Old interview – Guido van Rossum

Jonas Öberg, the FFKP president, did a series of interviews with prominent Free Software profiles, way back in 2002. We are now proud to re-run these interviews and publish them here on the FFKP website.

Foto av Guido van Rossum

Guido van Rossum

This was an interview with Guido van Rossum, known primarily for his work on Python, was (then) recently awarded the FSF Award for the Advancement of Free Software.

Guido, you’ve recently been awarded the Free Software Foundation
Award for the Advancement of Free Software. What does it feel like
to be honored in this way, knowing that your work has meant so much
to so many people?

It’s a strange feeling. I’ve received an award before (the Dr. Dobbs
award) but that was for my software. This one is specifically for my
contribution to free software and open source, and I’m not even
convinced that I’ve done that much for free software. I’ve always
found it a natural thing to release my software as open source; in
fact I’ve done this since I first started programming in the mid
seventies. So I feel I’ve just done what comes natural to me — not
something particularly worthy of an award.

In addition, I’m grateful to the Python community, both developers and
users — Python would never have drawn the attention of the FSF award
committee if it weren’t for the many, many contributions I’ve received
over the years.

The FSF Award was handed out in collaboration with FOSDEM in
Brussels. Are there any Free Software-related conferences that you
feel drawn to every year and how many conferences do you attend
every year?

The Python conference, of course, and the O’Reilly open source
convention, and LinuxWorld Expo. That’s about it, usually; but this
year, I’ll also be appearing at a Geek cruise (Linux Lunacy ’02).

Brussels isn’t that far away from Amsterdam, where you worked for
CWI several years ago. Did you take FOSDEM as an excuse to visit
some of the old grounds while on the right side of the Atlantic?

I only took some time to visit my family in Haarlem. Between the
Python Conference and another teaching commitment there wasn’t enough
time for a longer visit.

Your wife recently gave birth to Orlijn, your now four month old
son. Have you been taking any time off from work to allow yourself
to spend time with the family?

I’m not sure what these questions have to do with open source :-), but
yes, I took a month off after Orlijn was born.

Apart from spending time with the family, what does a non-work week
for Van Rossum look like? Any hobbies or other activities you enjoy

Since Orlijn is born, I don’t have much time for other stuff any more.
I used to practice an improvised form of modern dance called contact
improv on most Sundays, but I’ve only been back there once since
Orlijn’s birth.

I’ve read that you use a Solaris machine as your primary workstation
at work, is this still true?

That was when I was still at CNRI, until May 2000. Since then I’ve
used only Linux machines for desktops.

What do you think that computers and their operating systems will
look like when your son grows up to use them, five to ten years from

I hope that the operating system will be an uninteresting detail for
most people, just like CPUs, memory and I/O already are: a commodity,
taken for granted. What users see will be just applications — very
powerful applicatons, and hig-level ways to tie them together.

You’ve been living in the US for almost seven years now. What was it
like to first arrive there and how much experience did you have from
the US before moving there?

I had visited regularly since 1986, and spent three months as a summer
intern in Palo Alto, so I was well prepared.

When did you become involved in computing? What was the first
computer you had any hands-on experience with and what was it that
made you get involved in programming?

When I went to university to study mathematics, one of the optional
courses in the first year was computer programming. My first program
was written in Algol-60 using punched cards for a Control Data
mainframe. It didn’t take long before I was completely engulfed in
the excitement of programming, and soon mathematics had taken the back
seat. Interesting enough, very soon I became interested in developing
better tools for programmers — I remember writing an interactive text
editor, an email program, an archiver, and so on. One of my term
projects was a lint-like tool for Pascal.

Have you made any plans for this years vacation yet? Is there any
place in particular you’d like to visit but havn’t had a chance to

This summer I’m going to spend two weeks in Holland with Kim and
Orlijn. During that time I plan to visit the EuroPython conference in

Finally, what’s your favourite means of transportation between home
and work?

That would be the bicycle, but I haven’t been able to do that for a
long time; cycling on the main roads in American suburbs is not my
idea of fun. Right now I work from home, so it’s usually just a
single flight of stairs.

Stay tuned for more historical interviews here on FFKP.se

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