Bon Voyage Dan Simonton

by MichaelF on September 15, 2006 05:24pm

I wanted to share with all of you the letter one of Our Penguins wrote. Unfortunately he will be leaving us in another week.

Dan (or, as he's known in other circles:  Hypovex), You will be missed!!! 

** DISCLAIMER:  No Penguins Were Harmed In The Making Of This Blog **

(See Dan: We took you up on your dare.)



As of 9/22/06, the open-source lab will be the second coolest place to work in the dot-com industry. That’s right; yours truly is hitting the road.

Mid-winter of 2006 I had been out of work for about 3 months. It was also the lean-season in many companies, so jobs were few and far between. I have been a Linux sysadmin for about 6 years now and always in a full-time capacity. The idea of contracting had never occurred to me, and the thought of working at Microsoft was right up there with pursuing my childhood dream to be the first man to set foot on the Sun. I was a bit dubious about the prospect of a “Linux job” at Microsoft.

If you’ve spent as much time as I have in the past ignoring Microsoft, there really aren’t many building blocks available to you for constructing a mental image of what to expect. I imagined a scenario that might be some kind of punishment for the divine comedy’s 8th deadly sin: Corporate Geek; Parroted “Office Space” clichés, cubicles plastered with Dilbert comics, people who name their laptops, and have replaced their dating “black book” with an Outlook Calendar. Sounds like fun, right?  (and by “fun”, I mean in the same sense that diving into a wood-chipper might be).

Despite my initial reluctance, I was intrigued by the thought of an “Open Source Software lab” at Microsoft and immediately agreed to begin the interview process. I was given all kinds of advance warning about the dreaded “Microsoft Interview”. To prepare myself, I went out and bought a book on that very subject. I spent 2 days studying puzzle questions, filling my head full of logic bombs, and then the day came…

My first contact with was a phone screen with the group of penguins as it existed at the time and Kishi (as lead) who began to unleash a assault of logical conundrums like, “how would you create an ext3 file system in Linux?”, “What are some ports/sockets and associated services?”, “what’s the difference between a file and an inode?”, “what tool would you use to inspect the integrity of a hard drive”, “how would you troubleshoot this/that”, and “what is your favorite Linux distro?”

I was puzzled. I thought, “what the hell is wrong with these guys?!?! Forget all of that Linux-Schminux crap! Ask me how I would create a test matrix for Bill Gates' underwear!!” 

Never happened.

I hadn’t even been hired yet and the penguins had already cost me $5.99 and two days of my life that I will never get back…jerks.

Apparently they liked me enough though to invite me to an in-person interview. I would go into depth on what we discussed, but if you’ve ever been grilled during an interview for a Linux SA type job, just think of the questions you were asked and pretend I’ve typed them all here. After which, they explained to me some of the projects they’d taken on, what they liked about the job, what they’d like to improve, etc and so on. It was more of an informal discussion than an “interview” per se.

The next week I met with Sam Ramji. The technical portion of our discussion was pretty much as follows:

Sam: So, you like working with Linux?
Me: yeah
Sam: Want a job?
Me: sure.

(note: infer sarcasm)

Actually, there’s a little more to it than that. The general criteria are that you have to have the knowledge and experience to do the job(s) and genuinely enjoy what we do. They generally have to like you and you have to truly enjoy working with open-source technology. Not giving mindless answers to questions as noted in the above, fictitious conversation probably helps as well.

And that was pretty much that. There was also the entrance ritual of having to pit-fight Bill Hilf, which I thought was bollocks as he’s got about a 2-inch reach and height advantage on me. Fortunately, he sprained his ankle surfing while at some open-source convention in Pago-Pago. I got a bit of a reprieve.

The team itself is comprised of a very friendly cast of characters with some very diverse backgrounds in the industry. Some of us are admins, some of us have dev backgrounds, some straight out of college, etc. There’s no politics within the group, no geek-ego among us, or over-ambitious prima donnas.

In all honesty; being here and working on this team has vanquished every assumption I’ve had about what being here and working on this team would be like.  It’s been a fun, engaging, and communicative team to be a part of. Our project managers really go to bat for us. If we need anything done to accomplish a project or task, it’s usually an email away or short walk and a, “hey, any chance you could…”  Red tape doesn’t exist  here.

Contrary to the belief of many, there is a strong bias toward Linux and the open-source community by us. Our managers, leads, and the teams we work with depend on that bias. We are not here to preach to the choir. We build and demonstrate Linux and open-source solutions to push Microsoft to improve its own product line. In that regard our work has had some very tangible results, which I think is really cool.

Personally, my time on the team has provided me the opportunity to learn a few new things and really expand my knowledge of a few key  pieces of software. Unfortunately, I can’t elaborate more without breaking my NDA. I’ll just leave off with saying that I’m moving on with a sharper skill set than I came in with. I’m glad to have been a part of it.

In the next life,

-Daniel Simonton

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