I Am Brian Fox, Author of the Bash Shell, and This Is How I Work

Brian Fox is an open source software titan. As the first employee of the Richard Stallman Free Software Foundation, he wrote several of the core components of GNU, including the GNU Bash shell . He is now a board member of the National Association of Voting Officials and co-founder of Orchid Labs , which provides uncensored private Internet access to users like those behind a Chinese firewall. We spoke to him about his career and how he works.

Location: Santa Barbara, California. Current place of work: Co-founder of Orchid Labs. One word that best describes how you work: passionate. Current mobile device: I have an iPhone 7 in my pocket. Current computer: My daily driver is a MacBook.

First of all, tell us a little about your past and how you got where you are now.

I first remember my interest in technology at the age of 6. My father, a physicist at Bolt, Beranek and Newman, had a TTY in the basement of the house we lived in. He connected to BBN via a modem. The baud rate was probably around 110 bps – quite low. Previously, I held down the CTRL key while pressing “G”, which caused the bell to ring.

At 8 years old, I was the guinea pig in Wally Ferseig’s experiment with his new Logo language. At 21, I wrote the Terrapin logo for Apple // e. At 23, I wrote the Amacs text editor for Apple computers] [, // e, and // gs, which at the time was an exact implementation of the Emacs editor, with dynamically loaded libraries, Mx completion, and several language modes. …

At 25, I became the first paid programmer to work with Richard Stallman at the newly formed Free Software Foundation, where I worked on the GNU Project, a completely free (in words, not beer) replacement for commercial Unix. I wrote the TexInfo documentation system . At the age of 27, I wrote a Bash shell.

In 1995, I created the first web based online banking solution in the United States for Wells Fargo, and then immediately after that, I created a new web programming language called Meta-HTML . I’ve become an entrepreneur creating and working with startups for the past 19 years. I care about freedom. In 2007, I created a completely open source voting system. In 2017, I, along with the other four co-founders, created the Orchid protocol for a truly decentralized internet without oversight.

Tell us about a recent work day.

I wake up relatively early, often at 5 am. I read emails and information about current events. I work on various projects for an hour or so before helping my kids get to school. I am writing answers to frequently asked questions, to interview articles. I meet people and we talk about Orchid and how to make it better. I drink too much coffee and not enough water. I either enjoy lunch where we explore new technology ideas or make predictions about the future, or skip lunch to hack.

In the evening I go home, have dinner and talk with my family. I could watch TV shows like Orville , or do some more hacking. I sleep around midnight.

What apps, gadgets or tools can’t you live without?

Nice keyboard. Reasonable mouse. A pair of monitors. Sorry, my phone. Emacs. Bash.

How is your workplace arranged?

Two 27-inch monitors controlled by MacBook, spring-curving keyboard and Apple Magic Mouse.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

Listen when others speak.

What was the most important thing you learned while creating Bash?

There is no end to complaining – give the mouse a cookie. Just kidding. In fact, it was how to relinquish ownership of the code in order to gain additional supporters in the open source community.

How do you keep track of what you need to do?


What is your favorite work-related challenge and how do you cope with it?

Anything financial. I wrote my own accounting system to make my life easier.

What are some of the things you do best in everyday life? What’s your secret?

There is nothing that I would be better than anyone else, except that I was myself. There is no secret about being me. Follow your interests and work hard on them. Then you’ll be better at playing bass, better at programming, better at cooking, better riding motorcycles, or doing anything else that you really want to do.

How do you replenish? What do you do when you want to forget about work?

I try very hard not to “work”. Instead, I try to focus on why I am doing what I am doing so that I can truly enjoy the feeling of satisfaction when I’m done. I really love to play music, and I do it as often as I can.

What’s your favorite side project?

I put a lot of energy into voting for open source – not so much in technology as in organizing technologists.

What are you reading now or what do you recommend?

Three random science fiction books. I will not name the authors. I recommend people read the Orchid source code. There are good things in there, but more importantly, they will wake them up and see how they can help!

Fill in the blank: I would like _________ to answer these same questions.

David Vignac Wallace (“Gumby”), co-founder of Cygnus, sold RedHat in the 90s.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Stop doing that.”

What else would you like to add that might be of interest to readers and fans?

The best way to get into Lifehacker is: 1. Write some software that might be helpful. 2. Wait 30 years.


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