Please step away from the computer!

It’s getting closer to the end of the year, and that little voice in the back of my brain is telling me that I need to step away from the computer and try to fit in a little rest and relaxation.  I’m not sure about the rest and relaxation part, but I’m am going to take a break from the computer by going on a vacation to Ireland and England with my family over the holidays.  I’ll most likely be away from email and the internet most of the time from tomorrow until January 1st.  If and when I do find internet access, I’m most likely to check a dedicated email address (vacation (at) jaredsmith (d0t) net) first.

I’ll also point out that the end of the year adds an interesting dynamic to open source communities.  For some, the holiday season gives them extra time to work on their favorite projects and try new things, while for others the holidays mean taking a break from working on their projects.  Please keep that in mind over the next couple of weeks.  (As an example, almost all of Red Hat is off work the week of December 27th.)

If you need to contact me while I’m away, I’ve left a UK cell phone number with each member of the Fedora Board, which should be able to reach me while I’m on my adventure.

I wish each and every one of you a happy holiday season, however you choose to celebrate the season.

Changing of the seasons

Autumn Colors
Image by Lee Cannon / Licensed under the Creative Commons BY-SA

One of the things I absolutely love about my neighborhood is being able to watch the seasons change.  Here in the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is in full swing.  The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting colder.  A couple of weeks ago I took my family for a drive to see the leaves changing colors — it’s something we look forward to every fall. For my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, winter is giving way to spring.  Either way, the changes in the seasons remind me that nothing in nature is static, and that changes and cycles are a part of life.

Just as with nature, we have cyclical changes within the Fedora Project as well.  I think it’s both useful and healthy to point out a few of those changes, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I want to point out that every person in the Fedora community is a potential leader.  Our policies of rotating leadership help ensure that everyone who is so inclined has a chance to lead and serve.  Second, I’d like to personally thank those people who have diligently served the Fedora community, and wish them success as they move on to other endeavors.

As was previously noted, Jesse Keating has been hard at work in Fedora’s release engineering team for the past several years.  He’s done such a spectacular job that his skills are in high demand, and he’ll be stepping back from Fedora for the next year or so to focus on some release engineering tasks inside of Red Hat.  In the meantime, the release engineering baton has been passed on to Dennis Gilmore, who is proven himself in the Fedora community as well.  I look forward to working more closely with Dennis as we get into the Fedora 15 cycle and beyond.

The next change involves the Fedora Program Manager.  This is another Red Hat paid position that helps coordinate the Fedora schedule, acts as the Feature Wrangler, and helps out with coordination of other meetings, such as the blocker bug meetings around the time of releases.  John Poelstra has served very well in that position for the past few years, and I’m happy to announce that community superstar Robyn Bergeron has accepted a job at Red Hat to take on that role.  John Poelstra is leaving some awfully big shoes to fill, but I’m sure Robyn will also do an excellent job in that capacity.

Last but not least, I’ll point out that we’re still actively looking for a highly skilled systems administrator to serve on the Fedora Infrastructure team.  This is an interesting and critical job as well, as it requires not only the technical skills of actively managing the Fedora services and infrastructure, but also requires effective soft skills to deal with the community at large.  If you’re interested in applying for this position, please don’t hesitate to contact either myself or Tom “spot” Callaway, or follow this link.

Where is Jared this week?

I’ve had a bit more travel than is usual this month, which means I’m writing this blog post from a hotel room outside of Boston.  Boston, you ask?  What am I doing in Boston?  I’m here for the rest of the week having some meetings at the Red Hat offices here in Westford, MA this week.  I came up here in June when I was interviewing for the FPL job, but hadn’t been back since, and I thought it was about time to hop back up and spend some time in some meetings with some of my friends and co-workers here.

Today, I caught up with Paul Frields and Kara (from Red Hat’s press team) to talk about press blog entries and video highlights for the Fedora 14 release. I also talked with John Poelstra and Paul and Spot (via phone — poor guy is recovering from a nasty case of the flu) about the hiring process for the Fedora Program Manager job. (If you’re interested in the job, send either John or me your résumé now, before it’s too late!)  I also had the chance to have some very informal meetings in the hallway with folks like Dan Walsh, Luke Macken, and Dave Malcolm.  Since I’m a remote employee, I don’t get the chance to rub shoulders with these folks often enough, so I enjoyed chatting with them.

Tomorrow, I’ve got a higher-level meeting with several Red Hat managers to get some feedback from them on how they think Fedora is working as an upstream for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, as well as how I’m doing as the new FPL.  My primary role in the meetings is to listen, and to gather feedback as we near the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, while the experience is fresh in everyone’s minds.

