Tech team intern Nick Shrader shares why free software is important
Hello all! My name is Nick Shrader, and I've recently completed my internship with the Free Software Foundation (FSF) tech team from December 12, 2022 to March 3, 2023. I also assisted the tech team at this year's LibrePlanet conference in person in Boston, MA, which was held March 18-19, just a few weeks after completing my internship.
I am thirty-three and relatively new to free software. I became interested in free software approximately four years ago, after a bad case of proprietary software rot led me to start my journey up the freedom ladder. My Windows 8 computer had started routinely giving me one-hour-or-longer software upgrades. I had already reinstalled the operating system (OS) maybe twice when I thought, "Am I getting prodded into upgrading the OS on my fairly new computer already?" The computer was only a year or two old, so I expected it to work without unwanted "upgrades." Mainly, I used my computer for music production and gaming, and, after some cursory Internet searches, I found that the software I needed for those were available on free operating systems. Soon thereafter, I installed a distribution of GNU/Linux. Nowadays, for music production I use Ardour, and for gaming I use Freeciv, Red Eclipse, and Warzone 2100. Moreover, my free operating system doesn't prod me into unwanted "upgrades."
After I made an upgrade from proprietary software to free software, and was exposed to the full world of computing freedom, my real journey began. It unfolded one machine and one project at a time for a few years in relative isolation. Maintaining my home network of computers, servers, and an auxiliary 3D printer has now become an evergreen hobby of mine. The free software movement has introduced me to freedom, knowledge, and endless resources, which have enabled me to learn as much as my curiosity allows. Having access to information pertaining to computing, such as access to the source code and the freedom to change it, helps keep my interest in technology alive.
Upon graduating high school, I enlisted in the United States Navy for
six years as a nuclear machinist's mate, and now I work in heavy
industry in Louisiana. Working with large, complex, mechanical systems
is actually fairly similar conceptually to upgrading and running
computers if you squint your eyes just right. You have to run the
s/server/boiler/ sed command to replace the word "server" with
"boiler" and use some other one-liners, but the analogy holds pretty
well. Similar to how mechanical systems operate, software obeys a
logical set of rules that define it. For example, when I align a pump
or replace a component on a valve, I am disassembling mechanical
assemblies and tinkering with the internals. After the work is
complete, the unit comes back up, good as new or better. Software can
be like that, too, but only if you have software freedom. Both of
these forms of technology are better when we have the freedom to
change them to suit our needs.
I appreciate the regular experiences of sharing, fairness, and decency that I find during my interactions with both the FSF and the free software community in general. Having reliable, freedom-respecting software for everyone is a noble goal that seems, to me, to be self-evident. I appreciate the hard line Richard Stallman (RMS) introduced with regard to software freedom when establishing the free software philosophy. Additionally, I appreciate that the FSF continues to hold that line against the ever-increasing encroachment of proprietary software.
The threat of proprietary software extends into the physical realm as well. As more of our devices come with software by default, the encroachment of software-enabled toasters, clocks, and home cameras potentially allows every aspect of our lives to be harvested and fed to the highest bidders without, in many cases, our consent or knowledge. These trends are everywhere, and they should be taken seriously because how we handle them will have important consequences for our freedom and privacy.
Thank you so much for reading. All in all, by interning at the FSF, I believe I have gained a greater technical understanding of software as well as a greater appreciation for the free software movement in general. It has been a privilege to intern at the FSF!
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