Monday, 28 January 2013 18:37

A wait and see approach that worked Featured

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What does a Linux kernel developer talk about when he sits down with a journalist with whom he had a minor stoush at the LCA a few years ago?

When Intel's Matthew Wilcox and I got talking at the Australian national Linux conference this evening, we talked about his weight!

He remembered the verbal duel we had had. I could not. There was just one reason for this: Wilcox looks nothing like what he did in 2010 when we clashed; he has dropped 77 pounds in about two years and looks a whole lot different.

His method? Wilcox says he used The Hacker's Diet to cut the pounds. He has a graph which shows the gradual dropping of weight and it does look impressive. He now looks lean but certainly not mean; indeed, a softer-spoken hacker I have yet to encounter.

The realisation that he was carrying around too much weight came when he looked in the mirror a few years ago and noticed a double-chin. It comes as a surprise that he, a vegetarian, should have been piling on the pounds, but he blames this on the sizes of North American portions.

Wilcox does not think that his work as a programmer was responsible for his putting on weight. "A majority of people now spend their working lives sitting down, not merely programmers," he points out.

He is another non-Australian who loves the LCA; in this respect he follows senior Debian developer Bdale Garbee, an American who has been to every LCA since 2002.

Wilcox has been to about 10 Linux conferences in Australia. "I like the fact that there are fresh ideas every time, due to the organisers being different," he said. "The people are nice, the speakers are interesting and I find a lot of good people to chat with."

A Briton, he now lives in Ottawa. "Went there for a job, stayed for the girl," he explains. The job was with the now defunct LinuxCare; the girl, who is now his wife, he met at a technical conference, she being a friend of the organiser.

As a boy he was good at maths, and poor at sport. That explains why he never tried to become a cricketer or even tried to play soccer; his teachers, his mom and all his elders encouraged him.

People helped him to get computer time at school when the other kids were out in the fields. He spent the time writing little programs.

That free software figures in his life he puts down to the idealism that any teenager would have - and the influence of Richard Stallman.

"I thought it was a wonderful thing to be able to use the contributions of all these famous people and to be able to contribute back," he says.

Wilcox's first kernel patch was submitted in 1997; he wanted to move some files from his Acorn Archimedes system to a Linux system and he couldn't do it as the ISO format did not support the necessary extensions.

The patch was accepted, after a few comments that he deems to be "on target" and his career was more or less decided.

But things did not fall into place for a while; he was hired as a Java programmer by a bio-informatics start=-up after he graduated. Wilcox then got involved in porting Linux to the PA-RISC platform and he ended up getting hired by LinuxCare.

He then moved on to HP where he was the chief PA-RISC maintainer for a while. From HP he moved on to Intel where he has been working for the last five years.

Wilcox is essentially a happy person and very soft-spoken. But that clash we had was a good thing - elese we wouldn't have sat down and chatted today. I ended up getting acquainted with one more of that amazing group who contribute to the kernel that we all use.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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