OpenSouthCode 2019 recap and new information added to my site

OpenSouthCode 2019 recap

OpenSouthCode is a FLOSS event that takes place in Málaga, Spain, every year. I have written about it before:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The event tool place this year in a new venue, significantly better than the previous one, in my opinion. More than 300 people were registered which is not bad at all for a free of charge event about Open Source that does not require pre-registration to participate.

Some workshops and talks were packed, although not the majority of them. Some people has commented that there did not feel a “sense of packed” which is was due to the fact that, during 2 days, the event offered 2 to 4 tracks and workshops simultaneously. Saturday was busier than Friday, I think.

I don’t feel that there is anything bad in having only a few people at your talk if they are truly interested. With such an interesting and diverse offering, motivated participants is almost guaranteed. I understand though that if you come from far away or your company send you to give a talk, having a full room is a good thing.

The event is little by little growing. The organization in general goes smoother, the quality of the talks and the speakers is better every edition, the workshops, specially those for kids, are gaining traction, the venue is better, there were sponsors this year… All signs are positive.

As a suggestion for the 2020 edition, I would organise a closing keynote so participants can get together afterwards for some drinks. This would improve the sense of community and would provide a good opportunity to thank the sponsors.

I am happy with how my talk went. Around 15 people attended. I could attend to 3 additional talks ramon_agustin_paul_opensouthcode_2019which were very good. I learned a lot. It was great news to see Ramón Miranda giving a talk about Krita, by the way. Thanks Paul for your advises about my slides and Gaby for the pics.

Special thanks to the OpenSouthCode organisers for putting the event together once again. See you next year. Follow them on Twitter to know more about the next edition.

Latest updates on my site

The past weeks I have updated some information on my site:

  • I have added the slides of my OpenSouthCode 2019 talk to the Talks page, together with some additional links from previous talks.
  • I have added a couple of great books I have read lately and/or use widely. Check them out in the Reads section of this site. A couple more will be added the coming weeks.

A weekend at Akademy-es in Valencia

This past weekend I travelled to Valencia, the third biggest city in Spain, located by the Mediterranean sea, to attend to Akademy-es, the annual meeting of the KDE community in Spain. At this event we also hold the KDE Spain annual assembly.

KDE España is the legal entity behind the KDE community in Spain and legally represents KDE in my country. We are about 30 members and it was founded in 2009 although Akademy-es started a few years earlier.

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Event highlights

These are the points that called my attention the most at this edition:

  • Many new faces: although I do not have the official numbers yet, my guess is that we had around 75-80 participants among the three days, mostly locals which means a median of 35-40 people in most talks. Most were new faces. KDE Spain designs this event not so much targeting contributors but newcomers and potential future community members. So having many new faces is a very good sign.
  • Slimbook: this company from Valencia, sponsored the event and participated in its organization. At their booth, they showed some of their new products. I really liked the new Katana II and the new KDE Slimbook II. They are already selling outside Spain (EU) and they have a small response window when customers has issues with their laptops or owners require an upgrade, even faster than most multinational brands.
    • My Slimbook had a little issue with the fan. It was a little noisy and it did not work perfectly. I agreed with the support service to bring my laptop to Akademy-es so the fan could be replaced there as part of the guarantee. Isn’t that cool or what? I got my laptop back in 30 minutes and meanwhile they explained to me the components used, some design and technical decisions they took for my Pro2 laptop and the evolution suffered by the new version of the model, which they were showing at the booth.
  • KDE Vaults: what a nice surprise! This is a fairly recent KDE future that will be shipped in openSUSE Leap 15, I believe that I will use it on daily basis. It basically allow you to encrypt a folder with standard encryption technology and it is integrated with Plasma.
  • Mycroft integration in KDE: I was glad to see that a power user like I am will be able to easily install and configure Mycroft in openSUSE Leap 15 and interact with it using the KDE Plasma applet.
  • Catch up with friends: every member of any community would claim that this is a highlight of a every community event. It is absolutely true. It always amaze my how diverse this group is in some aspects but how our passion for changing the world with KDE holds us together.
  • Valencia: this is a city I haven’t been often enough, with enough time to enjoy it. I should come in Fallas, the local (and crazy) party week. Paella, party and mascletás, what more can a guy like me ask for?
    • Slimbook Paella. What a nice paella we had at the event.dav
  • Support from my KDE colleagues: as I mentioned, I am a power user. My technical skills are limited. I have a few minor issues with my openSUSE Leap 43.2 that I am unable to fix them myself. Akademy-es is always an opportunity for me to get support from the experts and fix some of them, or at least get an explanation about why I have that issue, if it is fixed already in new versions or if I have to use a workaround.

