Everything I Needed to Know About Open Source, I Learned from Punk Rock

Everything I Needed to Know About Open Source, I Learned from Punk Rock

Presented at Ruby on Ales 2013 in Bend, OR.

It was the summer of 1993. I skipped out on the second game in a baseball double header to go to Lollapalooza with my cool older cousin. It was the first concert of my choosing (previously Hall & Oates, then The Grateful Dead). That day changed the course of my life.

I saw Rage Against the Machine which led to Inside Out which led to Revelation Records which led to Youth of Today, Bold and Gorilla Biscuits. Through those bands I'd learn about straightedge and veganism. I would discover a whole world of diy subcultures.

We made our own zines before there were blogs as a way to communicate across great time and distance. We formed our own bands to perform the soundtrack to our lives and ideals. We organized venues for our bands and friends' bands to play. We booked tours across timezones and oceans to see the world and meet new people.

We built our own networks and economies, in both gifts and exchanges. We created an aesthetic that was ours, a tribal identity. We created systems to record our story. We defined our lives on our terms.

Demo tapes were our Minimum Viable Product. Shows and tours were our meetups. Protests and convergences were our conferences. Cover songs were our permissive licenses. DIY was our flat organization. We didn't ask permission or forgiveness. We built, scammed or stole everything we could.

Punk rock is made of people. Open source is people. That we make music or software is just an artifact of the ideals we hold dear. All of these things I did when I was a kid in basements and tour vans, I'm doing again now on the internet and in office buildings.

What I didn't realize then, was that all of that was perfect training for the world of open source software.


Shane Becker

March 08, 2013


  1. I decided to do a last minute McCovey Shift and

    change my talk to a different topic that’s more important. Namely,
  2. There Are Exactly Two Ways to Put the Toilet Paper

    on the Roll: Over the Front & The Wrong Way There Are Exactly Two Ways to Put the Toilet Paper on the Roll: Over the Front & The Wrong Way
  3. Don’t act like you’ve never stayed in a nice hotel

  4. I’m just kidding.

  5. Everything I Needed to Know About Open Source, I Learned

    from Punk Rock My real talk hashtag is called: Everything I Needed to Know About Open Source, I Learned from Punk Rock
  6. I would like to dedicate this talk to the memory

    of Ilya and Aaron.
  7. For #ilyaz For @aaronsw I only knew Ilya briefly. I

    only followed Aaron and his work online for years. Both were incredibly smart and optimistic young men. Both were determined to make the world a better place. And had dedicated their life's work to making a freer and more open culture. Both of their lives were cut down entirely too short. And we are all worse off for it. Please, no more of this. Whatever demons you're facing, you don't have to face them alone. If you're in this room, you've got a family. You've got a tribe. Just reach out. To anyone at all.
  8. None
  9. I. The Build Up

  10. Me Now I’m gonna talk about me.

  11. Who here knows me? Who here knows me?

  12. Who here knows of me? Who here knows OF me?

    Hi. It's nice to meet you. My slave name is:
  13. Shane Becker Shane Becker My name on the internet is:

  14. @veganstraightedge @veganstraightedge

  15. I used to look like that.

  16. Now I look like this. And you can find me

  17. iamshane.com iamshane.com If you know me or know of me

    even just a little, you probably know that I'm a bit wing-nut. And that I have four high level checkboxes that kind of pigeonhole describe who I am. In an overly reductive way.
  18. Vegan No Animals I’m vegan

  19. Vegan No Animals Which means no animals

  20. Straightedge No Drugs I’m straightedge

  21. Straightedge No Drugs Which means no drugs

  22. Atheist No Gods I’m an atheist

  23. Atheist No Gods Which means no gods

  24. Anarchist No Fucking Masters I’m anarchist

  25. Anarchist No Fucking Masters Which means no fucking masters

  26. More on that later… More on that later...

  27. Q: How many anarchists does it take to change a

    lightbulb? A: None. The lightbulb can’t be changed. It must be smashed!
  28. I live at

  29. The Farmhouse The Farmhouse in: Photo Credit: http://farmhouse.la/house By: Tj

    Nelson Jr https://twitter.com/tjnelsonjr
  30. in the Hollywood neighborhood of: Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_Sign

