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Episode 64

Linux, Shadowman, And Open Source Spirit

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Episode 47

Legacies | Hardy Hardware


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Show Notes

Red Hat Enterprise Linux has been around for a while. For many technologists, be they professional or hobbyist, it jump started their interest in open source. But how did the operating system, and the culture behind it, strike a chord with so many people?


00:00 — Automated Voice
You have three new messages.

00:05 — Speaker 2
Fedora was actually my first Linux distribution in the early 2000s.

00:10 — Speaker 3
I got a boxed copy of either Red Hat Linux 5.1 or 5.2 in 1997.

00:16 — Speaker 4
During study time, I bought my first version of Fedora. Yes, I got a printed version of the Fedora magazine with Fedora core one inside.

00:24 — Kim Huang
So, a few months ago, I asked a question on my social media feeds. I asked for anyone who considered themselves to be a big fan of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, or RHEL, as it's called. It's kind of what made Red Hat famous, so I expected a lot of interesting responses.

00:42 — Automated Voice
You have three more messages.

00:45 — Speaker 6
Open source and Linux really changed the way I thought about how we should share information and create.

00:50 — Speaker 7
I installed the latest Fedora core four and used it to study ahead of landing a technical support job at Red Hat.

00:56 — Speaker 8
I worked intensively with RHEL servers until somewhere around 2015, and they raw flawlessly. Ugh, the memories.

01:06 — Kim Huang
RHEL has a long history, but that history isn't just lines of code or merge requests. It's people, like the ones who responded to my post, who made it into what it is today. But what's the appeal? Why does an open source operating system mean so much to so many? This is Compiler, an original podcast from Red Hat. I'm Kim Huang.

01:34 — Angela Andrews
And I'm Angela Andrews.

01:36 — Kim Huang
We go beyond the buzzwords and jargon and simplify tech topics.

01:40 — Angela Andrews
Today's topic: a deep dive into the RHEL fandom.

01:49 — Kim Huang
While making this episode, I spoke with a Red Hatter who has an interesting perspective on RHEL's history.

01:56 — Chris Wells
My name is Chris Wells. I work inside the Red Hat Enterprise Linux business unit, and I lead all of our product marketing teams around Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I've been here since 2008, so come this June, that'll be 16 years. I'll be able to drive.

02:12 — Kim Huang
Before RHEL, there was Red Hat Linux. The first release of Red Hat Linux happened in the early 90s, on Halloween.

02:21 — Chris Wells
It's kind of infamous for that initial Halloween release of what was, at the time, called Red Hat Linux. And if you go back, you know, 30 years, not only do you have the technology that came out there in 1994, but you also had to convince people like, why Linux? Why would you migrate from Unix at the time into Linux? So, there's a technology conversation, but there was also this other conversation around open source, because how we did it was so fundamentally different than how other software was developed, and people didn't understand it. A lot of questions. Is it safe? Is it secure? You know? So, you're having not just a product conversation. You're having almost a, I don't want to say it. I don't know another way to describe it other than almost like a religious conversation with open source, like just a different way to go to do it. And then the third part of it was really the business model.

03:10 — Kim Huang
Chris is saying that getting people to switch was an undertaking. Not just switch software, but also switch their mindsets.

03:18 — Chris Wells
For the first, I don't know, five to six years, almost eight years, we're trying to go through and sell it, we were selling it like we sold every other piece of software. And if you're old like me, you can remember that you used to go to like, Best Buy, and you'd buy software. You'd get a box of software that had a CD or DVD fries, you know. You name it. That's how you bought software. But we didn't find that was an effective way to really sell Linux.

03:44 — Kim Huang
So, when you're trying to sell software, especially software designed to run a business, it's not enough to have a good operating system. It's important, right? But you need more than that.

03:57 — Chris Wells
And so, when we introduced Red Hat Enterprise Linux in 2002, what we were really introducing is not just the software and how to package the software, but it was really the whole idea of selling a subscription. So, all of the certifications, all the partnerships in the ecosystem that we were doing with the hardware manufacturers, software manufacturers. Of course, being able to access, you know, customer support. Because at that time, not a lot of people knew how to use Linux, and if it broke and you needed something, how did you get updates for like security vulnerabilities and stuff? So, it wasn't the software. It was really all the things around the software. And at the time, that was revolutionary.

04:36 — Kim Huang
Okay, pause. Because one thing that I always encounter when I tell people I work at Red Hat, and they ask me what Red Hat is and they ask me some questions about a certain society of women who wear red hats, and I say, "No, that's not it."