Call for action

These are some points where I would like to call for action on them:

  • High resolution screens represent an issue when installing or booting most Linux distros, including openSUSE Leap. It is also a pain to configure multiscreen set-ups when the difference in resolutions between screens is high. The new openSUSE Leap version, Leap 15 represents a step forward to solve some of them but, from what I’ve heard there is still a way to go. There are several laptop models under $1000 out there already with these type of screens so I assume the priority to solve these issues for distro and desktop hackers will significantly increase. I have hope.
  • OEM installer: years ago I came to the conclusion that the reason why Linux desktops are not mainstream is because upstream mostly target those users who do not and will never install any operative system in their machines while Linux distros mostly target those who can install their own OS. Both would greatly benefit from targeting mainly the prescriptors, that is, those who install the operative systems of the users either in corporate or domestic environment. Let me put an example. Most Linux distros still do not have a OEM installer. I heard this demand again at Akademy-es, this time done by Alejandro López, Slimbook CEO, as a limiting factor to ship their laptops with some Linux distros pre-installed. I would like to see a OEM installer soon for openSUSE Leap.
  • Distro upgrade application: openSUSE Leap is a distro for users. Leap 15 is coming and it seems I will have to use YAST to change the repos in order to point to the new ones to upgrade my distro. Asking around, the situation is not better in most distros (they do not have YAST 🙂 ). Upgrading the distro through internet (network) is an awesome feature. Let’s make it affordable to everybody. I would like to see an application in openSUSE to manage this complex feature, making it suitable for any user not just power users. It could be a great opportunity too to inform those users about the benefits of the new version, including those apps that are available for the very first time, together with a simple path to install them.
  • Applications for Plasma Mobile: Plasma developers are achieving the long-awaited goal to get Plasma ready for mobiles. Now we need applications. Aleix Pol did a call for action on this regard and I fully support his cause. Without applications, it will way harder to make this effort shine.
  • Not enough women (diversity): although expected, we cannot stay conformist with the result at this event. Women need references to feel KDE as an even more inclusive and attractive place to learn and develop their skills. Maribel García, Directora de la Oficina de Software Libre de la Universidad de Granada (Director of the Free Software Office at the University of Granada), spoke about this, describing the activities this entity is doing to increase the interest among women about Free Software, pointing at an evidence, that KDE can and should do more to help. She also agreed, based on the ratio of women vs men studying Software Engineering at her University, that the root cause is at home and at the High School. She has published a study about this, she mentioned.
    • It is not the first time I hear this diagnosis. I know first hand that the KDE España board has made efforts to mitigate the lack of women speakers at this edition. The Board needs more help from the Membership and the wider KDE community. It is in everybody’s interest.

Overall, Akademy-es has been a good one. See you all at Akademy in summer or next year again at Akademy-es. Where? Who knows…

Dear software manager, working in the open for the very first time? Challenges (I)

Warning: these two posts are a “Lessons Learnt” kind of post, so there is a grandpa kind of smell on it that I am not sure I am comfortable with so there is very little science.

I’ve got lately a few questions from managers about different aspects involved in the transition to working in the open when coming from a traditional corporate environment. This post and the next one are an attempt to answer some of those questions.

In this post I will focus on describing some of the challenges any manager will face and a second one will deal with how to face them.

I will constrain my comments to management aspects, ignoring as much as possible the leadership topic, although they are related. These two articles target what I call front line managers, not senior managers (managers of managers) nor executives. By front line managers I mean those that is in daily contact with developers and that represent, in a top down view of an organization chart, the lower management level. It is true though than many of the ideas you will read  might be valid to other profiles. You tell me.

