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openSUSE:Board election 2011 platform template yaloki

tagline: From openSUSE

Platform

Note: This page is used by the candidate of the board election as a platform to show his views and answer some standard questions.

Introduction and Biography

Me at the openSUSE Conference 2011

Hi! My name is Pascal Bleser and I'm currently 36 years old. I live in the east of Belgium with my wife and our two children (Gaëlle is 6, and Thomas is 3).

My native languages are French and German, my Dutch is extremely rusty, my English is pretty fluent, I know how to order a beer in Croatian, and I know a few curse words in other languages, but that probably doesn't count :)

I have been working as a software engineer for a large independent software vendor which is currently named Atos Worldline at their site in Aachen (Germany), in a great team where we mostly develop high performance systems in Java for the purpose of security, cryptography, payment, banking, telecoms, etc... In essence, it means I'm a very good Java hacker :)

As far as my involvement in open source projects goes, it concentrates mostly on two things: obviously the openSUSE project, but also the FOSDEM conference.

I have been involved with openSUSE since the very beginning, and have even been contributing things when it was still S.u.S.E., which was much harder back then, needless to say.

I have mostly been contributing packages since the beginning of times (which means something like 10 years, I can't even remember): I first had my own repository of packages (the "guru repository", in case anyone remembers) which was used by a massive amount of people. Later on it was merged with Packman to avoid duplication of work and provide a better experience to users. I obviously also joined the Packman project and I have and still am creating and maintaining an endless amount of packages there, with the likes of good people like Detlef Reichelt, Manfred Tremmel, Herbert Graeber, to name a few. I actually developed the whole website of Packman together with Marc Schiffbauer a long time ago, it was PHP4, I still remember the pain :)

I have participated in several hackweeks in Nürnberg, and attended and spoken at the openSUSE conferences too, which has often given me the opportunity of meeting many of the fine people in our community, including at SUSE (often around many beers, obviously ;)), several of which I even consider to be good friends. I participated in a few specific workshops, including the one that resulted in the current openSUSE strategy.

I have served the community on what I like to call the "bootstrap board", as well as on the first and second board terms as I was elected to do so. After two consecutive terms, I stepped back (as the terms of the board requires -- a rule I actually insisted on ^^) and am now posing my candidacy for the upcoming board.

As far as contributions go, I have also implemented and am still maintaining the Planet openSUSE aggregator, as well as taking care of the opensu.se server (which includes the opensuse-community wiki as well as the repo link shortener and the 1-click-installer automater, an idea of Bernhard Wiedemann, the genius behind openQA), together with my good friend Marcus "darix" Rueckert, whom is never tired of doing so many essential things for this project.

Benjamin Weber and I also developed the openSUSE software portal project, which is currently defunct, and on which I have been working on a replacement since way too long.

My other main contribution to open source at large is my involvement as a core organization team member of FOSDEM, which is the best and largest open source contributor conference in Europe (and probably on this planet).

I have been deeply involved there as part of a team of great people and friends since many years (too many to count, I think it's since 2004), mostly taking care of the developer rooms and gently pushing open source projects together to work together, which culminates in the concept of the "distribution mini-conference". As such, I have been in touch with many great people who are at the center of many open source projects, and have a strong culture of working together rather than fighting, especially in the realm of Linux distributions. People in Fedora, Debian, Mageia, etc... (yes, that list would really be too long :)) are our friends, our allies, in an undertaking for the greater good of people and technology.

FOSDEM means many hours of sleepless nights, and that my wife is very understanding, but it is an essential tool for a very long list of open source projects that get the opportunity of being there and, more importantly, for people to meet, exchange ideas, and, well, have way too many Belgian beers.

Generally speaking, I have evolved from concentrating on technical bits to enjoying the people part of such projects more than anything else. I truly and deeply believe that as much as we are producing excellent technical elements such as our great openSUSE distribution, it is all about the people, the environment in which we spend so much time doing hard work for no other retribution than the fun of doing it, the good feeling of doing something great, the excellence at which we do, or any other reason that is specific to every single person.

