The Twelve Developers of Christmas: Dan Razzell, Cougar Tamer
by Isabelle Groc

Isabelle Groc, December 13, 2012

This month, we celebrate twelve Stackato ActiveState developers who share thoughts about the product, little known facts about them, and what they want for Christmas.

Dan Razzell, DevOps Engineer, joined ActiveState six months ago, and works on the development environment of Stackato, specifically packaging. Born in Vancouver, Dan is always on the move. He is a sailor, and has extensively toured Europe by motorcycle for two years. When he is not travelling, Dan enjoys playing guitar and cooking. Give him any partridge, French hen, or goose from the Twelve Days of Christmas, and he is likely to make a delicious dish out of it.

How did you become a developer?

I first became really interested in computers around 1970 when a package arrived in the mail from a program called Things of Science. It was a great program for kids interested in science. You never knew what would be in the package, sometimes little lenses and mirrors, sometimes plant seeds and hydroponic salts. This particular one had a few punched cards and some printout from a FORTRAN program. It completely captivated me, and I spent the next several years trying to wangle access to a computer, any computer, just to watch it working and talk to the people who used it.

What was your first computer?

The first one that I could put my hands on was an early version of the HP 2116 minicomputer. It had paper tape for input and a teletype for output. Everything was batched. To start it, you had to manually toggle in a few machine instructions on the front panel, which would cause it to read a boot loader from paper tape. That in turn would let you load in a primitive operating system and then the program you wanted to run. It was a pretty lame way of doing things, but it had the virtue of being completely exposed, completely understandable. Your favourite programming languages? I'd have to say Lisp as the epitome of elegance. It demonstrated that an extremely rich set of abstractions could be built using a very simple syntax, and it was a vehicle for many people to try out ideas such as object inheritance, closures, and concurrency. The coolest computer I ever used was a Symbolics Lisp Machine. Lisp in microcode. They were wickedly expensive, but the build quality was outstanding.

What gets you excited about Stackato?

For me, what distinguishes Stackato is the private PaaS aspect, something that is now starting to really take off as a distinct sector of the industry. I like three things about it. First, you're not tossing anything over the wall. It's running on your infrastructure, tightly constrained where you need it to be, exposed in the places you need it to be. Second, it's not mysterious. You can see the inner workings at all times, and verify that they're doing what you intend them to do. Third, all this comes at no penalty with respect to the virtues of public cloud such as scalability. You can just as easily deploy Stackato there as inside your firewall. I have to add that it matters a lot to me that this product is coming from ActiveState, because of its track record of excellence, its ethics, and its commitment to open source.

What do you think this product will look like in five years?

Within the industry, I expect to see broader consensus on interfaces and growing interoperability between products as well. I was encouraged to see that ActiveState became a member of the OpenStack Foundation while the ink was still wet on its charter. With any standardization effort, it's remarkably hard to predict which of the initiatives is going to be the one to take off, and the process always takes longer than you expect, but I think it's the best means we have of growing the community and developing consensus. It shows admirable commitment, not only by ActiveState of course but by everyone involved.

What do people don’t know about you?

I guess the most dramatic would be the time I stared down a cougar a couple of years ago. It was at night, in the rain, I was barehanded and alone on Nelson Island, on the Sunshine Coast, a site of many adventures and a few close calls. I've never felt anything so coldly calculating as what I saw looking into its eyes. I wouldn't have lasted five minutes. What did Samuel Johnson say about how the prospect of being hanged "concentrates the mind wonderfully"?

What do you do when you are not developing?

I play jazz guitar with friends and I do a lot of cooking. I've gotten fairly adept at winemaking and blowing glass. I sail whenever I can, coastal cruising mostly. I have a summer place on Nelson Island, where I get to try out some of my architectural ideas. Here on the West coast, the summer runs from April to October so it doesn't take much to have a comfortable life. I host an annual food and wine retreat there, which has been enormously gratifying. The great quality of sharing food is that it creates a true sense of home wherever you may be.

Best book you've read this year?

I've discovered the sailing novels of Patrick O'Brian late in life, but I'm rapidly catching up. His dialogue is brilliant, and he conveys a playful delight in all things, even difficult, dreadful experiences.

What you want for Christmas?

You'll laugh, but I find myself taking a quiet moment on Christmas morning to eat a mandarin orange. To really taste it, to be grateful for small things and quietness, to feel gratitude, but sometimes also grief. Sometimes it's hard to tell them apart, really. Whatever comes up, I try to make it welcome. It helps to put Christmas into perspective.

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Isabelle joined ActiveState as a Technical Editor after several years as a freelance journalist, editor, and photographer, and has contributed to a variety of media outlets including PC Magazine, Canadian Geographic, Discover, Canadian Wildlife, Georgia Straight, and Scientific American.