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Thu, 26 Dec 2013

New job (what running Debian means to me)

Five weeks ago, I started a new job (Security Engineer, Eventbrite). I accepted the offer on a Friday evening at about 5:30 PM. That evening, my new boss and I traded emails to help me figure out what kind of computer I'd like. Time was of the essence because my start date was very next day, Tuesday.

I wrote about how I value pixel count, and then RAM, and then a speedy disk, and then a speedy CPU. I named a few ThinkPad models that could be good, and with advice from the inimitable danjared, I pointed out that some Dell laptops come pre-installed with Ubuntu (which I could easily swap out for Debian).

On Monday, my boss replied. Given the options that the IT department supports, he picked out the best one by my metrics: a MacBook Pro. The IT department would set up the company-mandated full-disk encryption and anti-virus scanning. If I wanted to run Linux, I could set up BootCamp or a virtualization solution.

As I read the email, my heart nearly stopped. I just couldn't see myself using a Mac.

I thought about it. Does it really matter to me enough to call up my boss and undo an IT request that is already in the works, backpedaling on what I claimed was important to me, opting for brand anti-loyalty to Apple over hardware speed?

Yes, I thought to myself. I am willing to just not work there if I have to use a Mac.

So I called $BOSS, and I asked, "What can we do to not get me a Mac?" It all worked out fine; I use a ThinkPad X1 Carbon running Debian for work now, and it absolutely does everything I need. It does have a slower CPU, fewer pixels, and less RAM, and I am the only person in the San Francisco engineering office not running Mac OS. But it all works.

In the process, I thought it made sense to write up some text to $BOSS. Here is how it goes.


Thanks for hearing my concerns about having a Mac. It would basically be a fairly serious blow to my self image. It's possible I could rationalize it, but it would take a long time, and I'm not sure it would work.

I don't at all need to start work using the computer I'm going to be using for the weeks afterward. I'm OK with using something temporarily that is whatever is available, Mac or non-Mac; I could happily borrow something out of the equipment closet in the short term if there are plans in the works to replace it with something else that makes me productive in the long term.

For full-disk encryption, there are great solutions for this on Linux.

For anti-virus, it seems Symantec AV is available for Linux <>.

It sounds like Apple and possibly Lenovo are the only brands that are available through the IT department, but it is worth mentioning that Dell sells perfectly great laptops with Linux pre-installed, such as the XPS 13. I would perfectly happily use that.

If getting me more RAM is the priority, and the T440s is a bad fit for $COMPANY, then the Lenovo X230 would be a great option, and is noticeably less expensive, and it fits 16GB of RAM.

BootCamp and the like are theoretical possibilities on Macs, but one worry I have is that if there were a configuration issue, it might not be worth me spending work time to have me fix my environment, but instead I would be encouraged for efficiency to use Mac OS, which is well-tested on Apple hardware, and then I would basically hate using my computer, which is a strong emotion, but basically how I would feel.

Another issue (less technical) is that if I took my work machine to the kinds of conferences that I go to, like Debconf, I would find myself in the extremely uncomfortable position of advertising for Apple. I am pretty strongly unexcited about doing that.

Relating to the self-image issue is that it means a lot to me to sort of carry the open source community with me as I do my technical work, even if that technical work is not making more open source software. Feeling part of this world that shares software, and Debian in particular where I have a strong feeling of attachment to the community, even while doing something different, is part of what makes using computers fun for me. So it clashes with that to use Mac OS on my main machine, or to feel like I'm externally indistinguishable from people who don't care about this sort of community.

I am unenthusiastic about making your life harder and looking like a prima donna with my possibly obscure requirements.

I am, however, excited to contribute to $COMPANY!

I hope that helps! Probably nothing you couldn't have guessed in here, but I thought it was worth spelling some of that out. Happy to talk more.

-- Asheesh.

[] permanent link and comments

good for you...

Only a nutcase wouldnt understand such requirements... Im sorry you kinda look like the nutcase at your company

Posted by aL at Thu Dec 26 22:46:43 2013

Good job. Some people would sell themselves out when it comes to the job(which basically feeds you) vs your passion.Glad you didn't.

Posted by prithvi at Fri Dec 27 00:23:50 2013

Congrats on the job, and on sticking to principles!

I'm disappointed by how common Mac OS X laptops are here at Google, but at least Google fully supports their integrated and IT-managed Ubuntu-based distribution (close enough to Debian for my work machines) on ThinkPad laptops, as well as it being by far the norm for most Googlers' desktops.

I'm happy with Linux on all my work machines and glad you made it work at Eventbrite too. The cult of assuming everyone is happy with Macs is a bit excessive in the tech world outside of free software folks.

My personal machines continue to run Debian, as you'd expect. :)

Posted by Jimmy Kaplowitz at Fri Dec 27 03:08:24 2013

Congrats for your coherence.

Maybe you don't notice but I don't see the point of writing $COMPANY if the first thing you do is to slip the name of the company (Eventbrite).

From that point, learning who's $BOSS is pretty simple.

Posted by Debianero at Fri Dec 27 07:15:49 2013

You did well. Engineers need to be clear about what they need to do a good job. Only a shortsighted boss would see your wish to use another machine as just annoying.

While I like Thinkpads and never used a Mac, I wonder, whether running Debian on Mac would have been an option for you?

Posted by Martin at Fri Dec 27 08:04:58 2013

There was a similar problem when I worked at Google. They offered a choice of a MacBook, an ordinary laptop, and an ultraportable laptop. I thought that ultraportable meant something like EeePC, and thus selected an ordinary laptop. However, they actually meant some 12" ThinkPad model, which matched my preferences very well. I was able to change the laptop after starting my work.

Posted by Alexander E. Patrakov at Sat Dec 28 02:57:28 2013

Be honest. This is nothing about Debian and all about your self-image. You could have run Debian on the MacBook. You just don't want to be seen as an Apple user.

"Yes, I thought to myself. I am willing to just not work there if I have to use a Mac."

"[...] I am the only person in the San Francisco engineering office not running Mac OS."

Glad you were able to preserve your fragile geek-ego.

Posted by James McGuffin at Sat Dec 28 07:09:36 2013

Another issue (less technical) is that if I took my work machine to the kinds of conferences that I go to, like Debconf, I would find myself in the extremely uncomfortable position of advertising for Apple.

Does that mean you're comfortable advertising for Lenovo?

Posted by cchan at Mon Dec 30 10:12:05 2013

Does that mean you're comfortable advertising for Lenovo?

Safer to say "more" comfortable I guess, given it's (perceived to be) a more FLOSS-friendly company.

Posted by Tshepang at Tue Dec 31 01:40:24 2013

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