I did not have the pleasure of knowing Aaron personally, so unlike many who have blogged over the past 24 hours I can not speak personally of the man we have lost. I have, however, followed Aaron’s life and career and shared his passions for copyright reform, net neutrality and data liberation. His wicked intellect jumped off the page of every blog post he wrote (http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/) and shone through every talk he gave (http://www.youtube.com/watch/?v=Fgh2dFngFsg). His impact upon me as a young coder was immense.
While Aaron was 4 years younger than me he was an inspiration. I got my first professional coding job hacking Perl at 16 and knew only too well what it was like to be a young developer. As Cory Doctorow says so eloquently in his tribute to Aaron (http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html), “he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.” This is how I felt at 16, the Internet liberated me to contribute despite my age. I must have been around 18 when I first came across Aaron. To witness a 14 year old contribute to the RSS specification was an enormous inspiration and a validation that it wasn’t age that mattered. Not only were there other young developers out there but there were young developers contributing in ways I couldn’t imagine.
Aaron was one of the finest minds in our community. He personified everything that I believe makes the Internet so special. Whatever the circumstances around Aaron’s suicide there can be no doubt that our community has not only lost one of its finest minds but also a leader, a disruptor and one of its most energetic defenders.
To his partner, family, friends, colleagues and the Internet community go my deepest sympathies.