This meeting is a mechanism to gather ideas and comments from folks in Red Hat who aren’t necessarily engaged in Fedora on a day-to-day basis. In a way, Red Hat is not just an active participant and heavy contributor in Fedora, but is also somewhat of a customer, in that Fedora is an upstream from which Red Hat Enterprise Linux draws. It’s a helpful learning experience to hear firsthand accounts from a customer, and I hope this meeting will be no exception.

That feedback becomes part of the larger fabric of possibilities that can inform our future strategies. If there are opportunities for improvement that might interest the community, the entire Fedora team will collaborate to address those items, just as we would on any feedback. For example, FUDCon Tempe in January will be a great opportunity to discuss ideas for improvement in Fedora in a high-bandwidth fashion, and I’m looking forward to the ideas that come out of the time there.  Another key goal for my meeting tomorrow is to give some of my thoughts and ideas back to Red Hat about the things I’ve seen during my first few months on the job.  I’m a big fan of continual improvement, and I think these feedback sessions are one healthy and important way to make sure we’re making progress.

On Thursday, I’m doing a quick (15 minutes or less, I promise!) presentation to the Desktop team inside Red Hat, to let them ask some questions and get to know me a bit better.  Should be pretty informal, but it’s a chance for me to get to know them better and vice versa.  I’m also hoping to track down a few minutes to chat w/ Mo Duffy to tell her what an awesome job the design and website teams are doing on the new design of the Fedora website.  (If you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should.  I can’t tell you how pleased I am with the way it’s shaping up.)

On Friday, I’m doing a podcast with Paul Frields for “This Week in Fedora” from Frostbite Media.  I did an interview with them a few weeks ago, but they invited me back, and I’m sure Paul and I will have an enjoyable time talking about our favorite subject.  I’m also hoping to squeeze in time to shoot a bit of video for one of the Fedora 14 release videos.  (Not that I really want to appear on video, but I do enjoy talking about the upcoming Fedora 14 release…)

Between all the meetings, I’ll be catching up on email, participating in IRC meetings, and helping coordinate all the moving parts of the release so that we can hopefully ship Fedora 14 according to our schedule.  All in all, it’s shaping up to be a busy week here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

UTOSC 2010, Day 1

This morning came too early today, as my body clock hadn’t adjusted to Mountain time yet.  I was wide awake at 4:30, and couldn’t convince my brain to shut down for an extra hour of needed sleep.  (I really shouldn’t complain… Several of the other Fedora folks at the conference arrived at about the same time this morning.)  I checked email, caught up on a few RSS feeds, then got ready and headed to the hotel breakfast with Ryan Rix, Karsten Wade, Larry Cafiero.  We had a very enjoyable discussion over breakfast.

After breakfast, Ryan Rix and I drove over to the conference.  I promptly got pulled into a number of great hallway conversations with both old friends and new Linux users.  At 8:30, I snuck over to the Utah CTO Breakfast.  It’s a monthly gathering of tech-minded folks (you don’t have to be a CTO to show up!) that get together and chat about current tech topics over bagels and juice.  Todays topics included long-term longevity of command-line interfaces, muscle memory, cost of context switching, and various strategies for improving signal to noise ratio in email and social networks.  The question that stood out to me was “What if social networks gave people an way to respond anonymously to status updates and form a feedback loop, so that people would (hopefully) learn that they were wasting your time with their status updates?”

After the CTO breakfast, I spent a few minutes talking to some of the SuSE developers from Novell.  I also spent some time catching up with a few of the organizers of the conference, and helping out with a few logistics.  I also visited the various booths in the exhibit hall and had some great discussions about some of the new features coming in Fedora 14.

After lunch, I went to the presentation by Jake Edge (of fame) on Free Software Project Promotion.  He did a great job of enumerating the types of things that open source projects often forget to do when trying to promote themselves.  I spent the rest of the afternoon popping in and out of several of the other presentations, and going over the slides for my keynote address.

At 4:30pm, I gave the keynote address entitled “Swimming Upstream: How Distributions Help Open Source Communities”.  I felt at ease giving the presentation, and I think it was very well received.  We had some really good questions during the Q&A sessions — I just wish I could remember them all now.

After my keynote, the conference had a presentation from, which is a way for entrepreneurs to get feedback on their ideas and find others interested in helping them move forward.  It’s very much modeled after the open source way, and it was fun to watch the companies reach out and get some great feedback.

Now it’s time to grab some nachos and settle in for Ignite Salt Lake.

UTOSC 2010, Day 0

On Wednesday I woke up entirely too early and headed to the airport for a nice five-hour flight from Dulles airport to Salt Lake City.  (I use the word nice, as it was a direct flight and I didn’t run into any major annoyances.)  It was good to see the Wasatch mountains again — I keep forgetting how much I miss mountains.  It was raining when I landed, but traffic was very light and it didn’t take long to get to the hotel. After checking into the hotel, I headed over to the Larry H. Miller campus of Salt Lake Community College campus to meet up with Clint Savage and help haul some equipment and survey the meeting rooms.  The location is great.  (If would have been nice to have all the rooms in the same building, but it’s not that big of a deal.)