  31. El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles

    del Río de Porciúncula Los Angeles, CA LA. Which is a BIG fucking city. With a big fucking name. In fact, it’s as big as 8 other U.S. cities combined:
  32. St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Boston, Pittsburgh and

    Manhattan. St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Boston, Pittsburgh and Manhattan. I live in the Minneapolis of LA. So, please keep that in mind next time you ask me to pick you up from the airport. Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151078446867664
  33. Farmhouse.LA You can find The Farmhouse online at: http://Farmhouse.LA and

    on Twitter as:
  34. @Farmhouse @Farmhouse At The Farmhouse, I organize the world's best

    backyard storytelling conference called:
  35. Farmhouse Conf Farmhouse Conf. You should come to it. The

    next one is:
  36. FHC4:Future May 4, 2013 Farmhouse Conf 4 on May 4th

    with the theme of: Future
  37. FHC5:Collapse November 2, 2013 and the final one is Farmhouse

    Conf 5 on November 2nd with the theme of: Collapse
  38. I work for a company across the street right here

    in Bend, OR called:
  39. G5. I am a:

  40. Mr Manager™ Mr Manager™ of a

  41. Soſtware Team Small Software Team

  42. Some of which are here today. All of which are

    totally awesome.
  43. New Product We are building a new product About which

    I'll do a: Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_(constellation)
  44. G5 Tech Talk G5 Tech Talk Some other time. And,

    of course,
  45. We’re Hiring! We're Hiring You should come work for us.

    Find me and let's talk.
  46. This is

  47. Not a Tech Talk Not a Tech Talk. It's

  48. More like “Quit Your Job. Srsly.” More like "Quit Your

    Job. Srsly." and
  49. Less like “Your Slides Suck.” Less like "Your Slides Suck."

    But More than anything it's my:
  50. Personal Narrative Personal Narrative So, here's the:

  51. tl;dr tl;dr Coming up through a DIY punk rock subculture

    taught me several important life lessons that I'm now able to apply to my involvement in open source culture.
  52. Who cares? But who cares, right? You probably didn't grow

    up the same as me. And it's too late to go be a 15 year old punk rocker in the 90s in the midwest. But chances are, if you participate in open source now, there's something in your past that is to you what growing up punk rock was to me.
  53. High School Football Coach Maybe you were just dumb jock

    without a care in the world until Coach Taylor taught you that with clear eyes and a full heart, you can't lose.
  54. Aunt Joyce Maybe your Aunt Joyce read Emma Goldman and

    Guy Debord to you on your visits during summer holidays and taught you to "fight foul and faster, my friend, the old world is behind you".
  55. Old Neighbor Guy Maybe Old Man Thomas down the block

    from you growing up taught you how to build things in his garage workshop and to fix stuff instead of throwing it away.
  56. ? Whatever it was for you, great! Some how you

    ended up here.
  57. My Story Again, this is my story.

  58. Your Story Your story is surely different. Which is also

    different than his story and her story.
  59. The Journey How we all got here isn’t what matters

    so much.
  60. The Destination What matters is that we DID get here.

  61. II. The Mosh Part

  62. Life Lessons The whole premise of this talk for me

    was looking for patterns or landmarks in my past that helped me become who I am today.
  63. The Whole I identified a handful of important influences in

    my childhood. But the truth, of course, is that we are who we are because of the entirety of our lives. All of the good and all of the bad.
  64. The Sum of the Parts Nonetheless, for the sake of

    exposition, I've compiled a list of examples. All of which taught me lessons that I hold dear and believe to be important and true. But they also taught me terrible atrocity and hatred that I would have to unlearn and resist.
  65. e.g.

  66. Dad

  67. Sci-Fi

  68. Comic Books

  69. Baseball

  70. Computers

  71. Alcoholism

  72. Abuse

  73. Anger

  74. Dead Beat

  75. Baseball

  76. Team Work

  77. Exercise & Hustle . Physical exercise and mental hustle

  78. Statistics Statistics long before I ever saw them in math

  79. Quick Thinking How to think quickly. At the crack of

    the bat there’s all kinds of calculations you have to make.
  80. History & Culture . More about American history and culture

    than any textbook would. Go watch Ken Burns’ PBS Baseball documentary.
  81. Aggression

  82. Temper Short temper. Zero to Hulk Smash in almost no

    time flat.
  83. Competition The kids on the other team weren’t just who

    I was playing, they were the enemy. I was taught to hate them.
  84. Zero Sum Winning That winning is everything. And that losing

    was the worst thing in the world.
  85. X-Men & Spider-Man

  86. Ethical Code

  87. Honor & Loyalty..

  88. Never Ever Give Up Spider-man never ever gives up. No

    matter what the odds are.
  89. Multicultural Tolerance The X-Men showed me different kinds of people

    (and mutants) when I lived in an overwhelmingly white bread world.
  90. Guilt Complex Peter Parker has this incredible guilt complex that

    I definitely share.
  91. Death != Death And no one really dies in comics.