Challenges

When moving from managing software projects/teams in classic corporate environments into Open Source  (FOSS) projects, there are several new challenges any front line manager will need to face. I group them here in four categories:

  • Challenges derived from the fact that Open Source projects are public and open.
  • Challenges related with the FOSS culture which has some unique characteristics.
  • Open Source has a project nature different in many aspects from the service/product nature most companies have.
  • Working in the open implies new challenges from a more personal point of view, involving values, motivations, etc.

Feel free to add more challenges that those named below. I would go over them.

Challenges: public and open

Some of the challenges corresponding to this category, in my opinion are:

  • In open environments like Open Source projects, no matter if they are community, company or consortium driven, technical leadership is as relevant (or even more relevant) than any other type of leadership, including business leadership.
  • Open Source development and delivery are all about distributed teams and, in most cases, about  multicultural teams.
  • Every aspect of the project needs to consider asynchrony by default. I find this challenge one of the most difficult to understand early on for those coming from corporate environments, even from big corporations, since managers tend to be familiar with concentrating specific roles and responsibilities per site/location, even when high availability is a business requirement.
  • When working in the open, you not just represent yourself, but also the organization you belong to. This is magnified when talking about managers because very frequently they are also perceived as the voice of the team they manage, which is not necessarily the case every time.
  • Front line managers are familiar with dealing with private and confidential information, but working in the open brings new challenges in this regard. This seems obvious. But what in my experience is not so obvious, because it is very often not part of front line manager’s responsibilities within their companies, is to deal with the preparation, communication and consequences of making corporate/internal information public, for instance. There are other interesting cases to consider in this regard.

Challenges: culture

  • In Open Source, openness is a given, although depending on the governance model of the project, there might be different degrees. The same applies to sharing.
  • One of the pillars that has made Open Source so successful is code ownership. If you develop it, you own it, which means that you are expected to maintain it. I have written several times before about how important this point is for the professional and personal growth of any developer. I know a few that, by the time they turned  20, they were already maintaining software used by thousands of people. That is something no college will teach them… nor most companies, sadly. There are still many so called senior engineers that haven’t dealt with the consequences of their own code or the one done by their teams for a few years. The agile movement, through promoting the micro-service architecture, has recognised how important this point is. Development teams are in charge of maintaining what they deploy in production. Still, Agile has not reached the level taken in this regard by Open Source.
  • Standardisation through adoption. This concept is significantly different in corporate environments. The success that Open Source is having though is slightly changing the approach to standardisation many corporations have. There is still a long way to go.
  • Consensus is as important as efficiency in Open Source projects. Some people talk about consensus driven development when referring to Open Source development to highlight how important this aspect is. Corporate managers and executives very often perceive Open Source development as significantly slower compared to developing in-house, which technically speaking might be true in some cases. They underestimate though the benefits that consensus has within a project overtime, specially when talking about the motivational aspects, when dealing with complex problems, interoperability, etc..
  • Documentation always beats meetings, always. I go even further. Meetings are so expensive and precious in highly distributed environments, that front line managers go through a lot of pain until they learn to focus meetings on discussing instead of reporting. This is a fundamental disagreement I have with the stand up concept, by the way. And I am not the only one. Reporting should not be part of any meeting. Period. Document and read reports up front.
  • Open Source is all about specialists (aka rock stars) instead of about teams. Front line managers have a particularly hard time dealing with “unique personalities” in the open. The tools they’ve learn to deal with them are very often not valid in the new environment. As I have written before, the team culture is one of the assets that corporations are bringing into Open Source.