Things are really looking good for the Utah Open Source Conference!  Clint, Jason, and the rest of the crew have really done a good job of getting things set up.

Utah Open Source Conference

The next event on my busy schedule for October is the Utah Open Source Conference, just south of Salt Lake City at the Larry H. Miller Campus of Salt Lake Community College. I’ve been involved with the UTOSC conference since my good friend (and fellow board game enthusiast) Clint Savage first started the conference. Since then I’ve watched it grow and mature into one of the best regional Linux conferences in the world.

I’ll be doing quite a bit at the conference — I’ll be giving a keynote address on Thursday afternoon called “Swimming Upstream: How Distributions Help Open Source Communities”.  I’ll also be giving a presentation on Friday regarding easy system deployments using tools such as PXE booting, kickstart scripts, cobbler, puppet, and func.  I’ll also be helping out in the Fedora booth and spending some time with the rest of our fabulous Fedora crew at the conference.  I also told the organizers that I’d be happy to help out in any other ways, just like the good ol’ days when I was the person in charge of handing out name badges. (Last but not least, I’ll be thrashing all my friends in the “Board Game Bash” on Saturday night — this is my chance to show them who’s boss.)

I hope to see you at the Utah Open Source conference this week!  If you’re at the show, please stop by and say hi. I’d love to talk with you!

FUDCon Zurich, Day 0

This morning I arrived in Zurich for the FUDCon conference here, which starts bright and early tomorrow morning.  Getting here was a bit on the interesting side… On my flight from Richmond to Atlanta yesterday, one of the plane’s engines started overheating, so we cut the flight short and landed in Greensboro, NC instead. (Rumor on the plane was that Air Force One was also landing there about the same time, and they had to wait for us — I’m not really sure I believe any of that story.)  After a couple of hours of waiting, they put us on another plane and got us to Atlanta.  Luckily, I had time to catch my connection in Atlanta for Zurich.  The flight was uneventful, and I spent the time typing on my laptop and sleeping for a few hours.

I arrived here in Zurich about 8:00am this morning, and quickly caught the hotel shuttle to the hotel.  The hotel didn’t have my room ready yet, so I hung out in the lobby for a few hours and worked on some presentation slides I’ve been meaning to touch up.  By noon Jesse Keating had arrived, and Tom and Mo showed up soon after that as well.  After a shower, I felt human again.

A bit later this afternoon, the four of us met up with Adam Williamson (who was already here) and went out for lunch.  Sandro had recommended we try a traditional Swiss restaurant called “Swiss Chuchi” which is right outside the Hotel Adler fairly close to the central train station.  We took the S7 train from right next to the hotel (in the direction of Rapperswil) to the main train station (Zurich HB or “Central”), then caught a tram from there to area of the restaurant.  It took us a few minutes to find the right street from there, but soon we were eating.  Several of us tried different flavors of fondue.  It was delicious.  While there, we ran into Bert from Belgium.

After finishing lunch, we caught a tram towards the ETH Zurich campus to check in with Sandro and Marcus and see if we could help get things setup.  I read the map wrong and took us several blocks out of the way, and then we had a hard time finding the right building.  In the end, we found where we were supposed to be, and helped setup power and network for the conference.  (For the record, we’re in the CHB building, on floor D.) From there, we took the #10 tram back to the central station and the S7 train (in the direction of Winterthur) back to the hotel.

I’ve now caught up on a few more emails, made a quick call home to my wife, typed this blog post. Now I’m ready to call it a night.  The conference begins at 9:00 in the morning, so I’d better get some sleep.

Good, Better, Best

I’m a firm believer in the open source development model.  That’s not to say it’s perfect, and I certainly don’t want to imply that it’s the most efficient was of building software.  In fact, from an outsider’s view, it probably looks quite chaotic, and maybe even counter-productive at times.  During my FUDCon Santiago presentation in July, I shared part of the speech that US President John F. Kennedy gave at the Berlin Wall in 1963, which I think helps illustrate the point.  President Kennedy said:

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in.

I’d go so far as to say that free software has many difficulties and open source development is not perfect.  Thankfully, we don’t have to put up walls to keep our users in.  (I’d love to talk about the difference between a “walled garden” and a “friendly prison” another day, but that’s not the point of today’s blog post.)

It’s understandable that people get animated about the technical decisions that go in inside of open source communities.  What’s unfortunate, though, is that the conversations often turn ugly, and the communication shifts from arguing about “what is right” to “who is right”, and then goes downhill from there.  My wife recently reminded me (as she was discussing politics with some friends) that most decisions we argue about these days aren’t yes/no, good/bad, right/left types of decisions, but are instead decisions that lie somewhere on the continuum between good, better, and best.