    Which I think has skewed my relationship to death in real life.
  92. Object Worship I collected multiple copies of the same book.

    And I’d guard them and their safety.
  93. Consumerism I became a hyper-consumer needing to have every issue

    of titles I read.
  94. Catholic School

  95. Math Surprisingly, really good math.

  96. Phonics

  97. Uniforms The ease and efficiently of uniforms.

  98. More Guilt

  99. Sexual Repression

  100. Homophobia

  101. Gender Roles Further enculturated expected gender roles.

  102. The Suburbs

  103. Safety

  104. Exploration With that safety I was able to explore my

    little world
  105. Night Games Nothing is more fun than flashlight tag or

    capture the flag at night.
  106. Homogeny I knew where everyone’s bathroom was in 6 block

    radius because we all had the same house floorplan.
  107. Class Divide

  108. Drugs & . Daydreams The boredom of the suburbs led

    so many of my peers to drugs and daydreams just yearning to get out the fuck out of there.
  109. Suicide And that led to my first experience with suicide.

    Two in one week.
  110. David Crumbacher

  111. SGI Silicon Graphics workstation

  112. Unix Irix

  113. 3D Modeling Alias|Wavefront

  114. The Web Mosaic

  115. Multinational Corporation Called Eli Lilly.

  116. Pharmaceuticals Big Pharmaceutical

  117. Cubicle Farm He worked in an office full of cubes.

    Which I knew wasn’t for me.
  118. None
  119. III. The Break Down

  120. A Unified Theory of Me So, as I sifted through

    these decades of emotional baggage of failures and fuck-ups, it became clear to me that while I learned a lot of things from a lot of things, no one thing taught me more about: me and the world around me and my role in it than when I discovered the otherwise (secret to me) world of punk rock.
  121. Life Lessons Ok. Let's crash course real fast.

  122. Aesthetics Of course, there's a kind of set of aesthetics

    that go along with any sub-cultural identity. Punk rock is no exception. But who cares, really? That's not the point.
  123. Musics And also of course, there's the musics. To me,

    all kinds of music could be and is punk rock. Some bands fit the obvious expectation for the soundtrack to punk rock. Some fit more just into the ethos of punk rock. I remember that first mixtape that I got from Nate Duke who got it from David Borders who got it from Sean Hensen in band class. Generations of magnetic analog degradation later, I heard for the first time bands like:
  124. Green Day Green Day

  125. The Offspring The Offspring

  126. Rancid Rancid

  127. Operation Ivy Operation Ivy

  128. Inside Out Inside Out

  129. Gorilla Biscuits Gorilla Biscuits

  130. Accessibility And the particular bands aren't important. What was important

    about that mixtape was the things that made the music sound bad to the mainstream (rough vocals, loud, simple song structure) made it exciting to kids like us that didn't fit in. The message was loud and clear: "You can make music like this." And we did.
  131. Linux The feeling of listening to that first mixtape, I

    felt it again when I first learned about Linux. That feeling of "I could do this too".
  132. Hardcore What's significant those last two bands (Inside Out and

