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GNU-Friends Interview Guido van Rossum
By jonas, Section Interviews
Posted on Mon Feb 25th, 2002 at 17:16:02 GMT
Guido van Rossum, known primarily for his work on Python, was recently awarded the FSF Award for the Advancement of Free Software. In this interview with him, he tells of his first experience with computers, his vacation plans and other things.


Guido, you've recently been awarded the Free Software Foundation Award for the Advancement of Free Software. What does it feel like to be honored in this way, knowing that your work has meant so much to so many people?

It's a strange feeling. I've received an award before (the Dr. Dobbs award) but that was for my software. This one is specifically for my contribution to free software and open source, and I'm not even convinced that I've done that much for free software. I've always found it a natural thing to release my software as open source; in fact I've done this since I first started programming in the mid seventies. So I feel I've just done what comes natural to me -- not something particularly worthy of an award.

In addition, I'm grateful to the Python community, both developers and users -- Python would never have drawn the attention of the FSF award committee if it weren't for the many, many contributions I've received over the years.

The FSF Award was handed out in collaboration with FOSDEM in Brussels. Are there any Free Software-related conferences that you feel drawn to every year and how many conferences do you attend every year?

The Python conference, of course, and the O'Reilly open source convention, and LinuxWorld Expo. That's about it, usually; but this year, I'll also be appearing at a Geek cruise (Linux Lunacy '02).

Brussels isn't that far away from Amsterdam, where you worked for CWI several years ago. Did you take FOSDEM as an excuse to visit some of the old grounds while on the right side of the Atlantic?

I only took some time to visit my family in Haarlem. Between the Python Conference and another teaching commitment there wasn't enough time for a longer visit.

Your wife recently gave birth to Orlijn, your now four month old son. Have you been taking any time off from work to allow yourself to spend time with the family?

I'm not sure what these questions have to do with open source :-), but yes, I took a month off after Orlijn was born.

Apart from spending time with the family, what does a non-work week for Van Rossum look like? Any hobbies or other activities you enjoy particularly?

Since Orlijn is born, I don't have much time for other stuff any more. I used to practice an improvised form of modern dance called contact improv on most Sundays, but I've only been back there once since Orlijn's birth.

I've read that you use a Solaris machine as your primary workstation at work, is this still true?

That was when I was still at CNRI, until May 2000. Since then I've used only Linux machines for desktops.

What do you think that computers and their operating systems will look like when your son grows up to use them, five to ten years from now?

I hope that the operating system will be an uninteresting detail for most people, just like CPUs, memory and I/O already are: a commodity, taken for granted. What users see will be just applications -- very powerful applicatons, and hig-level ways to tie them together.

You've been living in the US for almost seven years now. What was it like to first arrive there and how much experience did you have from the US before moving there?

I had visited regularly since 1986, and spent three months as a summer intern in Palo Alto, so I was well prepared.

When did you become involved in computing? What was the first computer you had any hands-on experience with and what was it that made you get involved in programming?

When I went to university to study mathematics, one of the optional courses in the first year was computer programming. My first program was written in Algol-60 using punched cards for a Control Data mainframe. It didn't take long before I was completely engulfed in the excitement of programming, and soon mathematics had taken the back seat. Interesting enough, very soon I became interested in developing better tools for programmers -- I remember writing an interactive text editor, an email program, an archiver, and so on. One of my term projects was a lint-like tool for Pascal.

Have you made any plans for this years vacation yet? Is there any place in particular you'd like to visit but havn't had a chance to yet?

This summer I'm going to spend two weeks in Holland with Kim and Orlijn. During that time I plan to visit the EuroPython conference in Charleroi.

Finally, what's your favourite means of transportation between home and work?

That would be the bicycle, but I haven't been able to do that for a long time; cycling on the main roads in American suburbs is not my idea of fun. Right now I work from home, so it's usually just a single flight of stairs.

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GNU-Friends Interview Guido van Rossum | 9 comments (9 topical, editorial) | Post A Comment
[new] Thanks (#1)
by jonas (#2) on Mon Feb 25th, 2002 at 17:26:18 GMT
(User Info)

I would like to thank Guido for taking time away from his work to answer our questions. Some people might have expected an interview with Guido to be filled with questions about Python but I tried to stay clear of those. Hopefully, it made for interesting reading :-)

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[new] Python License Change (#3)
by satai (#156) on Tue Feb 26th, 2002 at 00:29:38 GMT
(User Info)

I think, or have at least suspected, that the award given to Guido was at least partly due to the change of the Python license to be GPL compatible. I was astounded to realize the intricacies involved with this modification - and I'm very pleased that someone was honored for it.

(And yeah, I recognize that Guido didn't actually do the modification - but he did allow it to happen to "his baby." :)

Kids, kids, we can all try the exciting new toothpaste from Mars!
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[new] Yes, Thanks Guido! (#4)
by a member of the hurd (#-1) on Tue Feb 26th, 2002 at 03:04:36 GMT

Thanks to Guido and all who work on the Python language. I've enjoyed learning the language and find it very refreshing.

Python has become quite handy in a variety of situations. I have written Python code to automate a great deal of different tasks as well as wrote a few specialized applications to make life easier. Basically, database front ends that generate SQL queries.

It's actually easier than using MS-Access at least for me. Access was far too unpredictable. At least this way, I know my SQL Query isn't going to be mysteriously optimized when it is not necessary. Plus it's cross platform to boot! Very very cool and remarkably easy to learn. It also forces clean formating and the syntax is very readable. Co-workers can pick up my code quickly and efficiently.

Python has re-kindled my earlier desires to learn programming and being able to hook into C/C++ libraries is quite slick.

It was nice to hear about Guido's life outside Python. Congratulations on your son Guido!

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