From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Friday, June 14, 2013

There and Back Again -- A Hacker's Tale

Relaxation.  Simply put, I am really bad at it.  My wife, Kim, a veritable expert, has come to understand that, while she can, I can't sit still.  For better or worse, I cannot lay on a beach, sip a cerveza, and watch the waves splash at my feet for hours.  10 minutes, tops.  You'd find me instead going for a run in the sand or kayaking or testing the limits of my SCUBA dive table.  Oh, and I can't take naps.  I stay up late and wake up early.  I spend my nights and weekends seeking adventure, practicing any one of my countless hobbies.  Or picking up a new one.

So here I am on my first-ever 5-week sabbatical, wide awake late tonight at the spectacular Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  Kimi, Cami, and I are on an ambitious, month-long, 5,000+ mile road trip from Austin, Texas to Banff, Alberta, Canada, visiting nearly every National Park in between.  Most of our accommodations are far more modest than this chalet -- we're usually in motels, cabins, or cottages.  In any case, this place is incredible.  Truly awe-inspiring, and very much befitting of the entire experience of grandeur which is Glacier and Waterton National Parks.

But this is only one night's stop of 30 amazing days with my loving wife and beautiful daughter.  30 days, covering over a dozen national parks, monuments, and forests.

And with that, I am most poignantly reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson's sage advice, that, "Life's a journey, not a destination."

And speaking of, this brings me back to said sabbatical...

July 8th, 2013 marks my first day back at Canonical, after a 19 month hiatus for "An Unexpected Journey", and I couldn't be more excited about it!

I spent the last year-and-a-half on an intriguing, educational, enlightening journey with a fast-growing, fun startup, called Gazzang.  Presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I took a chance and joined a venture-funded startup, based in my hometown of Austin, Texas, and built on top of an open source project, eCryptfs, that I have co-authored and co-maintained.

I joined the team very early, as the Chief Architect, and was eventually promoted to Chief Technical Officer.  It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave a job I loved at Canonical, but the nature of the opportunity at Gazzang was just too unique to pass up.

Introducing this team to many of the engineering processes we have long practiced within Ubuntu (time-based release cycles, bzr, Launchpad, IRC, Google+ hangouts, etc.), we drastically improved our engineering effectiveness and efficiency.  We took Gazzang's first product -- zNcrypt: an encrypted filesystem utilizing eCryptfs (and eventually dm-crypt) -- to the enterprise with encryption for Cloud and Big Data.  We also designed and implemented, from scratch, a purely software (and thus, cloud-ready), innovative key management system, called zTrustee, that is now rivaling the best hardware security modules (HSMs) in the business.  As CTO, I wrote thousands of lines of code, architected multiple products, assisted scores of sales calls as a sales engineer, spoke at a number of conferences, assisted our CEO with investor pitches, and provided detailed strategic and product advice to our leadership team.

Gazzang was a special journey, and I'll maintain many of the relationships I forged there for a lifetime.

I am quite proud of the team and products that we built, I will continue to support Gazzang in an advisory capacity, as a Technical Advisor, and a shareholder.  Austin has a very healthy startup scene, and I feel quite fortunate to have finally participated actively in it.  With this experience, I have earned an MBA-compatible understanding of venture funded startups that, otherwise, might have cost 3 years and $60K+ of graduate school.

Of all of the hats I wore at Gazzang, I think the role where I felt most alive, where I thrived at my fullest, was in the product innovation and strategy capacity.  And so I'm absolutely thrilled to re-join Canonical on the product strategy team, and help extend Ubuntu's industry leadership and creativity across both existing and new expressions of Cloud platforms.

In 1932, Waterton-Glacier became the world's first jointly administered national park.  This international endeavor reminds me how much I have missed the global nature of the work we do within Ubuntu.  The elegance in engineering of this Price of Wales Hotel and the Glacier Lodge rekindles appreciation of the precision and quality of Ubuntu.  And the scale of the glacial magnificence here recalls the size of the challenge before Ubuntu and the long term effect of persistence, perseverance, and precision.

I am grateful to Mark and all of Canonical for giving me this chance once again.  And I'm looking forward to extending Ubuntu's tradition of excellence as platform and guest in cloud computing!

Please excuse me, as I struggle to relax for another 3 weeks...