Awesome Community Chef: Jon Cowie – “(Knife) Sporking Awesomeness”

Computers have fascinated Jon Cowie since he was little. So much so, that he dreamed of being a developer from an early age after encountering BASIC in old Atari magazines. He pursued this dream all the way through university, where he attained a computer science degree in 2005.

Then, something happened.

While at university, Jon interned as a systems administrator and saw first hand what programming in Java on Sun machines looked like. Turns out, it wasn’t his cup of tea. But managing all the ins and outs of infrastructure fulfilled his desire to work with computers without the need to eat, sleep, and breath Java.

Now, if he could only get his coding fix managing infrastructure…

“I came across Chef in its early stages and since I was already familiar with Ruby, it made a lot of sense. I knew if I was going to enjoy administrating systems while also keeping some semblance of a personal life, I’d need an automation platform. Chef lets me manage systems as code, so I can take development principles and best practices and apply them to managing infrastructure,” Jon explained.

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After building IT systems with Chef for a couple of start-ups, Jon met Laurie Denness from Etsy on the Freenode IRC network in 2011, and jumped at the chance to join the Etsy team where he’s been happily solving interesting problems for the last 2 years.

Jon added: “The Chef Community was relatively small at that point, so you’d quickly develop relationships with active members. What’s been awesome to watch is, as the Community has grown, not only have I maintained those early relationships, I’ve had a chance to build so many more. The Community is definitely one of the primary reasons I’ve stuck with Chef.”

And stuck with it he has. Jon’s prolific Knife plug-in contributions have reached epic proportions, from Knife-Pre-Flight to Knife-Flip, to, most notably, Knife-Spork . For those who are unfamiliar, Knife-Spork has become a popular Community plug-in to help multiple users deploy Chef changes without getting in each others way. As Jon detailed:

“Knife-Spork lets you version cookbooks and freeze them on upload so you can’t accidentally overwrite a previously uploaded copy. It then lets you manage version constraints within your environment files to manage exactly when your new cookbook versions are deployed. Knife-Spork also provides various plugins to handle publishing Chef changes to a variety of chat systems, running foodcritic checks prior to upload and sending metrics to Graphite whenever changes go live.”

That’s some Awesome Chef-ing right there.

Jon’s Chef skills have even caught O’Reilly‘s attention, and he’s recently started work on a book entitled, “Customizing Chef”. Jon described the book as follows:

“It’s aimed at intermediate and advanced Chef users who are familiar with how to write Cookbooks and have mastered using Chef ‘out of the box’. The book will detail different ways in which Chef can be extended, when it’s best to use each, and how to decide where in Chef a customization belongs. I’ll examine the internal structure of Chef, how to navigate the Chef source code, and explain in detail how to customize Chef in each of the different ways.”

Master Chefs take note. Jon’s book is in the early stages so be sure to look out for more on this project late next year.

When Jon’s not knifing with precision or contributing his time and skills to the Community, he’s working to socialize rescue cats for placement as pets, taking over the world on his Xbox and reading dystopian sci-fi. Even with all he has going on, Jon still finds time to disconnect and relax, as he takes a two week holiday with his wife every year with no phone and no Internet to reconnect with family and his surroundings. It’s exactly this type of recharging that helps Jon go full-speed ahead the other 50 weeks a year – and we here at Chef are thankful for all he contributes.

Lucas Welch

Former Chef Employee