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OpenSource Thought Leader and CollabNet Founder Brian Behlendorf (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Apr 7th 2008

When I think OpenSource, I think about a certain well-known figure from my grad student days at MIT, who never showered, slept in his office, and believed that software should be free. Today, I bring you a different sort of OpenSource pioneer: one with a business sense! Brian Behlendorf, as you will get to know him through this series, has successfully melded his passion
for OpenSource with a rather astute set of moves to found CollabNet.

SM: Brian, I would like to start with your personal background. Where do you come from?

BB: I was born in 1973, raised in southern California and went to one of the top six public schools in California. We were right down the street from Jet Propulsion Labs. All the scientists sent their kids to this school.

SM: Did your father or mother work there?

BB: No, my parents met at IBM. My father was a Cobol programmer and my mother sold system 360s and mainframes and such. That life looked as exciting as accounting to me. I would go visit my dad at work sometimes and it would be nothing but green and white paper. We had punch cards we would keep shopping lists on. I had a TRS80 at home and was learning Basic from first grade on. From junior high onward I did not touch the computer unless it was to write a term paper. I was not a big gamer but I was into science and math.

At the end of High School I did not know exactly what I wanted to do and I felt that going to a school with a lot of different options like Berkeley would be the right thing. I went to UC Berkeley and originally enrolled in Physics. I felt that of all the sciences Physics had the least amount of brute memorization. After three semesters there on the honors track I felt I had lost the plot. The sense of intuitiveness had disappeared for me. However, from the first day I arrived on campus and received an email account, I found myself absorbed with the web. This was in 1991, so it was email and FTP and that crazy thing called Gopher. I really found myself enjoying the social aspects of that, with the music related mailing lists and I started some electronic mailing lists.

SM: Do you have a background in Music?

BB: Nothing more than being an aficionado. I was the school DJ for three years in High School. Early on at Berkeley I set up a server on a spare system on which I learned Unix. Like most people in this space you teach yourself through man pages, and I used that to set up a Gopher server with music lists and flyers and things of that nature. That progressed into the web and that progressed to a friend whom I met through a shared interest in Music who said they were starting this new magazine called Wired. We were all about digital culture and we thought that putting our articles online would be a cool experiment, so I started there in 1993 for $10.00 an hour.

From 1993 to the beginning of 1995 I worked at Wired and set up the first website which was one of the first non-academic websites up. We also launched Hotwired in 1994 which was the first ad-driven website. I remember sitting there thinking “How wide should the default banner be?” I did the banner rotations and got involved in patent lawsuits over completely trivial techniques that people actually went out and got patents on like banner rotations.

Parallel to that I was launching a company called Organic which would go on to build websites eventually for Harley Davidson, Levis and other top brand names. Initially it was for record labels and book publishers. I shifted over to Organic at the beginning of 1995 as the CTO.

This segment is part 1 in the series : OpenSource Thought Leader and CollabNet Founder Brian Behlendorf
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