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Carla Schroder says she just "kind of wandered into" her current life as a free software advocate and well-known IT journalist. "I don't have much in the way of formal education. But I've always been mechanically inclined - your classic ripping things apart and figuring out how they work. I think that makes open source a natural fit for me."
Schroder didn't study computers or programming in school. She found formal education "horrible and boring," and says she couldn't wait to get out. Once she did, Schroder embarked on a curious path that led to her role as the managing editor of LinuxToday.com. "I've had a lot of different careers. I started out as an auto mechanic, and that lasted until cars got all computerized, and then it's hard to stay in business" because of extensive and expensive equipment needs. Next up for Schroder were stints in landscape maintenance and housecleaning. "I got bored with that," she says. "I seem to last about six years." Then she learned massage therapy. "I was getting beat up doing that landscaping work."
In the early 90's as a massage therapist in Portland, Oregon, Schroder found that most of her clientele were people involved in the high-tech industry. "They were all getting repetitive strain injuries. That was my introduction to computers. Before that they just hadn't been on my radar. Then a friend loaned me her Macintosh LC-II. That was my very first computer. And it was fun. But there is something about the Apple way of doing things. I was like, 'this is OK, but not really satisfying.' Next was a Windows 3.1 PC. 3.1 was pretty much a fiasco. I was always dropping to DOS to get any work done. But that was more fun, getting under the hood."
While still a massage therapist, Schroder starting writing a regular column entitled "Happy, Healthy Computering" for a local computer publication called Computer Bits. That was the beginning of Schroder's career as a journalist. She soon tired of writing about health and started writing about her newfound hobby: computers, and eventually open source software.
"I started gravitating toward Linux then because there were a couple of Linux writers at the magazine. I also started helping people with their computers - home users and small businesses. As soon as people know you can do anything with computers they start waving money at you. But [consulting] is stressful and demanding." So Schroder focused more on her writing.
"On this one mailing list, one of the editors at Jupitermedia posted that he needed a technology writer. I was all over that," Schroder says. "Michael Hall opened lot of doors for me. I'd been freelancing for various Linux sites on Jupitermedia Linux since 2002, writing nice gnarly Linux howtos of all kinds -- desktop, system, and network administration. I also substituted for Brian Proffitt, the former managing editor and mastermind behind Linux Today and LinuxPlanet, when he took time off. Then Brian got a fantastic opportunity to work as the Linux Developer Network community manager for the Linux Foundation, which is the group that pays Linus Torvalds' paycheck. So I said to the Jupitermedia bosses 'Me! Me! Pick me!' And after keeping me in suspense for a dreadfully long time -- it was like days -- they said OK. Which all goes to show how business networking really works. It's not about going to events all full of strangers, and you wander around giving sales pitches about yourself and handing out business cards. It's about looking for opportunities, cultivating relationships, and targeting the businesses that you really want to work for."
Schroder says her new position as managing editor of LinuxToday.com is "pretty cool. I've been reading it since its inception. For the first time I get to read all the news and howto articles I want to, on the clock. It's great. And I get to share the really cool ones with all our readers."
Schroder sees her role in the FOSS community as anything but stereotypical. Instead, she identifies with other women in the open source world who are not your typical "hard core coder geeks who just want to put their heads down and not have to deal with people.
"There's a multitude of jobs to be filled in the open source world that are every bit as important as the coding. People need outreach and need to know what's available to them. I'm always into doing the hardcore howto's. I take pride in not skipping over the hard parts -- I don't think there's much point in putting out something kind of wimpy."
Schroder says she admires FOSS hero Richard Stallman. "The man is brilliant. A lot of people don't really understand how important and influential he's been for the whole issue of freedom - the freedom to tinker is a good way to look at it. The GPL itself is a work of genius because it guarantees there's going to be an ongoing ecosystem. People who take and modify this great code that's been given to them? They're going to have to give a little something back."
Schroder hopes to take her message, that FOSS is for everyone, to the masses. "One of my biggest dreams, and this has been hard to do, is to reach out to a more mainstream audience. There's all kinds of avenues for the geek crowd. The growth now is going to have to come from the so-called masses. I would love to find a way to get into more mainstream publications and start from a more fundamental level, to reach those raw baby beginners who have never had the opportunity to learn about Linux."
Our Portraits series seeks to profile individuals who are doing interesting things with free and open source software. If you know of someone you'd like to read about, please let us know.
Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.