Thursday, November 6, 2014

Remembering Jonathan Abbey

The world suffered a great loss this past Monday, November 3 with the passing of Jonathan Abbey, a colleague, friend, and serious Open Source advocate.  Sadly, these words hardly begin to describe the impact this one man has had on so many people in ways far beyond his contributions to the world of computer science and Open Source.

Jon contributed to a number of Open Source projects in various ways, but he is most well-known for his network directory metadata management system called Ganymede.  The primary use case for Ganymede is as an integrated tool to allow system administrators to manage users, systems, IP address space, shared disk access, and similar resources that are typically handled manually.  It provides a framework for allowing a large organization to delegate authority to different system administrators, even though the configuration files it generates (DNS BIND config files, NIS maps, LDAP/Active Directory user configuration, etc.) have an enterprise-wide scope-of-influence.  In short, Ganymede allows lots of system administrators to manage their day-to-day operations at a higher level, generating and managing big, complicated configuration files that could bring-down a whole company with a single typographical error.  While many such individual configuration tools exist, Ganymede's power is in its flexibility to bring all of these together into one tool that can grow and evolve as the organization does.  Jon developed this system in Java at a time when object-oriented programming (OOP) as a development methodology was still in its infancy.

One would not normally place the description of such a complex system into a piece to remember someone's life.  In this case, it is so incredibly appropriate because it shows how Jon didn't just understand computer languages and was a computer science pioneer, but also because he was able to listen to people, understand the problem they were trying to solve, and design a system that truly helped to make life easier for people.  This is what Jon did in his career - help people.  He was able to take complex problems and break them down into bite-size pieces that could be much better understood.  Ask anyone who ever worked with Jon, and they would tell you that he was the person you would see to share ideas and get useful feedback.  He was one of the few people who could figure out what in heck I was talking about when it came to technical discussion.

Jon also had more non-technical interests than I can even recall or could keep-up with.  I recall various discussions about cohousing that we had, and, like just about everything he would discuss, his passion for the topic was infectious.  Even though I could never see myself in a cohousing community per se, what we spoke about has influenced my understanding of what community actually means and why it is so sorely missing in today's society.  Jon's vast range of ideas have touched many people, not necessarily in an Earth-changing way, but more in a way that caused us to think...which I suppose actually may well be Earth-changing.

Jon was a good man, a good father, a good steward of the planet and the community, and a great computer science guy.  He will most definitely be missed.