Challenges: project nature

  • Open Source projects are mostly related with R&D, technology or tooling development and, in some cases, specially in company driven communities/projects, about pre-production (early productization stages). They are not about developing products or services which is what corporations are mostly about, even when dealing with R&D. This difference requires, for example, that front line managers pay constant attention to value-capture-and-return cycles between the project and the company.
  • Within Open Source projects, the relation among organizations is not common to many managers coming from corporate environments. Other organizations are treated as partners instead of customers, even if they are service providers or suppliers. In a similar way somebody you work with is a peer, even when talking about members of their teams (managee).
  • Looking at delivery, in Open Source is frequent to release features when ready, on a time based release cadence, which helps to coordinate many different parties. Within most organizations, not even R&D delivery is managed this way. Lately, rolling/continuous approaches are becoming popular among FOSS projects. This way of understanding delivery is very often tough for managers risen in the “deadline drama” culture.
  • When taking decisions in the open, front line managers need to adapt to the fact that developers think about the project as much as they think about the company they belong to. Sometimes even more. Who pays your salary and what for are common question among those managers who do not fully understand yet the environment they are working on. They get the perception that people tend to forget the corresponding  answers after a while working in the open.
  • I always ask managers working in the open about their definition of success for the teams they manage. By their answers I learn a lot about the transition stage they are in. Defining success, even in FOSS projects with a clear shared vision, might become tough. And it is so important to have an agreed definition by every team member…. In general, a definition of success for a team working in the open should consider at least these elements:
    • The project/community.
    • The company or organization that pays the check.
    • How is the value capture-return cycle defined for both, the company and the project.
    • Additional aspects that motivates the team.

Challenges: personal values

  • Front line managers, specially those with little exposure to customers, are not familiar with every aspect involved in professional reputation. It is a relevant concept when your work is public and can be directly associated to you. It is so powerful that it is easily mistaken with the most negative aspects of “ego”. Senior managers coming from corporate environments understand it better but still not fully. Reading or talking about it, listening to those who has been there, working with them, is not enough to get what is like to be on the other side. You need to cross the river to understand it.
  • Open Source was born out of strong ethical values. So strong that they are still relevant to many. FOSS is now mainstream so most think that those values are disappearing, being relevant only to the “senior geeks” working in some specific projects. I believe though that those ethical values still matter and, in my experience, the longer people is involved in Open Source, the more relevant they become for them, no matter where they come from. It takes time for anybody coming from corporate environments to fully understand the impact some of these values have and their implications in day to day activities. These values tend to to manifest vigorously when conflicts arise.
  • One of the things that everybody learn very soon when collaborating in Open Source projects is that people have “two different personalities” which in some cases diverge: the offline and the online personalities.

These challenges, and many others not mentioned above, will require different levels of attention at different stages of the adaptation/transition process to any manager. So in one way or the other, they will need to develop skills and accumulate experience to successfully face them.

A second post describes some ideas about how to approach these challenges when joining an Open Source project as a manager.

CIP related work during the second half of 2017

As you probably know by now, I have been involved in the Civil Infrastructure Project (CIP), a Linux Foundation Initiative formed in 2016, representing Codethink, a founder Member and coordinating the engineering work in two areas within the project:

  • CIP Kernel maintenance
  • Testing strategy and kernel testing tooling.

In the first front, Ben Hutchings, the Debian Kernel maintainer, a colleague at Codehtink, has been labelled as CIP Kernel maintainer until August 2018. Ben has released in December the latest version of the CIP Kernel 4.4.105-cip15 Currently he is working on releasing a new version, including fixes for Meltdown.CIP Initiative logo

During 2017 until a little after ELCE, I have worked on defining the testing strategy for the CIP kernel and coordinating the efforts towards creating a tool to test it, based on kernelci.org. Robert Marshall has been leading the technical efforts the last few months. The tools was finally called Board at Desk (B@D). Some days before ELCE 2017 CIP released first version of the tool, which is nothing but an integration in a VM of the kernelci.org infrastructure that allow testers to test kernels locally in a board connected directly to their machines. There is no need for a remote centralised infrastructure to collect, process and visualise the results. You can read more about it in the B@D 1.0 Release announcement.

A lot of the work my colleagues and I did for CIP got its visualization at the Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2017, that took place in Prague during the third week of October. A couple of articles summarise the activity:

Codethink’s involvement the last few weeks of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 is reduced to the CIP kernel maintenance so in parallel, I have also reduced my involvement to focus more in customer’s work. I plan to attend to the Open Source Summit Japan 2018 to support again CIP activities.

If you are interested in following the work the CIP is doing to bring Linux based systems to Industrial Grade products, I recommend you join the cip-dev mailing list. You can read a previous post I wrote about my CIP related activity.

