Software engineer Thomas Gibbons remembers from an early age working with his father to set up mail servers in their home in Kidderminster, England. His dad, Christopher Gibbons, a BT (British Telecom) engineer, was always eager to teach him about things he expressed interested in, he said via phone this week.
“He got me into programming as well. I’m where I am today because of my father’s faith in me,” Gibbons said. “Whenever I wanted to learn something, he said ‘Great, we’ll learn it together.”
In the 90s as the web was starting to get big, for example, Gibbons heard about websites at school and wanted to learn about them. So his dad went out and bought a visual website editor called HotMetal Pro to experiment with. They learned HTML together. And when Thomas’s Tamagotchi digital pet inspired him to build a game, his dad bought Visual Basic 5.0, and they built a high-low game together. That was his first foray into Windows development.
“We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but if I had something I wanted to learn, be it books or software, he got it,” he said.
It was only natural, then, that in 2002 when Thomas wanted to learn about Linux, his dad helped him do that, too.
“We had a Windows server on the machines at the time. I can’t remember how I heard of Linux, but I asked my father about it and he got a copy of Red Hat 8.0 and we played around together,” Gibbons said. “I think he quickly lost interest but I was quite taken with it.”
Early Learning Led to Linux Career
Today Gibbons is a software engineer specializing in DevOps for Maker Studios, based in Los Angeles. All of the companies that he’s worked for over the past 10 years, including Live Nation and Napster, have relied on Linux for their development servers. Lately he’s become adept at spinning up a group of web servers on Amazon Web Services, using tools such as the AWS Linux command line tool and Chef.
Fedora is still his desktop distro of choice, though CentOS powers his home servers now, including the Asterisk PBX he set up a few years ago when he moved from England to the United States for work. His PBX drives the landline in his house and connects to the PBX at his dad’s house so they can talk on the phone at much cheaper long-distance rates.
Last year, more than a decade after he first learned about Linux with his dad, Gibbons used that PBX to guide his dad through a Fedora desktop installation over the phone. His father is using Linux now and getting more familiar with it, he said, but he still needs help occasionally. Gibbons can SSH into his machine and do anything as if he was there in front of him, he said.
“I owe an awful lot to my father,” he said. “I’m very fortunate that he was willing to teach me.”
Gibbons is also grateful for the freedom and openness of the Linux platform, he said, which has allowed him and so many others to experiment with programming at low to no cost. To contribute back to the communities that he’s learned from, he’s very active helping new Linux users in forums and websites such as Reddit. He also recently became a Linux Foundation individual supporter.
“I want to help Linux thrive, to fly the flag and be a part of something truly life changing,” Gibbons said. “Amazing projects such as One Laptop per Child are possible because of Linux and I want to help drive such innovation.”