ROSE Blog Interviews: Juliet Kemp, author and admin extraordinaire

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Oct 28, 2009 GMT
Rikki Kite

In this interview, we hear from Juliet Kemp, sys admin extraordinaire and a frequent contributor to Linux Magazine/Linux Pro Magazine. Her articles in our issues include:

Serving up ASP.NET from Apache with Mod_Mono

Linux Software on Mac OSX

Get Started with strace and Debug Faster

Techniques for Extending Your Website with CSS

Tuning in with Hobbit, Nagios, and monit

Remote Access Security with Single-Packet Port Knocking

Manipulating Your Machines with Puppet

Q: Who are you?

A: I'm Juliet Kemp; I'm a sysadmin and freelance writer on Linux. I've been using FOSS for getting on for a decade now, and working as a sysadmin for nearly as long. I recently wrote a book of Linux systems administration tips – Linux System Administration Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach – and write regularly for,, and Linux Format.

Q: What do you currently do in open source? What do you love about it?

A: Currently I spend most of my technical time writing articles – I really enjoy sharing information with other people, and doing my best to describe and explain things as clearly as possible. I've gained an enormous amount from reading the experiences of others, so it's great to be able to put something back. It's also a nice excuse to play around with things!

In hands-on terms, I volunteer as part of the Systems team at the Organisation for Transformative Works, helping to keep their servers running; and I've contributed a few patches to Dreamwidth. They're both really interesting projects, and I'm particularly enthusiastic about the high number of women involved in both of them. Coding isn't my main skill, but it's fun to have the opportunity to keep my knowledge up.

Q: You're speaking to a group of women from other fields who are considering switching careers. Why should they consider moving into an open source-related career? What should they know about the open source environment to prepare them for the transition from a different field?

A: For me, the really big pull of open source is that anyone can get under the hood and prod around at it – and then contribute. I think that's an incredibly powerful concept, and in practical terms it makes for strong communities and a lot of available help. (I always dread having to fix a problem with a non-OS program, because I know there'll be so much less information out there for me to access!)

Open source is very dynamic, too – the ease of contribution means that there's a lot going on. Also, the ideals of free-as-in-speech software and copyleft are really appealing to me.

All of that impacts on your experience in the field, but I think in a very positive way.

Q: You're speaking to a group of high school students (male and female). Why should they consider exploring career options in open source?

A: All of the above, really; plus I think that open source is only going to grow in importance over time. So it's a good direction to go in if you're young and starting out on your working life.

Having said that: I firmly believe that it's never too late to change job or career, and that you should never see yourself as locked into any particular direction. It's always OK to step back and do something else if you're not having fun any more. Open source does, I think, give you a lot of transferable skills, and it's a growing field with a huge variety of possibilities in job/career terms.

Q: What question do you wish I'd asked? And how would you answer it?

A: A piece of advice for women (and indeed anyone else) going into open source: Remember that you are competent, and be prepared to stand up for yourself. Believe in your own abilities enough to allow yourself to go for things that you think are just beyond you. Rising to the challenge is the best way to improve.

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