04:49 — Angela Andrews

04:50 — Kim Huang
That's an ongoing joke. But the one that I always get asked is, how does Red Hat make money? Like, how does it? It's open source software. It's free, right? So, you're selling free software? Like, how does that work?

05:01 — Angela Andrews

05:02 — Kim Huang

05:03 — Angela Andrews
When people ask me what I do for a living, I say, "I sell free software." And I had to dig these out. These are CDs.

05:15 — Kim Huang
For those of you who do not have the visuals, Angela just produced, I think, three CDs.

05:24 — Angela Andrews

05:25 — Kim Huang
And what is on these CDs, Angela?

05:27 — Angela Andrews
These are Red Hat Linux 9 install CDs, one of three.

05:33 — Kim Huang
Oh my gosh.

05:34 — Angela Andrews
Copyright 2003 Red Hat.

05:36 — Kim Huang

05:36 — Angela Andrews
And this is not my first foray into Red Hat Linux.

05:40 — Kim Huang

05:41 — Angela Andrews
I started it back in the 90s, but for some reason, I still have these. It's very nostalgic. Like, I can say I remember when.

05:50 — Kim Huang
Hmm. Definitely. Well, we went from Red Hat Linux to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

05:55 — Angela Andrews

05:56 — Kim Huang
And obviously, folks, I am skipping a lot of really important history. This is not a comprehensive retelling of what happened in those years. But, I did want to talk about it because the way that people react to Red Hat Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, by extension, is very unique, and a lot of it has to do with where Red Hat Linux started, right?

06:19 — Angela Andrews

06:20 — Kim Huang
So, now in the story, Chris is talking to me about Red Hat Linux and how it became Red Hat Enterprise Linux. What Red Hat Enterprise Linux was offering was a road to innovation, through open source development and the possibilities that opened up for technologists. They're working in busy IT departments, but you know, even though the sales pitch was strong, it was still up against the traditional ways of doing things.

06:50 — Chris Wells
In most places, when you sell enterprise software, it comes in through the front door. And what I mean by that is you've got someone who says hey, I need this database, or I need this management software, or I need this platform. The vendor comes in. Maybe we have a proof of concept. We demo the software, we test the software, but it's all coming in through the front door, if you will, and you know, it's highly, highly visible.

07:13 — Chris Wells
In a lot of cases, what we saw with the Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Linux in general and Red Hat Enterprise Linux specifically, is it came in through the back door. You had people that were passionate about being able to use Linux, and they would use it at home. Then, they would bring it into the office and they would say well, I'm going to set up a file and print server. I'm going to set up just a bunch of servers in the office that allow us to get some not-mission-critical workloads, but just regular stuff done. And then it got more and more use. Someone then said, well, you know what? I bet I could run a web server on that, that I could run a database on that. And all of a sudden, it just kept expanding, expanding to, before you knew it, it actually was running mission-critical workloads.

07:55 — Angela Andrews
Would you look at that?

07:57 — Kim Huang
Angela, does that sound like a story you've heard before?

08:02 — Angela Andrews
Yes. A lot of people came to RHEL as a hobbyist.

08:07 — Kim Huang

08:08 — Angela Andrews
It was something that they were able to get their hands on, and install, and tinker, and it just made its way into the data center. I am 100% sure that's how it wound up in one of my old roles.

08:26 — Kim Huang

08:26 — Angela Andrews
My boss was a tinkerer by nature, and I would not be surprised if this is the origin story for us as well at that old company, where he was just like, ah, this seems like a cool operating system, let's go ahead and run something on it. And it just, it ran the things. And, wow. DNS.

08:49 — Kim Huang

08:49 — Angela Andrews

08:51 — Kim Huang

08:51 — Angela Andrews
Mission-critical workloads.

08:56 — Kim Huang
But I have to ask, though. What about Unix? Like, there were other things that were happening at the same time, things that were kind of turning the tide in favor of Linux over Unix, and I'll let Chris explain.

09:11 — Chris Wells
You had so many organizations that are like, okay, we can see that Unix is getting too expensive, Unix is also not staying up technology-wise. But there really wasn't a push until the Great Recession, when it was such a great pressure on cost. Then it's like, okay, we need to make that change. The technology hit a maturity. Open source had enough understanding that people understood what it was. They were willing to, you know, take a risk. I think what happened in that inflection point in the early 2010s is that you had the rest of the business, the rest of IT, start to see that, hey, Linux is not just a replacement for Unix. It's actually a platform for building out everything else going forward.

09:54 — Angela Andrews
Now, I was never a Unix user.

09:56 — Kim Huang

09:57 — Angela Andrews
Right? I was never a Unix user, no.

