About six years ago, René Raggl, a then 30-year-old account manager for a retail supplier in the Netherlands, raised his hand and volunteered to help with xTuple's German translation project. It was Raggl's first foray into the realm of open source projects. Raggl had been working with PostBooks® and he liked it. He quickly saw that with his language skills he was someone who could help, who could contribute back. And that's exactly what he did.
Today, the jovial Raggl, 36, an aspiring system administrator, has several open source credits to his name. In fact, he wrote about his open source journey earlier this week in an article for Opensource.com. In that article, Raggl makes reference to his early xTuple connection. When I saw this, it caught my eye — and I decided to reach out to him for an interview. Raggl was gracious enough to take time away from the book he is currently writing, which he calls a "lighthearted field manual for normal people about computer privacy and security," to answer a few of my questions. The transcript of our conversation appears below.
Q: Tell us more about yourself, René. Where do you make your home, and what are some of your interests besides contributing to open source projects?
A: I was born and grew up in the green hills of Tyrol, Austria. I followed a local college education directed at business, economics, IT and project management. At age 26, I decided to move to the Netherlands, more specifically to the province of Zeeland for a job I was offered. I liked it here so much that I decided to stay. I have owned a house in the historical town of Zierikzee since 2013.
My main interests besides open source are technology and science in general, minimalism, photography, reading, writing and spending as much time as I can in the stunning nature that is the trademark of this area. I also love music. A life without music would be a life not worth living for me. My currently most played tracks come from Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Journey, Sum41, Manowar and Bruce Springsteen. Depending on my mood, of course.
Q: People often assume they must be highly technical to contribute to open source projects (such as PostBooks®). It seems like you don’t necessarily agree with that, right?
A: Not necessarily, no. The last programming language that I learned to a certain proficiency was BASIC on my C64 in the late 80's. After that, it wasn't necessary for me and also not part of my curriculum at school/college. Aside from HTML, which I learned a good deal of on the fly, just by doing it. For the rest (at the moment) I couldn't code if my life depended on it. However, as I am aiming for the System Administration field, I will have to learn at least Python and get a grasp of PHP. So, I started following online courses for those languages. This way I hope to be able to contribute code too, sooner or later.
But indeed, there are plenty of other ways to help promote open source. I also give donations to various FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) or FOSS promoting organizations whenever my financial situation allows it.
Q: Can you describe some of your open source contributions?
A: My contributions so far have been mainly translations (for xTuple and others, also for closed source services) as well as providing “customer service.” For example, helping others through Twitter and Q&A forums.
At the end of last year I joined the Mozilla SUMO team. What I do/did for SUMO was mainly answering tweets of (mostly frustrated) German Mozilla users and pointing them to the help topics that would probably help them solve their problems. I offer help for self help, if you like. Occasionally, I was also filing bug reports and sometimes also translation errors/oddities.
Of course I also permanently try to evangelize FOSS and convince people that only because software is free, it does not need to be shady or badly done. Quite the contrary!
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to help with an open source project but thinks they aren’t technical enough?
A: Close your eyes and jump straight in! The great thing with the open source community is that they are almost always (like 99.5 % of the time) very friendly and helpful and grateful for each helping hand. You can help in so many ways: evangelize, help others, share your story, do translations, donate, ask others to donate. Showing how open source influences your life is interesting to many people. There is nothing technical to that. Tell your story!
Q: What prompted you to get involved with xTuple?
A: Gee, that has been several years ago. I remember that back then, our company was using a locally built ERP that was quite flawed, and I was looking for a way out of that misery. I stumbled on xTuple and tried it locally on my own computer. Even though some things were very obviously specifically developed for US business demands, I liked what I saw. I did not succeed in making the company switch, but I reached out to xTuple to do some translation work for the German version and was warmly welcomed. When I got another job, however, I unfortunately did not have enough time left to continue contributing.
Q: How would you evaluate your experience as a translator of xTuple ERP?
A: A warm, friendly community. I can't remember a single thing I could complain about. I think you could say that xTuple was my first open source love. Even before I completely understood what that means. ;-)
Q: Changing subjects a bit, I understand that open source is popular in Europe. Why do you think Europeans embrace open source so much?
A: Well, it's still not as popular as I would like it to be, but you're probably right there. I guess Europeans generally have developed an aversion over the last few years against big corporations taking over every aspect of their lives and snooping on them like Microsoft and Google are doing. They also like to be free to take their data wherever they want. I believe that is one of the main factors for the success of open source over here. The obvious cost savings are the other. We are thrifty, you know? ;-)
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: Not really. I'd only ask you to keep doing the great job you are doing!
Follow René on Twitter @rraggl