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Meet Sarah Sharp: Intel Software Champion

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It’s official: Intel embedded software architect Sarah Sharp is a software superhero. (With the alliterative Stan Lee comic-book name to prove it.) Today—as superheroes tend to do—she’s making headlines.

Sharp, an engineer in Intel's Software and Services Group's Open Source Technology Center, is the inaugural recipient of Red Hat’s Women in Open Source Community Award. Says Red Hat of the award, “It's time to recognize the contributions that women are making and inspire a new generation to join the open source movement.”

She’s a technical marvel—authoring USB 3.0 for Linux and working on rockets in her spare time. She’s a champion of Linux community newbies who’ve been blasted for inexperienced—if earnestly submitted—code. And she spends a good deal of time mentoring groups traditionally underrepresented in open source software.

Read on to learn about Sarah Sharp’s path to software, sending sensors into the stratosphere, and the pivotal childhood moment that convinced her that hardware can power amazing experiences.

What’s she most proud of about this recognition?:

Sharp says she is excited that “Red Hat is doing this for the first time ever to provide visibility to minorities in open source. It’s really an honor to be recognized both for my technical capabilities and for improving open source communities as well.”

Not one but three people nominated Sharp. Beating out four other finalists from a field of 100 nominees, she was voted in by the very open-source communities she champions. When Sharp saw herself included she was thrilled to be on the list: “It’s all the really cool women in open source who got nominated,” she says. (Read Sharp’s finalist profile at redhat.com.)

The Might and Magic of software touching hardware:

Sharp credits her “interesting parents”—an art teacher mom and automotive teacher dad—for providing her with both an “artsy side” and a “hands-on, build-stuff kind of side.”

In grade school, while playing a favorite video game—1995’s “Might and Magic: Clouds of Xeen”—with her dad on the computer he built, Sharp had an SarahPlusQuoteepiphany: “It was so exciting the day that he put a sound card into the computer. Suddenly, our games talked.” She says she realized “you add this piece of hardware to a machine, and suddenly it’s so much more awesome.”

Fast forward to college at Portland State University. Sharp was majoring in computer engineering, but longing to program as well. “I wanted to be touching software that was touching the hardware—basically writing software that was doing interesting things with hardware.”

The champion of USB 3.0:

At PSU, a fellow student—Sharp’s future husband—convinced her to create a dual-boot Linux system to facilitate her programming work. And professor Bart Massey helped her get a couple of research grants while introducing her to the world of open source—and a “Linux kernel hacker meetup” in Portland.
At the meetups, Sharp rubbed shoulders with Linux heavyweight Greg Kroah-Hartman, who invited her to work on his USB kernel project. (And if you are charmed by the idea of controlling hardware with software, then contributing code for the Linux kernel—the core of the operating system that interacts with devices—is a great way to go.)Even before graduation, Sharp was contributing to Linux, and with diploma in hand, Sharp was hired to write Intel’s upcoming USB 3.0 driver. As one visitor to Sharp’s blog commented, “She’s why Linux had USB support before any other OS.” (Read Linux Magazine’s write up of Sharp’s USB 3.0 work at Intel.)

This is rocket science.

For ten years, Sharp has contributed to Portland State’s Aerospace Society, an amateur avionics group working with open source hardware and software to gather learnings and eventually—they hope—get a small cube satellite into space.

Says Sharp of the 14-foot rocket launched annually near Bend, Oregon: “It's really cool technology—things like a flight computer doing all the telemetry, and a Wi-Fi link that sends that back.” Yes, it runs Linux—except the tiny sensors, Sharp explains, that run their own tiny real-time operating system (RTOS), designed to process data with no buffering. (Read Sharp’s May 2009 Linux Journal article on moving Portland State’s rocket to USB—and recovering rockets in the Oregon desert.)

I think Tony Stark’s got some competition.

– By Erika Seelinger, Intel Employee Communications Team
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