Why to support community driven FOSS events

FLOSS event offerings have exploded in the last few years. You can find everything from very elite, invitation-only pricey events to small, local meetings that are open to everybody. Almost every company that migrates from being an Open Source consumer to a contributor becomes a conference sponsor, which is positive.

akademy-2017-group-photo

Out there, are the key Open Source communities that constitute the roots of this movement. Even in the cases where they are no longer under the spotlight, some communities still keep the essence of what has made Open Source unique and successful; in some cases for over 20 years, ensuring they have the greatest chances to stand for 20 more.

Events organised by these key communities are all about people, about community, about technology and innovation. Yes, there is space for marketing and business, but that is not where the focus lies or what participants look for. These conferences are not fancy, they do not get much media attention, they do not attract big sponsorship, nor a thousand participants.

But at the same time, they do not have ridiculous keynoakademy-es-2017-group-phototes, booths of companies showing the same things over and over again, insubstantial talks about products with little innovation or preachers about how awesome their CLA based community they are building is. Conferences in which most participants are there simply to work. The kind of conferences you attend with little passion to after a while.

There is a group of companies out there that understand how important community focused conferences are. Companies that realise that these events are not just a key activity for those communities that organise them, but also for the participants as individuals and Open Source as a whole.

In many cases, these companies do not have a direct interest in what a specific community does, but they support them anyway, because they listen to their employees and support their passion, or simply as way of being fair, giving a little in return for the immense value they get out of the Open Source community. It is not charity, it is justice.

But in most cases, for these companies it is also about business, the hard kind of business, the sustainable one.

Professional growth requires you to think out of the box; to challenge your ideas; to listen to others’ opinions; to learn from the mistakes of your masters; to choose who to follow with care, and to put yourself in front of an audience, justify your decision and its consequences for others. In summary, to learn, with honesty and a critical spirit.

By supporting these events and encouraging your employees to attend, no matter if they are contributors or not, you are helping them grow while, at the same time, you are helping those key communities to keep on rolling. As a guadec_2012_group_photoconsequence, you are helping yourself too as an organization.

Three benefits for the price of one, and a cheap price.

I work for one of those companies, Codethink. We are strong in embedded, specially in Automotive. There are plenty of industry events we could invest our money in, getting an immediate value when done right. And we do invest in some. But these community-driven events are still a key part of our strategy. It is good for the business, because it is very good for our people.

In 2017 alone, Codethink has sponsored and/or helped in the organisation of FOSDEM, GUADEC, DebConf, several PyCon events, OpenStack meetups.. . On top of that, Codethink has a policy whereby each employee gets financial support and days off to attend such events. We are not the only company with this kind of strategies. There should be many more though. Obviously for an 80 people company, this is a serious investment. But after 10 years Codethink has demonstrated that this support is not a way of sharing profit, but a core business action.

My colleagues, as well as myself, learn, grow, share, refute, discuss aakademy-2009-group-photond interact with some of the most talented developers (professionals) in the world at these events, taking advantage of an environment that no enterprise event can match. We recharge our batteries, open our eyes, ask ourselves key questions about our work and our careers, about our managers and colleagues, and about our own company. We learn what others do and how they do it, comparing the possibilities their companies provide them to ours. We interact with young developers, reflect on ourselves some years back, getting a different perspective of ourselves and our careers, etc. We grow as individuals and as professionals, so Codethink grows as organization.

It is like a cold shower in the morning. You do not know how good it is until you get dressed.

Obviously Codethink is far from perfect. There is plenty of room for improving these actions and the return we all get out of them, but overall it pays off, no question about it.

So next time you think about your sponsorship strategy and the participation of your colleagues in Open Source conferences, think about community driven events and give them a try. Ask your employees which are the good ones if you do not know them. They will tell you. Even better, attend with them. It will help you to understand the revolution Open Source represents at a completely different level, as well as the profound impact these events have over those who attend.

Like being a parent, you have to live it in order to get it. And Codethink gets it.

 

This article was published at the Codethink Ltd blog on July 31st, edited by Richard Canner.