    Gorilla Biscuits) is that they taught me about hardcore, or "hardcore punk rock". Which was mostly just an aesthetic difference. But along with the sonic qualities of hardcore, there was a simplicity and minimalism in the music and song structure. Where first wave punk rock stripped down heavy metal to a reduced set, hardcore then stripped punk rock down even further. One minute songs because sometimes that's all you need. Like programs that do one thing and do it well.
  133. Radical Politics And in that framework, the hardcore scene taught

    me that there were other people who were like me, that were also straightedge. In time, it taught me about veganism.
  134. Identity I recognize now that in that moment I found

    an identity. And a tribe and a place to belong. And a username.
  135. ▶▶ So. Fast-forward a couple decades and I'm standing here

    talking to you today. To my tribe. In a place where I belong.
  136. Looking Back Like Peak Oil and the collapse of every

    empire, we can't recognize the moment of history until it's in the rear view mirror. When we're in the poppy fields, we can't tell that we're high on opium. What I couldn't see happening to me then, I can see now.
  137. Out of Step I've always been a bit of a

    black sheep. I used to be the token nerd in a sea of punks. When I moved to Seattle and fell into Seattle.rb, I became the token punk in a gaggle of nerds. Photo Credit: http://www.dischord.com/release/010/out-of-step
  138. Small Analogies, Loosely Coupled In all of these things I

    do now, I see vestiges of what we did as a kids inside the logic of DIY punk rock. I see that I couldn't or wouldn't do the things I do the way that I do them, had it not been for what punk rock taught me.
  139. Zines Before there were blogs, we made our own zines

    as a way to communicate across great time and distance. I spent countless hours camped out overnight at a Kinko's assembling my little contribution to the long history of self publishing. Punk rock taught us that there isn't enough room in Rolling Stone or Maximum Rock and Roll for everyone. If I wanted anyone to read what I had to write, I'd had to publish my own zine. The same is true about our open source software. Every library we write or bug we fix in an open source project comes from that same place of knowing that Microsoft, Adobe and Google won't make what we need. We have to make it ourselves.
  140. Band We formed our own bands to perform the soundtrack

    to our lives and our ideals. Punk rock taught us that we could make this music. Just like, we can make this software.
  141. Venues We organized venues for our bands and friends' bands

    to play that soundtrack. Punk rock taught us the importance of having a space that was ours. And that we defined that space and experience for the time that we were in it. Like this conference. Punk rock taught me about Temporary Autonomous Zones, like Burning Man is.
  142. Global Community We booked our own tours across timezones and

    oceans to see the world and meet new people. Punk rock taught me that it's important to see other places and more than anything it's the people that matter. How many of you traveled from out of town to come to this place? How many of you have traveled to a conference JUST to see the people at it?
  143. Networks We built our own networks and economies, in both

    gifts and exchanges. Punk rock taught me that I can't and don't want to go it alone in most things in life and about the value of knowing that you've got someone you can call on for whatever whenever. Punk rock taught me more about economics than any classroom ever did. Punk rock also taught me the value of giving stuff away for free.
  144. Tribes We created an aesthetic that was ours, a kind

    of tribal identity. Punk rock taught me about being a part of something bigger than myself and about having visual sub-cultural cues. Wearing patches on bags, buttons on T-shirts and band hoodies was a way to fly a flag to each other in coffee shops and bus stations. It was a way find friends, allies, lovers and co-conspirators.
  145. Demo Tapes We recorded our demo tapes on four tracks

    or sometimes just boom-boxes in our bedrooms and attics. Punk rock taught me about shipping the ultimate Minimum Viable Product.
  146. Iteration We'd form bands, write three songs of our, learn

    one cover song then play a basement house show. Punk rock taught me shipping early and iterating in the wild with actual feedback.
  147. Lives We created systems to record our story. Record labels.

    Book Publishers. Documentaries. Tattoo Shops. Vegan Bakeries. Punk rock taught me that it is possible to define our lives on our own terms.
  148. Confidence We screamed into a microphones and megaphones without any

    shields to protect ourselves. We fought landlords and cops in fevered street battles. Punk rock taught me how to not be afraid of the world or confrontation or authority or embarrassment. To not be afraid of standing on stage in front of all of you, to demand more from jobs and employers, to stand up for myself, to call bullies out on their bullshit. Punk rock taught me the conviction to say in front of all of you that: Capitalism is, indeed, organized crime. And we're all the victims.
  149. Gender Inequality Unfortunately, punk rock taught me lessons that I

    wish I didn't need to know anymore. But sadly, I do. We taught each other about sexual inequalities and that gender is not a binary. Punk rock taught me that it's not just boys fun. Punk rock taught me that 5 female speakers out of 18 is not good enough and that we can do better. That we must do better.
  150. Replay I feel like I'm a part of a community

    and culture NOW where we still do all of those things. Where as before it was in basements and in tour vans, now it's on the internet and in places like this.
  151. Flat Organization DIY was the ultimate immersion in flat organization.