09:59 — Kim Huang

10:00 — Angela Andrews
So, but I do know people who went through this transition, from being these Unix admins and then moving into some sort of Linux, and for that very reason. It's like, we can't keep up. It's so expensive. And I love the phrase. He called it the Great Recession. It's a time when everything gets so expensive.

10:23 — Kim Huang

10:23 — Angela Andrews
Now, we need an alternative.

10:24 — Kim Huang

10:24 — Angela Andrews
What do we do? I know a lot of companies back then decided to move to Linux because of costs.

10:32 — Kim Huang

10:32 — Angela Andrews
And maintenance, and things like that. And it's interesting because it always comes back around, doesn't it?

10:39 — Kim Huang
Yeah. Not to kind of discredit Unix for what it is.

10:42 — Angela Andrews
Oh, no.

10:42 — Kim Huang
Because it's kind of the forefather of Linux, but to me, this is like a perfect storm of hobbyists, like you said, Angela.

10:50 — Angela Andrews

10:50 — Kim Huang
Coming in to play and taking something that they were using mostly at home on their own time into the office because they saw the business value before the actual business saw the value. And the other side of that, you have, you know, 2007, 2008, that period that was very kind of cost-driven and, you know, this kind of economic climate that set the stage for people being really aggressive about cost-cutting and cost saving. And Linux just presented a kind of a, frankly, cheaper solution to running workloads and to doing the things that people wanted to do, and it already had a fan following. And by then, open source had kind of stood the test of time.

11:31 — Angela Andrews
It did.

11:31 — Kim Huang
People had come around to the fact that like, open source is not a risk. It's not something that is going to expose us. It's something that actually strengthens our business. So, you had kind of those three things going on, all converging together, and that's kind of what pushed RHEL over the threshold, right? But it was about more, too.

11:51 — Chris Wells
Most companies in software, you have a vendor relationship, where you provide a product or service, customer sees value, and they enjoy it. Red Hat customers, much more passionate, much more into it, than I had ever seen at any other company I had worked at, and I would almost say that Red Hat, rather than it just simply being a set of products and services, was a lifestyle. And by lifestyle, I mean, people were really into it. It's a special language. People got tattoos that had, you know, our former logo of Shadowman on them.

12:27 — Kim Huang
Okay. And here we are.

12:29 — Angela Andrews
That is huge.

12:29 — Kim Huang
Yeah. We can see how energized people were by Red Hat Linux, and how that kind of fell down into responses to RHEL, and Fedora, the community kind of equivalent that sprung off, too. But tattoos of a corporate logo. Like, why? Why would anyone ever do that?

12:49 — Angela Andrews
That is unheard of.

12:51 — Kim Huang

12:52 — Angela Andrews
I've seen quite a few Shadowman tattoos on folks.

12:56 — Kim Huang

12:56 — Angela Andrews
Within and without of Red Hat.

12:58 — Kim Huang

12:58 — Angela Andrews
So, it's one of those things where it was such a huge community thing, and it was, you became one of the cool kids.

13:08 — Kim Huang

13:08 — Angela Andrews
You know, if you repped your Shadowman. And I'm waiting to see my first Red Hat logo, Red Hat tattoo. I'm sure it's out there.

13:17 — Kim Huang
Well, when we come back, spoilers, Angela. We are going to meet someone who has one of those tattoos that you're looking for, and we're going to hear more. Probably more than you wanted to know.

13:29 — Angela Andrews

13:29 — Kim Huang
About Red Hat's shadowy mascot and what makes him so special. After the break.

13:47 — Kim Huang
So, the Red Hat in question has been a cap, a top hat, and finally, a fedora. But a hat is only as interesting as the person wearing it, and for a long time, that was Shadowman. Company history describes him as part superhero and part private detective. Shadowman represented a group of people who were going against the grain. They were operating outside the realm of proprietary software.

14:17 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
I just think Shadowman found its way through like this, as the stories that people would tell me, it's just like, the people who were using this were not in the mainstream. These are people that had to fight, probably, to get RHEL into their systems or to make others believe that this was the way, the open source was really the way to go forward. It was not easy. It was a fight, and probably they found themselves kind of represented in that man that lived in the shadows and just was different, and fighting for something they believed.

14:52 — Kim Huang
The voice you heard just now is a person who can be thought of as an expert in Shadowman, at this point, at least.

15:02 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
Hola. My name is Consuelo Madrigal Cabanas. I do global brand programs at Red Hat. I've been here for almost 10 years now.

