“On the face of it, music recommendations, identity fraud, Internet advertising and genomics look very different, but at their deep heart they have a lot of similarities: The ways you find order and structure in these domains,” said Dunning. “We pioneered special kinds of database technologies around this idea of graph theoretical anomalies so we could find synthetic identities and run-of-the-mill identity fraudsters. I think we were the first to prove the existence of the synthetic identity industry.”

The open-source philosopher
Throughout Dunning’s research days and career progression through a string of startups, he stayed involved in the open-source community. Dunning’s work in open source began as an undergrad in electrical engineering at the University of Colorado in 1975, when he joined the 6502 Interest Group, one of the oldest computer clubs in the United States. Every Tuesday night they met at the Colorado School of Mines, which birthed XPL0, Apex OS, the FOCAL language and other breakthroughs, all hand-assembled and coded into a mainframe.

Dunning later earned his M.S. in computer science from New Mexico State University, and graduated with a Ph.D. in computing science from the U.K.’s University of Sheffield in 1999.

“If we go back to the dark ages of sorts, I’ve been involved in open-source software for a very, very long time and open-source has changed a lot. We have an Internet now,” said Dunning. “Open source used to be folks getting together and swapping floppies. Now worldwide you have these global communities, and the capabilities are just earth-shaking.”

In today’s world of GitHub and mainstream open source, the free software veteran brings a more measured open-source philosophy to mentoring ASF projects. Dunning began working with Hadoop in 2007 and 2008, participating at first on the mailing list and then as a committer for Apache Mahout, followed by committing to and mentoring projects like Apache Storm, Lucene, Flink, Kylin, Drill and Myriad.

Taylor Goetz, the project management committee (PMC) chair of the Apache Storm project and a technical staff member at Hadoop development company Hortonworks, said that as a mentor on the Storm project, Dunning helped steer debate about Storm’s initial incubation. According to Goetz, Dunning’s presence was important in guiding the Storm committee through what it meant to be an Apache project.

“When [Storm] first started in the incubator, none of us [PMC members] had any experience operating as an Apache project,” said Goetz. “So when we were accepted into the Incubator and it was kind of like ‘Finding Nemo’ when all the fish escape into the ocean in bags and one fish just says ‘Now what?’ Ted was really instrumental in helping us navigate those waters, figuring out all those processes and procedures around release licenses that can be pretty daunting.”

Photo credit: Philip Kademan

Though Hortonworks and MapR are competing in the enterprise Hadoop market, Goetz drew attention to a recent YouTube video where, when talking about his new role, Dunning symbolically took off his MapR hat. Goetz said it speaks to Dunning’s personality that he’s approaching this role from a vendor-neutral stance.

“That meant a lot to me. You have to learn to be an Apache person and embrace the Apache way, because our contributor licensing agreements are with Apache, not our employer,” said Goetz. “Ted is very reasonable and empathetic, which are two extremely important traits when contributing to open-source communities. He understands the Apache philosophy and the organizational dynamics at play. He doesn’t look at projects through rose-colored glasses. He sees places where improvements can be made in helping fledgling projects become successful.”

(Related: MapR declines Open Data Platform invitation)