From Fiji To Frisco: Racker Reflects On His Roots In OpenStack

Cloud deployments can be stressful. So can developing for OpenStack, the open source cloud software. Good thing for Racker Vish Ishaya he has a background as a monk and a meditation instructor and is well-trained in the arts of coping with stress.

Where most Rackers are seen as self-starters, Ishaya takes that to a new level. All of his technical skills are self-taught. He started programming at the age of 11 or 12. And at 16 he left home and traveled to Fiji to become a monk and teach meditation, an endeavor that would have him trotting the globe for a decade.

So how did Ishaya make it from Fiji to San Francisco to take the role of technical lead for OpenStack’s Nova project? It’s a long story with many starts and stops, but the main gist is this: While doing some business software work in Iowa, Ishaya was invited by a friend to come out and work on NASA’s Nebula project – after many offers from that same friend to join in on other endeavors. After getting the feeling that Nebula would be the real deal, Ishaya hopped in his car and drove from Iowa to San Francisco and arrived on April 9, 2010. Almost immediately he and his crew began coding for what would later become Nova, the OpenStack compute project. They worked three-days around the clock stopping only to refuel with the occasional beer and burrito.

By the third day, the team had its creation ready for demo. The next day, they demoed it for their supervisors, who were already a bit apprehensive about open source and also hadn’t necessarily permitted the project in the first place. At the time, Ishaya wasn’t on the NASA payroll, and it still took another two weeks before he would be – he was paid by his buddy for the work he put in.

What they had created was called Pinet. And once the code was open-sourced, it became Nova. The superiors were sold, and folks were moved from Eucalyptus to the Nova software.

That project, despite all of the uncertainty, put Ishaya on the ground level of two major cloud developments: The founding of OpenStack and helping NASA embrace open source.

“With OpenStack, the day that I showed up was the day it began, from the compute side,” he said.

There was also a short stint with Anso Labs, before that was acquired by Rackspace. And despite some objection – and a pair of rock, paper, scissors-type tournaments to make the final determination – Ishaya considers himself Anso Labs’ first official employee, and has bragging rights to that distinction.

Now, Ishaya has been elected as the technical lead for Nova, OpenStack’s compute project – and he’s been reelected twice more – a role that has him running and coordinating the project and taking on a good chunk of the content for OpenStack Design Summits.

“When I showed up, I was kind of the new guy,” he said, noting that during the early days there were rock star programmers putting the building blocks in place. But being a constant learner and thriving on a challenge, Ishaya said he buckled down and learned the ropes. At one point, he said, he was working on the code nearly every day for up to 12 hours. Full immersion and persistence paid off.

On top of that, Ishaya is now also a part of Rackspace Cloud Builders, helping Rackspace customers build their clouds and making sure their OpenStack deployments work properly.

In a true show that there’s indeed no rest for the weary, Ishaya recalled a time he was working on customer deployments and chipping away at what would become OpenStack’s Diablo release, all while trying to plan for the OpenStack Design Summit. That’s easily an eight-day work week.

And he’s at it again; working on a two-week deploy with the sold out San Francisco OpenStack Design Summit and Conference just around the corner (April 16 to April 20).

“You’d think I would learn my lesson,” he said.

Through it all, though, Ishaya looks to find a healthy balance in all he does, harkening back to his meditation instruction in Fiji.

“Primarily, going around and teaching meditation is about learning how to cope with stress and be even-tempered, which I need a lot of,” he said. His time in meditation has made him a comfortable public speaker, a skill that comes in handy at Design Summits and other engagements.

But really, his teachings in mediation have armed him with the ability to work with people and customers and to navigate around professional and personal roadblocks.

“People just want someone to listen to them,” he said. “It’s a lot of listening and building bridges between different groups. And I do that a lot being the project technical lead.”


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