15:13 — Kim Huang
So, Consuelo's career at Red Hat is tied very closely with its logo, and there's a good reason why. She was part of the team that changed the logo from what it was through the 2010s into what it is today. Now, why did that happen?

15:31 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
We knew something had to change, because it had certain problems of, because the world had changed into like, mobile phones and avatars and icons, you would need a logo that would fit, or a graphic. Not just a logo, but like a graphic system that would fit the new systems and technologies.

15:50 — Kim Huang
Consuelo's job is unique. She's the person who is responsible for translating Red Hat's brand for different languages, audiences, and cultures. And what looked cool and edgy to some people, Shadowman, looked strange and off-putting to others.

16:13 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
So, we started thinking about that, and being Red Hat, we needed to do it in the Red Hat way, you would say. And that Red Hat way is being open. That's where the Open Brand Project started.

16:23 — Kim Huang
We were going to change our logo, but we were going to do it the way Red Hat did everything else.

16:29 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
We did send an open survey with questions of like, do you feel connected to the red? Do you think red is the right color for Red Hat? How are you attached to Shadowman? It was more of like an A, B, C, or D, but it would give us a sense of where people was. A lot of people answered.

16:49 — Kim Huang
Okay. So, Open Brand Project, it was a team. Consuelo was a part of that team at the time. I was working a very different job than what I do now, and you would see every, I guess couple of months? You would see these meetings that were on the calendar, and there would be these huge conference calls where they would present. They would present kind of their discovery work as to the logo and the changes and the fonts, and presenting all these different things that were changing what had been in place for, at that point, I think 15 years. And these calls would have people chatting in real time about these changes, and there was a lot of, you know, really great praise for the team, but there was also a lot of spirited discussion about-

17:40 — Angela Andrews
"Spirit" I love how you phrased that.

17:44 — Kim Huang

17:44 — Angela Andrews
I can only imagine how a huge company call talking about changing the beloved Shadowman into anything else...

17:56 — Kim Huang
Yes, yes. And once the work got going on changing the logo, Consuelo became kind of famous around Red Hat offices. Or maybe the right word is infamous.

18:10 — Angela Andrews

18:14 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
I would have people, like in every office that I would go to, like, you're the brand person, right? I want to say something to you. Because like, why are you changing the logo? And like, I like Shadowman. And I would have others kind of like, oh, you're changing this? It's great. I love it. And then you get these questions like, do you know there's three, four people tattooed in this office? I learned how passionate people were, but that was also how I started understanding what this meant for a lot of people, because honestly, I don't know. I had worked with other brands. This was the first time someone would say to me like, I have the logo tattooed, which is a weird thing. Like, let's be honest. It's weird.

18:53 — Angela Andrews
I think we should all get Red Hat tattoos. I'll do it if you will.

19:01 — Kim Huang
I have socks and I have stickers.

19:04 — Angela Andrews
Oh my gosh. You're not committed. No, I'm kidding.

19:10 — Kim Huang
I think it's interesting because instead of being dismissive or just kind of putting your head down and forging ahead with the work, Consuelo did something that probably doesn't get done enough in situations like these. She sat down and she listened to people.

19:29 — Angela Andrews

19:30 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
But then, when you started talking to these people, it's not that they hated what you were doing. Because when you started talking, it was just like, it meant something for them. Red Hat, when it started, and that Shadowman there, meant so many things for so many people. There were personal stories attached to those. So, and then when you started talking with them, I'm like, I totally get it, and this is great. But you also understand that we need to move forward with that, because Red Hat is not now a brand that just remains in the shadows. We're not there anymore. It's much more mainstream.

20:05 — Kim Huang
So, for those reasons, the Open Brand Project proceeded, and it continued until the new logo debuted. Consuelo asked about those with the tattoos. Would they get new ink? Or would they stick with the old logo?

20:21 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
And then, my manager at that time was like, what if we ask everyone? I was like, really? Yeah, sure, why not? So, an email was sent, and it said like, whomever wants the tattoo, just raise your hands, and we will have a tattoo session for the ones that want it. And I was like, you know what? Get my name in there. And like, my team was like, what? I'm like, yeah, you know. Like, it's been crazy. All these things, like, it's been a journey. Why wouldn't I want to have it tattooed? Like, this is going to be a way for me to always remember this.

20:59 — Angela Andrews
Can I tell you something? Consuelo is a G. She committed. She took this on. She took the good and the bad, and I'm impressed. I'm impressed.

21:14 — Kim Huang
Yes. Consuelo became a member of the tattoo club herself. It's a tiny little fedora on her wrist. To her, it's a lesson about understanding people, and the stories behind what they do. Because no matter how unusual it may seem, there is a story behind everything.