    We had no bosses and bossed no one. We did it ourselves because there was no other way. Punk rock taught me flat organization and that “do it yourself” as a strategy for making a better future. (By the way, Steve Klabnik and I have flirted with the idea of doing anarchist training for organizations that want to be flatter. If you're interested in hiring us, get at me or him.)
  152. The Resistance Army Years ago, I started a T-shirt company

    (with Bookis Smuin) wherein he and I did everything ourselves from designing the shirts, to printing them, to shipping them and building the website to sell them.
  153. Open Source Cheerleader When I worked at Engine Yard as

    their Open Source Cheerleader, my job was to spread the word about Rubinius and get people stoked on using it. I designed and made stickers and T-shirts. I mailed them all over the world. I included hand written love letters and personal notes in the packages. Just like zines and records shipped with love.
  154. Farmhouse Conf Twice a year, I invite a 150 or

    so people into my backyard for the day to tell stories, eat vegan food and party together. For that day, in that space, we create a tribe together. Without permits or permission.
  155. Licenses I release all of my open source software under

    a public domain license. Small enough to fit on one slide.
  156. PUBLIC DOMAIN. Your heart is as free as the air

    you breathe. The ground you stand on is liberated territory. PUBLIC DOMAIN. Your heart is as free as the air you breathe. The ground you stand on is liberated territory. Punk rock taught me that private property is theft and that information doesn't need to be set free, because it already is free.
  157. Anarchism Remember earlier when I said that I'm an anarchist

    which meant “no fucking masters” and that I'd get back to again later? Well now is later. More than anything else, punk rock taught me that I'm an anarchist. That I've always been an anarchist. And that I just never had a word for it. And that everyone is born an anarchist and has to learn how to be a fascist or a liberal. We didn't ask permission OR forgiveness. We built, scammed or stole everything we could.
  158. Circle ⡣ Flavors There are lots of flavors of anarchists:

    red, green, pink, syndicalists, lifestyle, insurrectionist, ad nauseum. Personally, I'm an:
  159. Anarchist Without Adjectives Anarchist without adjectives. Which put simply means,

    I believe that:
  160. No one knows how to live your life better than

    you No one knows how to live your life better than you. We have all consciously broken laws. We have all driven faster than the speed limit. We have all used our phones on airplanes and in theaters. At the grocery, we've eaten grapes in the produce section and chocolate covered pretzels in the bulk foods section without paying for them. We've downloaded music from indie artists and pop mega-stars alike.
  161. Smashed Windows We've done all of these things (and a

    whole lot more) all without permission from anyone except ourselves. Which is anarchy. But anarchy is not JUST about smashing windows of banks and fighting cops with cobble stones.
  162. Anarchy is free association. Anarchy is free association.

  163. Anarchy is non-hierarchical structures. Anarchy is non-hierarchical structures.

  164. Anarchy is self-organization Anarchy is self-organization.

  165. Anarchy is mutual aid. Anarchy is mutual aid.

  166. Anarchy is a world without borders. Anarchy is a world

    without borders.
  167. e.g. For example.

  168. Flat Organization Anarchy is the flat organizing within groups (and

    companies). No bosses. No gods. No masters.
  169. The Web The web is itself anarchy. It routes around

    censorship. It dissolves closed empires. And no one is there to tell you can't do whatever the fuck you want on the web.
  170. Non-Hierarchical Networks are non-hierarchical inherently. There is no top. There

    is no center.
  171. Free Association Forking a codebase is free association. If you

    don't like the direction of a project or of its people, you're free to leave at any time. The fork empowers anyone to do that.
  172. Open source is anarchy. Open source is anarchy. When we

    write poetry, we are poets. When we sail a boat, we are sailors. When we riot in the streets, we are rioters. When we participate in anarchy, we are anarchists. Regardless of what we think our politics are, every user of and contributor to open source is (at least in those moments) an anarchist.
  173. IV. The Fade Out

  174. People Like most things, punk rock is made up of

    people. Open source is just the people too.
  175. Values That we make music or software and share it

    with the world is just an artifact of the ideals we hold dear.
  176. Thank You I know your time and attention is more

    precious than any other commodity. I appreciate it greatly that you gave me a few minutes of it.
  177. —XOXO Sb I love you.