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My Journey: A Mentorship with Zero Linux Knowledge

By | March 13, 2023

March is Women’s History Month, so we invited Open Mainframe Project community leaders and contributors to share their personal stories.

Sarah Julia Kriesch is an Open Mainframe Project Ambassador, Co-Chair of the Linux Distributions Working Group,  contributor to Open SUSE and an educated Computer Science Expert for System Integration and studied Computer Science at the TH Nürnberg. This blog details her academic and professional journey and the mentorship and support that she has received in her career. Not only from strong women in the industry but also male advocates and profesors. 

I wanted to learn Computer Science but I didn’t have an IT background. During the German contest, Youth Researches, I asked participants in the Computer Science area, how they learned it.  The answers were interesting – most had parents with this type of education or suitable qualification. For those who didn’t, they recommended an education in Computer Science as a first step. That is a 3 year vocational training act in cooperation with a company in Germany. Most companies want to see basic programming skills for an education in the area of software development. Therefore, I chose System Integration.

Specialization Linux Systems Administration

A Computer Science Expert for System Integration can become Network Administrator, Linux Administrator, Windows Administrator or a Service Technician. After the insight into all areas, I was excited about what you can do with Linux and open source software. Most of it is free and you can combine all, however you need it.

It is also possible to deepen the knowledge into details, because most software is publicly available and there is a lot of documentation on the internet. Therefore, I took Linux Systems Administration as my specialization. I was also amazed in my 3rd year at school about the exam in networking technologies with Cisco foundations. I did not use Cisco hardware any time in the education company and have received a German 1 (very good) based on my Linux knowledge, because you can use “closed” the same commands as on Linux for network configurations. The Linux teacher was pleased with my performance and said: “Yes! Cisco routers and switches are Linux based. I know that you will be a Linux Administrator in the future.”

My first Linux conference in Nuremberg

I wanted to know more about Linux and the community behind different Linux distributions. I had used SLES during my education, but I have also learned about the free alternative openSUSE.

At the end of my 2nd year, I took vacation for the openSUSE conference and met the openSUSE community in Nuremberg. I learned a lot there. During the breaks, it was also possible to ask questions and to create a network. That was an environment with people I have wanted to work with! Finally, I have received the suggestion of a mentorship with the requirement to stay in the openSUSE community. This offer was so pleasant that I accepted it.

Growing within the openSUSE community

My mentor supported me to become a professional Linux Systems Administrator. Besides that, I have learned all the (basic) tools at openSUSE, from the Wiki to Bugzilla. After my vocational training, I started my first job in one of the highest Sysadmin teams at an Internet Service Provider in Germany.

Most employees were also Linux/Unix Contributors. At openSUSE, I started with translations and documentation. After half a year, I was responsible for the German team (incl. review). After 2 years, there was a Call for volunteers to support our openSUSE Release Managers and I volunteered. Our Release Manager Ludwig Nussel was a wonderful role model for this. He expertly shared how to handle all the software, combine it to one Linux distribution and automate the process. With his guidance, I flourished in this release manager role and, afterwards, became the Global Translation Coordinator. I worked closed with the Release Managers, defined to translation deadline, expanded missing things and learned a lot about the release process. All of this experience and knowledge, provided me with the foundation I needed to be able to give presentations about openSUSE, which I started to do.

Learning from best people

Conferences and meetup groups are the best place to learn from other people and to create a network. Colleagues at the Internet Service Provider took me with them to The German Unix User Group, an organization with the goal to share Linux/Unix related knowledge and to support open source projects. I was excited to see several familiar faces from the openSUSE conference but also leaders like Erkan Yanar.  He is an Expert for MySQL/MariaDB, containerization and Kubernetes. Erkan took me under his wing and helped me learn more about containerization and Kubernetes. We met often at (un-)conferences like Software Engineering Camp or Open Rhein Ruhr/FrOSCon.

Afterwards meetups have become another hobby. I have joined around 30 different meetup groups related to open source technologies, Cloud Computing and more. Some meetup group organizers are also book authors. You can learn there a lot of qualified stuff about the latest technologies.

Bachelor Studies in Computer Science

As I continued my journey with my studies and network of professional leaders, I wanted to learn more about software development and Ibecome an Open Source Developer. The TH Nürnberg (Nuremberg Institute of Technology) had provided systems programming and other interesting topics like Embedded Systems and more. So I went back to school to study this.

In my first semester, a professor encouraged us to contribute to open source projects. I followed this recommendation. In my second semester of contribution, I was nominated as an openSUSE Board Member and was elected. My professors were so excited, that the CEO of our student job exchange wanted to become my leadership mentor. I have received many additional qualifications during the university board work reusable for the open source community.

Mentoring from multiple sides

My professors have recommended me also as a speaker for (un-)conferences related to open source sponsored by the university. One un-conference was together with Red Hat and about containerization. I have created a discussion topic about container security. The book author Roland Huß (Kubernetes Patterns) has listened and wanted to become a technical mentor.

I have also met Anja Stock at an openSUSE conference. She is one of a few women in the Linux area and really successful at SUSE. After my election, I have asked her also, whether she wants to become my mentor related to open source leadership and being successful as a woman. She has been a real role-model and we are still connected to this today.

Academic Mainframe Consortium e.V.

At the end of my 4th semester, students were invited to a Mainframe Summer Camp by the Academic Mainframe Consortium at IBM in Böblingen. That was my first contact with mainframes. I was really surprised about this hardware and that it is also compatible with Linux besides commercial software.

The highlight of the camp was a discussion with Karl-Heinz Strassemeyer, a retired Distinguished Engineer establishing Linux on zSystems. He asked me whether I want to carry the open source topics for the mainframe further. He wanted to see a real open source culture (not only one Linux distribution). After I agreed, I learned more about the IBM structure, the history of Linux on zSystems and more. He was a great role model and mentor and taught me that I would need a really good manager to support me and my goals, especially if I want to achieve all that I want.

Linux development as part of my job

At Chemnitzer Linuxtage, I have received an job offer by Accenture as an alternative option with working as a Linux Developer as part of the Consulting job. I was able to work in the area of Linux/Open Source on zSystems and on a partnership related to mainframes with IBM. I shared my responsibilities as an openSUSE Release Engineer and how you can reuse the contributions upstream. This led me to contribute to packaging, development, IBM(s390x specific)/SUSE (SLES-openSUSE-relationship) communication, QA and more. Additionally, I became a contributor for the Linux Foundation and, last year, I received an award for my contributions.

Elizabeth Joseph (left) Sarah Julia Kriesch (right) Co-Chairs of the Linux Distributions Working Group

The Linux Distributions Working Group @ The Open Mainframe Project

After a few months at Accenture, I spoke at IBM Z Day about “Containers on IBM Z – The Open Source Way.” It was there that I learned about the Open Mainframe Project. Afterwards, I wondered if it would be possible to create a Working Group for Linux Distributions. Elizabeth Joseph had the same idea, so we founded a Linux Distributions Working Group together. Our Linux network has grown to include Fedora, Debian and Ubuntu. It has been a success! More and more Linux distributions are joining. We are collaborating with knowledge sharing for providing best solutions for Linux on zSystems.


Computer Science is  endless learning. But you are growing with your network and learning by others. I have met so many amazing people, who can be called the best role models and mentors. The open source community is open and you can contribute everywhere. You have to show initiative to be allowed (with sponsorship) to drive your idea. In my case, I have met most of my Supporters and Mentors at open source events and conferences. Being public and passionate are the best skills for having such success.