So, next time a mailing list troll baits you by telling you that you’re wrong and he or she is right, please take a moment to reflect on whether it’s really a question of good vs. bad, or whether both opinions find themselves between “good” and “best”.  Seeing things from another perspective might just help smooth over some of the rough edges in open source development.

First Month on the Job – A Retrospective

It’s been just over a month since I started as the new Fedora Project Leader. I’m new to Red Hat as well — so in some way, it feels like I’m starting at two new jobs at the same time. Since so many people have asked me how things are going, I thought I’d share a bit about my thoughts so far.

My first experience as the new FPL was to spend two days in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Red Hat offices for new employee orientation.  Besides the normal busy work of filling out forms and learning about company policies, I got to spend some time meeting key individuals and teams within Red Hat.  I walked away from the meetings thoroughly convinced that Red Hat has a good grasp on the “open source way”, and really tries hard to help new employees grasp that.  That’s not to say there aren’t disagreements about the details, but it’s awfully nice to work for a company that values outside collaboration.  (I’ve been blessed to work for two such companies in the past few years — lucky me!)

After my two days in Raleigh, I immediately flew to Chile for the FUDCon Santiago conference.  You can read back through my blog posts for the details.  In short, it was wonderful to meet so many dedicated Fedora collaborators in Latin America.  There’s obviously lots of room for improvement on how the Fedora leaders communicate and interact with community groups around the world, but I hope we’re on the right track.  If nothing else, I hope my trip to Chile helped to strengthen the trust between the LATAM collaborators and the Fedora leaders.

After my trip to Chile, I went to the FISL conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  We had a fantastic booth and lots of excitement around Fedora.  I gave a presentation on the relationship between Fedora and Red Hat, and showed examples of how Fedora works with upstream communities.  Again, you can read my previous blog posts for more details.

Since I’ve returned from Brazil, I’ve been working hard to learn my way around the FPL position, and start building working relationships inside of Red Hat.  Paul Frields (the former FPL) has done a great job of mentoring me as I get up to speed in all my responsibilities, and a lot of other great people in the community have helped me as well.  I have been very pleased to find that Red Hat really honors Fedora as a stand-alone community and project. I can assure you there have been no secret directives or special things I’ve been told I must make Fedora do. (Before working for Red Hat, I too heard the urban legends about Red Hat is some kind of puppet master pulling all the strings that make Fedora work.) In short, Red Hat has placed a lot of trust in Fedora (and specifically in the FPL), but understands that it’s important for Fedora to be organic in the way it that it evolves, and also understands that you can’t fake that.

Some of the most common questions I get asked are “What’s the first thing you’re going to change in Fedora?” and “What’s your grand vision for Fedora?”, and my response it usually “Can I get back to you on that?”  It’s not that I’m trying to dodge the question — it’s simply that I need a bit more time to listen to the Fedora community, articulate my vision, get some buy-in so that I’m not championing for things that nobody else believes in, and so forth.  If you have items you think I should address, I’m happy to hear your input.  In the meantime, let me leave you with this little snippet I wrote up a while ago.  It’s still a bit rough around the edges, but I think it shows a bit of my vision of Fedora:

I believe in a Fedora Project where technology enthusiasts work together in a collaborative manner to:

  • develop, integrate, and share free and open source software, and be a good example to others to highlight the advantages of the free/open-source development model
  • allow people to communicate easily with the project, and create a friendly atmosphere where collaboration is encouraged and ideas are valued
  • provide the technical tools for people to work in an easy and efficient manner
  • be a creative space for the development of future technologies
  • build meaningful and productive relationships with upstream projects and downstream distributions and end users

I plan to have a more articulate version of my vision ready to present at FUDCon Zurich in September.

Upcoming FUDCons

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job as Fedora Project Leader is to get out and interact with the people that make Fedora great.  I’m very much looking forward to rubbing shoulders with Fedora users and developers at one of the upcoming FUDCon events.  The first is FUDCon Zurich which is scheduled for September 17th, 18th, and 19th at the campus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. (If you’re short on funds, you can even get free sleeping accommodations in a fallout shelter underneath the campus.)

The next FUDCon event in North America is scheduled for January 29-31 in Tempe, Arizona.

As always, both events are free of charge and open to all interested parties.  Please pre-register now if you plan to attend, so that we can accurately plan for the number of participants at each event.  Also keep in mind that all of our FUDCon locations are being chosen based on a bidding process.  If you’d like a FUDCon event in your area, please check out the Fedora wiki page on the FUDCon bidding process, and submit a proposal.  We’ve already received one proposal for FUDCon LATAM 2011, and hope to get more over the new few weeks.

If you’re coming to either FUDCon Zurich or FUDCon Tempe, I hope to have the chance to meet you and listen to your ideas.