The Twelve Developers of Christmas: Jan Dubois, Drummer Drumming
by Isabelle Groc

Isabelle Groc, December 25, 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.

Jan Dubois, Senior Software Developer, has worked at ActiveState longer than anybody else. Born near Hamburg, Germany, he holds a Masters Degree in Physics (Diplomphysiker”) from the University of Hamburg, and created innovative solutions for customers in the German banking and insurance industry before joining ActiveState in 1999.

Jan works on anything that has to do with Perl support in Stackato, and also in various pieces related to the staging and execution of applications. He likes to call himself “Perl Janitor” because he gets to “sweep up all the messes people make with Perl.”

Because Jan used to play drums in the very famous and wild band called Pythagoras, he is our drummer drumming on the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

How did you become a developer?

Software development was always a part of my life, as a hobby in school, for Monte-Carlo simulation in high-energy physics at University, and for implementing trading systems and portfolio management tools at work. Now I develop software for other developers. I guess I am lucky in that I always get to work on software that I also use myself, which keeps it being fun.

What was your first computer?

I used an HP 9100B computer in 1975 in school. One of the memorable features was that it kept everything in core memory, so you could just unplug it while it was running, and the program would continue to work as soon as you plug it back in. As an after-school project, we also built a couple of Pong games based on an Elektor project. We built our own power supplies, etched our own circuit boards, build the cases etc. It took almost a year, and we only got three of the five games to actually work. But we learned a lot from it.

In 1978 I managed to get an account on the IBM 370/168 at the high-energy physics research institute DESY. I learned PL/1 using punched cards. A few years later I wrote a 3270-based disk-sector editor that directly executed channel programs to talk to the mainframe disk subsystems. I also had several summer jobs at DESY, doing BCPL compiler maintenance and working on cross-compiling to the 68000 microprocessor.

Favourite programming language(s)?

I'm a big believer in using the right tools for the job, and have used a large number of languages over time. But with all else being equal, I will normally choose Perl for higher level programs and C to glue it to the rest of the world.

What gets you excited about Stackato?

Larry Wall's goal for creating Perl was "making easy things easy and hard things possible". To me this also means that most things "just work" without requiring any additional configuration. This has been my guiding principle for work on ActivePerl and the Perl Dev Kit, and I now try to bring this to Stackato as well. Nothing pleases me more than finding a nice application on the web, and making it possible to deploy it to Stackato as-is.

Who else in the industry impresses you?

I'm a big fan of Larry Wall, the creator of Perl. His way of thinking just makes sense to me. My favourite quote from him is: "The Golden Gate wasn't our fault either, but we still put a bridge across it." The users don't care why something is broken, so let's not blame others, but do whatever it takes to make it work.

What do people don’t know about you?

"What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?" As a teenager, I've been playing drums in various punk and rock and roll bands. The first one was called Pythagoras. Everyone thinks that I picked the name, but that isn't actually true.

I also used to do a lot of water sports as a teenager: swimming, diving, water-ball, sailing. But I doubt anyone still remembers that during a misguided attempt at becoming a search & rescue diver, I also played the rather obscure underwater rugby.

Best book you’ve read this year?

I only find time to read during my commute, and mostly I just read longer articles from the web that I marked for later reading using Pocket. I refuse to pay more for an ebook than for the hardcover of the same title, so I've been exploring self-publishing authors lately.

My most favourite new author is Hugh Howey, not just for his "Wool" series, but for everything he wrote so far. I also liked the books of Richard Bard and William Herling. Because Mark Russinovich is such a cool guy, I made one exception to my "no big publishers" rule and bought Trojan Horse.

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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.