August 2013 Contributor of the Month: Lee Breisacher

Lee Breisacher
Lee Breisacher

One of the ways the OpenMRS community highlights the work of its many volunteers is with a monthly profile of a contributor. It’s our hope that these interviews help you to learn more about others who help build our software and our community. A couple weeks ago, Michael Downey, OpenMRS community manager had a chat with Lee Breisacher, to learn more about how he got involved recently working on OpenMRS. If you’d like to nominate someone for an upcoming month, check out more information about the program on the OpenMRS wiki. We look forward to your suggestions!

MD: Hi there Lee. Congratulations on being our August contributor of the month! You haven’t been involved long working on OpenMRS, but you’ve been very busy around here in a very short time. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

LB: Certainly! I was born and raised in Indianapolis, the location of OpenMRS co-founders at Regenstrief Institute. I was there through the time I attended North Central High School, then I went to Purdue University (go Boilers!) where I received a bachelor’s degree in Math in 1977. (They were just barely starting to hand out Computer Science degrees back then!) During college, I worked at University Hospital on the IUPUI campus in Indianapolis for a couple semesters doing a work/study co-op program, where I analyzed electrocardiagrams on a minicomputer.

After Purdue, I moved to the Los Angeles, California area for a software job and I’ve been here ever since. I love the beach area. I’m currently working full time doing software development for Rocket Software. I work from home. I’m married, with a son that works for Google, also doing software, and have a daughter in New York City working for a small (non-software) company.

MD: As a fellow Boilermaker, it’s always nice to have another Purdue graduate working on the project! It sounds you’ve had a very full and rewarding career so far. I’m curious, how did you first come across OpenMRS, and what attracted you to the project?

LB: After my kids finished high school and college then moved out, I found myself with some free time on my hands. For the past few years I’ve been looking around for a way to contribute my time and skills, but I wanted to find something that would make a difference in the world. Several weeks back, I stumbled onto OpenMRS and found that it looked like a great thing for the world in general, and also fit my skills nicely. (I’ve been writing Java for years.) I really liked the fact that OpenMRS appeared to be a “meaty” system with lots of areas to contribute to. (Boy, was I right about that — it’s huge!) So I got an OpenMRS ID, downloaded some software and started getting my feet wet.

Oh, I also liked the fact that there was plenty of pretty good documentation, as well as ease-of-entry things like “introductory tickets”. I figured I could get involved without getting too involved — I had to deal with that pesky full-time job thing. My first contribution was tweaking some of the “getting started” docs on the wiki, to correct some minor things. Then, I picked up a couple introductory tickets and tried to help out there. Also around this time, I received some very nice welcoming emails from the primary team members. The mailing lists were very responsive and helpful.

MD: What are you doing with OpenMRS most recently? What projects or initiatives do you find particularly interesting or exciting? Are there other types of projects you’d like to work on within OpenMRS if you had the right chance?

LB: Recently, I’ve gotten quite involved in the UI Tests for the Reference Application. I don’t quite recall now how I got so involved in the RefApp, but it’s been fun. I figured testing is an easy way to help out without getting too much into the mainstream; my day job means I’ve got just a couple hours a day to give (and some on weekends). Testing is also a good way to get an overview of the entire system, especially UI testing. But I would also like to get into actual development. I’ve also always had an interest in public health and “data”, so someday perhaps I can get involved in aggregating data from OpenMRS installations in support of public health.

MD: Testing is really important but historically is something that’s been neglected in many open source projects, including ours. What do you find interesting or appealing about testing, and why do you think people should remember to spend time thinking about it?

LB: For me, the nice thing about working on testing was that I wouldn’t have to get too involved, so I could give my day job the attention it required. But it’s also true that I am a huge believer in automated testing. It is so important to ensuring quality software. But just as important is the freedom automated tests provide to developers — freedom to make code changes, improvements, additions, refactoring, etc., all without worrying about breaking something. That’s a sorely underrated advantage of automated testing. So I feel like a bit of an evangelist about testing — it’s something every developer should spend lots of time on, but mostly because it will make their job easier in the long run. I’ve seen it. It works.

MD: Even though you’ve done a lot so far, you’re still fairly new to OpenMRS, so you offer some interesting and fresh experience about getting started. Do you have any tips for other newcomers like you?

LB: That’s a tough one. This is the first open-source project I’ve gotten involved with, so I didn’t know what to expect. Also, I might not be your “typical” contributor, being an old guy. I guess the most valuable advice I’d give would be to just dive in and get started. Do lots of reading, both in the code and the documentation. I don’t think a project could be any more welcoming – I’ve been amazed at how welcomed I’ve been.

MD: Thanks for the compliment, and more importantly thanks for your contributions so far. We really enjoy having you in the community, and look forward to working with you for a long time to come!

Lee Breisacher and Family
Lee Breisacher and Family
August 2013 Contributor of the Month: Lee Breisacher

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