Elizabeth K. Joseph: exclusive interview for AT blog
Today I’m showing you an exclusive interview with Elizabeth K. Joseph. I encourage you to keep reading interesting things about her, her work with IBM Z mainframes, Linux, open-source, and more.
Architecnología: Who is Elizabeth K. Joseph? Can you describe yourself?
Elizabeth K. Joseph: If I had to pick just a couple things, I’d say I’m a Linux geek and science fiction fan. I’ve been playing with Linux for over 20 years, and I love reading and watching science fiction, which is where my “pleia2” (Princess Leia 2) monkier comes from.
AT: When did you become interested in technology?
E.K.J: I’ve been playing around with computers since my family received our first computer, an IBM 8086, when I was about 10 years old. I wrote stories in the text-only word processor and played command-line games that ran off 5.25” floppy disks. When I was in high school I’d save up money to buy my own computers, and amassed a small collection of 286 and 386 machines that I played around with for fun.
It took me a long time to realize I could do it as a job. I didn’t go to school for computer science, and was in my mid-20s before I had a serious job related to computers.
AT: Have you suffered any kind of gender discrimination or do you feel that you have had to fight more to be a woman?
E.K.J: Yes, but most of it has been quite mild. The biggest problem I have day to day is having to prove that I’m a technology expert, especially since I transitioned to being a Developer Advocate. Everyone assumes the men I work with are highly technical, but I have to go out of my way to prove that I’m technical, whether that’s producing code or talking about the tech books I’ve written.
AT: Any advice for girls/women who want to start the STEM world?
E.K.J.: It’s so much fun. Watching something you wrote or built being used by thousands, or millions, of other people is incredibly satisfying. As technologists, we’re building the future, and can have a real impact.
And you belong here! You need to work hard and always be learning, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re falling behind or if it looks easy for other people, we all feel like that sometimes. Just keep trying, you’ll do great.
AT: You are the author of books like «The Official Ubuntu Book», and also of «Common OpenStack Deployments». When did you start to be interested in Linux?
E.K.J: I started playing around with Linux in 1999. In 2001 I started running it full time on my desktop and immediately dug into the source code for an Enlightenment plug-in to change the functionality and make it do what I wanted. I’ve been hooked ever since! I went on to a career in Linux Systems Administration, which has been heavily infused with my work on open source software, including my deep involvement in the Ubuntu and OpenStack communities.
AT: Do you also use open source and Linux outside of work? And your favorite program, videogame and distro?
E.K.J.: All my computers run Linux, including my desktop (which I recently rebuilt) and laptop which both run Xubuntu. The virtual machine that I host my personal website on and the media and backup servers at home all run Debian. I also have a GPD Pocket, a tiny hand-held computer that I run Debian on.
The GIMP is probably my favorite program. I’m not an artist or anything, but I do a lot of image editing for articles and presentations, so I use it every day.
I don’t play video games on my Linux machines these days, but I did recently buy a Nintendo Switch and it’s continued my love for the Zelda series of games.
AT: What do you think about open source hardware? Any project that especially catches your attention?
E.K.J.: I’m a strong believer in open hardware. I was really excited when IBM announced that they were making the POWER Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) open source in August 2019 (info).
Personally, I funded the Kickstarter for the Mycroft Mark II, an open alternative to many of the voice-powered devices on the market today.
AT: What exactly do you do with IBM Z machines? And can you explain to the readers what a DA is?
E.K.J.: IBM Z is the newest generation of mainframes from IBM, and in my job as a Developer Advocate part of my job is to talk to people like myself in the industry to explain why developers and Linux systems administrators today may be interested in the platform. The first thing I tend to talk about is how cool the hardware is. They offer the fastest commercially available processors on the market, and include cryptographic co-processors, which make it easy to encrypt all of your data, both at rest and inflight, without not taking anything away from your general processing power. On Linux this is accomplished with open source tooling, so you’re just using your standard OpenSSL libraries and dm-crypt at the kernel level, and it just uses the hardware to do the encryption and decryption.
It’s not open hardware, but IBM Z systems run Linux (and have since 1999!) alongside their traditional proprietary operating systems like z/OS, and there’s a tremendous amount of open source work happening. On the open source side, I am also one of the contacts for developers who are looking to port their application to the IBM Z architecture, so I set them up with free virtual machines to use for their projects, and do what I can to get them whatever other resources they need. I’ve also started to get involved with the Open Mainframe Project, which is developing a lot of open source software for traditional mainframe workloads.
AT: Can you also explain about Partimus?
E.K.J.: Partimus is a non-profit organization in the San Francisco Bay Area and I’ve been on the Board of Directors for several years. We started out by providing Linux-based computers to schools in the area, but have now branched out to libaries and community centers. Today our biggest deployment is in collaboration with low-income housing facilities in San Francisco to help residents increase their digital literacy and apply for jobs, we run small Linux-based labs at several of their locations for the residents.
AT: What do you like to do in your free time? Do you usually dedicate your free time to technology or do you prefer to «disconnect» and do different things?
E.K.J.: I still do a lot of tech stuff in my free time. I recently bought a Raspberry Pi 4 and am eager to get that set up. I’d also love to have more time to play with little electronics projects, I have an Arduino that’s been gathering dust for a couple years that I’d love to find a purpose for.
Last year my husband and I welcomed our first child, so I have a lot less free time than I used to! I now go on a lot of walks and outings to keep our little son busy. I’ve always had a love for zoos and have visited zoos all over the world, so it’s been fun introducing him to some of my favorite zoos and aquariums in the area. We also go on a lot more walks and stroller-friendly hikes than we used to, both at home and when we’re traveling.
AT: Some funny anecdote that happened to you at work that you can share with us?
E.K.J.: A lot of people at IBM have been there for their whole careers, joining the company right out of college. When I joined my team at IBM, I was only one of two people hired from outside of IBM. There have been many instances of me not knowing what different departments do or various acronyms mean, which can sometimes be funny. I think my favorite was when we were talking about IBM Z sales, and I told them “I don’t even know how to buy a mainframe.” They all laughed! But I was serious!
AT: Open source, mainframes, space, beer, animals, trains, etc. One moment!… trains? What happens in California? Sheldon Cooper, you,… Is it a virus? Hahaha. Just kidding. Any unconfessable freak/geek hobbies? Almost no one will read to you, I promise (I’m crossing my fingers :p).
E.K.J.: A lot of tech people love trains! I always take them when I’m in Europe. I loved the trains in Japan. When I was in Australia last month, I took one from Brisbane to Gold Coast for Linux.conf.au.
My husband and I spent a long holiday weekend a few years ago taking a train across the United States, from San Francisco to Philadelphia. We only stopped briefly at a few stations, but the whole trip took about 3.5 days. Since then, I’ve taken long haul trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles (for the Open Source Summit), Philadelphia to Raleigh (for All Things Open), and Philadelphia to Boston (for a USENIX planning event).
I’d love to get more into model trains as a hobby, but I don’t have the time right now. All I have is a little train I set up during the holidays.
AT: Languages: Python, Perl, HTML, bash, CSS, LaTeX, YAML, XML, JSON,… When Spanish? And to say something more than «una cerveza por favor» and «hola»? Hahaha.
E.K.J.: Yo tengo un gato negro! 🙂
When I was in Lima, Peru for UbuCon Latin America a few years ago I realized that I knew a few nouns, so sometimes I’d just shout out something, like “una manzana!” or “un pájaro!” and everyone got a good laugh. I wish I could make the time to learn more, maybe some day…