is apparently to write about what you know about (duh) and secondly, to write what you are interested in. But I am interested in everything. I love to learn. I would still be a student except that money seemed like an attractive way to get to do more things that I was interested in. One of the reasons I became an engineer is because it is a means to a lifetime of constant learning. Engineers solve puzzles for a living, which means they are always learning something new. Most engineers also love to share what they know, and what we create makes life better for everyone.
One of the most fascinating developments to me is open source. The internet is the ultimate in open source. Everyone considers the internet to be “free,” but the cost is borne by every server that is connected to the internet, and open source is like that. A few make it possible for the unknown many.
I was using the internet in 1987 to communicate with friends at Fermi labs, but of course it wasn’t the internet back then. I had my first pop account in 1995. Back then, Usenet was much more interesting than web sites. I eventually succeeded in starting an engineering Usenet group, but was so frustrated with all the consensus-making in order to create an official group that I had a friend create an “alt” group for me. Everyone piled on in the alt.hvac group and when the official sci.engr.heat-vent-ac finally came online, no one cared. (“Sci.engr.hvac” was shot down because it might have been misinterpreted as “high vacuum,” thus one individual vetoed the idea.) We didn’t care; we too busy posting on alt.hvac.
Usenet was an incredible experience, and enabled me to communicate with others in my field about problems common to our field in the alt.hvac bulletin board, a precursor to today’s forum. The hallmark of open source community is that in the absence of a strong, decisive, and very knowledgeable and technically talented leader, open source can become a platform for analysis-paralysis. My group was unmoderated, but at the time, spam wasn’t as much of an issue. We were able to share ideas freely in what amounted to 24/7 topic-related break room with accompanying social structure, including the guy that talked to much, the infrequent but very knowledgeable gurus, and the occasional brawl (aka “flame war.”)
The spirit of the early days of the internet is still alive in technical forums. People are still willing to share their experiences and help others with issues they have themselves conquered already. It feels good to help others, and it’s in the social fabric of humans to help others. (I think it’s one of the main reasons that a fur-less, small-toothed, poorly muscled creature has ended up dominating the world: we help each other; often for purely altruistic reasons.) Open source software and hardware is the same way. The growth of the internet was greatly influenced by open source software, and the internet has drastically changed the way we live in just one decade. I wonder how open source hardware will change the world in another decade.
Lynnette Reese holds a B.S.E.E from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Lynnette has worked at Mouser Electronics, Texas Instruments, Freescale (now NXP), and Cypress Semiconductor. Lynnette has three kids and occasionally runs benign experiments on them. She is currently saving for the kids’ college and eventual therapy once they find out that cauliflower isn’t a rare albino broccoli (and other white lies.)
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