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Guido van Rossum Speaks

by Steve Holden

Guido van Rossum is the well-known creator of the Python programming language. During his address at OSCON 2003's States of the Unions event, he announced that he'd soon be leaving PythonLabs to work for a California startup. Guido graciously agreed to an interview with Steve Holden on the move, recent developments, and Python in general.

O'Reilly Network: Can you explain why you're leaving PythonLabs and where you're going?

Guido van Rossum: Moving to California has always been on my list of things to try eventually. When Dan Farmer approached me in February to join his new software company, where he anticipated there would be lots of need for language design skills, my initial thoughts were that such a move would be too disruptive to my family.

Dan kept pushing, and when he had his venture capital lined up he asked me out to California for an interview. My plan for that interview was to find out what was wrong with the company or the business plan and to use that to maintain my original decision. But, try as I might, I couldn't find anything wrong!

As the weekend progressed I got more enthusiastic, both about the project and about working with Dan.

ORN: So it wasn't so much an offer you couldn't refuse, rather an inability to find anything to justify a refusal?

GvR: The offer was a good one, and I certainly couldn't complain, but mostly I was surprised at my own enthusiasm for this new project.

ORN: What will your relationship with be with PythonLabs and with the Python Software Foundation in the future?

GvR: In terms of personal relationships nothing much will change. I really like the PythonLabs guys, and most of us have worked together for eight years since the CNRI days. It was difficult to move without being able to make them all an offer, but for various reasons none of them would have wanted to make the move.

I will remain the head of the PSF. Board meetings will be a little different as I'll be using IRC rather than being present in person. As you proved during the PyCon DC 2003 planning process, that's fine as long as people can make the time for it, and I'll certainly make the time for PSF board meetings.

ORN: This is the third time in as many years you've changed employers?

GvR: That's right.

ORN: Does this indicate some kind of instability in the employment market?

GvR: I think if the economy had been better I wouldn't have left Zope, and Zope might have been more fun. Really, though, it's more of a reflection on the opportunities that have come to me personally.

ORN: Serious Python users might be concerned about your continued involvement in the development of the language. What will the move mean for the future of Python?

GvR: First, it's written into my contract that the development work I do on Python will not belong to Elemental Security. That will continue to be owned by he Python Software Foundation.

Also I will have time carved out in my regular work week to work on Python. So I'm pretty hopeful that once the dust of the move has settled, say in mid-August or so, I will have enough time for Python.

It's not my dream Python job, which would basically be to be paid to work with a team about the size of PythonLabs to work on the development of Python full-time. That's not a realistic possibility at the moment.

ORN: What will you miss most about Virginia?

GvR: The friends I've made there. I've lived there for eight years, and during that time I've made some really great friends.

ORN: What East coast ties do you intend to retain?

All of them. I plan to stay in touch with all of those friends, and they're all going to be welcome to stay in our house in California as long as there's space--we haven't found a place to live yet, and the Bay Area's even more expensive than the DC Metro area!

ORN: You are a family man, with a life besides IT. How much of your time do you spend working with and developing Python?

GvR: At Zope Corporation, almost all my time was spent developing the Zope web server environment, but of course that was using Python. I expect that I'll be using Python a lot at Elemental too, but I'm not sure how long the working week will be.

ORN: Do you see any way you will ever be able to devote 100% of your professional life to developing Python? Even if you could, would you want to?

GvR: Well, I've already said that would be my ideal Python job. It depends on a lot of things. Maybe the Python Software Foundation will find a rich sponsor or perhaps a large corporation like IBM or Microsoft will decide that Python is important to their strategic interests. But there's no immediate prospect of that.

ORN: Will you be looking for a new dance group after you move?

GvR: Absolutely. The Bay area actually has a lot of great contact improv communities. I visited there six or seven years ago, so I already know a few people and I'm looking forward to renewing those contacts.

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