21:36 — Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas
I do so many things at my work, but one of those is just understanding this culture and this meaning for all these people. That is so important to them, and it's not just a logo, you know? It's more of the real feelings. Not just the brand as something that needs to be there. More like the brand that makes me part of something, that gives me a purpose, that shares a story. All this very human feelings we get. I don't think it's the standard for everybody. This is a thing that Red Hat is unique in, and I would love for it to exist forever. So, this is what we fight for every day.

22:27 — Kim Huang

22:28 — Angela Andrews
Yes. Oh my gosh. Consuelo nailed it. That is what makes us unique. No one else does this.

22:37 — Kim Huang
Yeah. This episode brought up a lot of memories for me.

22:43 — Angela Andrews
You were here.

22:44 — Kim Huang
Yeah, I started at the company when all of this was going on, and it was very overwhelming. And it kind of shaped the way that I thought about Red Hat as a place to work. I remember being in one of the break rooms in the office and hearing people talk about their tattoos, and whether or not they were going to get the new one, and my manager at the time ended up getting the new one. He has it. And these people come and go, and they're not necessarily at Red Hat anymore, but for them, it's a part of, I think, their journey, or a part of their background.

23:21 — Kim Huang
You heard a lot of people say Red Hat is how I got into open source, and how I started my career in tech. That is true for a lot of people that have been in tech for many years. I thought about the first time I encountered Shadowman, and that was on my very first team when I started, in 2018, and we had an entire floor for my team. It was a very open, collaborative space, and in that floor, there was this big white board, and at the top of it was written, "Things Shadowman Would Never Say." And there were all kinds of strange things written there. A lot of, you know, really business-y kind of words, sales-y kind of words, like synergy and what is the ask, and things like, you know, per my last email. Things like that. Things that you would see on a joke motivational poster that people would put in a meme or something.

24:27 — Kim Huang
But that taught me about Red Hat and the way that we were, you know, speaking to people. We were talking to them like humans. And the kind of, you know, rejection of buzzwords and jargon. If you listen to our show, by the way, thank you. If you listen to our show, you'll hear us say every episode, "We talk about tech topics without the buzzwords and jargon." When I wrote those words, when we first launched this show, that's where it came from. That came from Shadowman. Compiler can trace its ancestry to that board, and to the ideas that I got from that time when I first encountered Shadowman.

25:15 — Angela Andrews
Aw. That's awesome. I love our origin story.

25:21 — Kim Huang

25:22 — Angela Andrews
We do things in a way that Shadowman would definitely respect.

25:27 — Kim Huang
Yup. Definitely.

25:28 — Angela Andrews
Aw. This story, this whole episode, our guests. They've shared so many wonderful historical moments with RHEL, and I hope you enjoyed listening to it just as much as I enjoyed talking about it with Kim. We want to hear what you thought about this episode. Hit us up on our socials, @redhat. Don't forget to use the hashtag #CompilerPodcast. Do you have a Shadowman tattoo? Do you have the new hotness Red Hat tattoo? What do you think about this brand and this history of RHEL? We want to hear about it and how it's impacted your career. And that does it for this episode of Compiler.

26:17 — Kim Huang
Today's episode was produced by Johan Philippine, Caroline Creaghead, and me, Kim Huang. A big thank you to our guests, Chris Wells and Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas.

26:29 — Angela Andrews
I'm not going to ask Victoria Lawton to get a Shadowman tattoo. Socks, maybe. That's as far as I'll go.

26:36 — Kim Huang
Special thanks to Britt Duggan. Our theme song was composed by Mary Ancheta.

26:41 — Angela Andrews
Our audio team includes Brent Simoneaux, Leigh Day, Stephanie Wonderlick, Mike Esser, Nick Burns, Aaron Williamson, Karen King, Jared Oats, Rachel Ertel, Devin Pope, Mike Compton, Ocean Matthews, Paige Johnson, Alex Traboulsi, and the meteoric Mira Syril.

27:03 — Kim Huang
If you liked today's episode, please don't keep it to yourself. Follow the show, rate the show, tell a friend, leave us a review, and share it out.

27:13 — Angela Andrews
Take care, everybody. Be good, be kind, and use Linux. Talk to you next time.

27:19 — Kim Huang

27:26 — Angela Andrews
I should have said use RHEL.

27:28 — Kim Huang
It worked. It works. Fedora is also a thing.

27:33 — Angela Andrews
Awesome sauce.


Featured guests

Chris Wells
Consuelo Madrigal Cabañas 

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