That must happen in the realm of friends, of people with whom we can talk, people we can trust. Essentially, it must be a fun place.

Of course, people with great ideas, or hard work, or experience in specific domains, or just with their heart and guts into what they do, they are the ones who make the difference, and they are key to our project, but if it isn't in an environment that is welcoming, friendly, where what people do is recognized as such, then it is pointless. Well, at least, it is what I believe.

Major Issues

Environment and diversity

Won't be the first time I'm saying this, but to me, the prime priority is about the environment we spend our time and efforts in. It must be rewarding, it must be fun, it must be amongst a group of friends.

Right now, the project and the people therein are not sufficiently approachable, not sufficiently "human". Most of us are just emails or IRC nicknames, and that's not quite good enough, as that, amongst other things, puts a needless barrier for entry.

I have seen the evolution of the project and its community for a very long time now (at least on the scale of a project like openSUSE :)), and I believe we're at a potential turning point right now. A lot of great people have been joining the project lately, focusing on non- or less technical aspects, bringing a lot of skills, energy, enthusiasm and ideas. It is very refreshing and they don't quite have the visibility and network they ought to have.

Do we have an "openSUSE mold" in which you have to fit in order to be accepted? Most probably, as most communities have, and probably in an unconscious manner.

Do we need to break it, change it ? We should certainly be aware of that influencing our behavior and respect or lack thereof for certain contributors in the project. I believe we should evolve from there into something more open and more encompassing, because diversity is always an improvement, for everyone. It's not just about men and women, it's also about nationalities and culture, languages, technical and non-technical contributors. It's even a point of view I don't only believe in as a human being, but also as an engineer: more (purposeful and constructive) points of view and experience is better. More input is better. Take some more time to discuss and have the better solution.

Communication

Specifically, now, it's the elephant in the room. Information needs to be spread out, not contained into micro communities in the community. This is really something we must put a lot of effort in, because

  • it avoids needless duplication of work (better to work together)
  • it can put more people with ideas, experience, time, skills on the matter at hands into the loop, and hence turn out into a better solution
  • we are pretty bad at showing what we're good at, and we are very good at quite a few things (no, it's not for bragging or for distrowars, surely not -- instead, it is quite motivating)

We have way too many communication channels, on one side, and we also have too much confined information. We cannot expect people to help and contribute if we don't spread out information about what's going on in the first place.

Community caretaking

On paper, we do have a community manager as well as a boosters team, and even a board but, effectively, I believe that no one is currently really (pro)actively taking care of the community aspects of the community.

That is communicating with people, taking care of our communication channels (not accepting bikeshedding has been talked about recently), helping out and mentoring our teams, putting people together where it makes sense. Have a trustworthy landing base where people feel they can get in touch with, to ask for support, to complain about situations that are not fair or that keep them from developing themselves in the project.

I believe that the board should be morphed into something like that. The community nannies, if you will :)

Mentoring

(Or the lack thereof.) Gregory Zysk, and most probably other people before him, and certainly other people after him, has proposed mentoring as a topic we should think about as a project. I agree and believe that mentoring is particularly important to take away fears (of not being accepted, of failing, or caused by lack of self-confidence, ...) of engaging with our community.

It would simply make a huge difference to have a person that

  • takes some time to talk to you,
  • take your hand and guide you through the project and its people,
  • knows whom to put you in touch with for this and that,
  • has a network in the community,
  • listens.

A few of us are already doing this on an occasional (or not so occasional) basis, but we can do better, and put some thought into designing a landing spot for people who'd like to join us, but would like to have some assistance in doing so.

So let's not let that good idea fade away.

Leadership

This is a pretty tricky one to explain. I mean leadership in a positive way, not in a dictatorial or top-down way :)

Our project enjoys a pretty unstructured, "just do it" (to cite Henne), informal, bottom-up way of doing things. We don't have a ton of committees, of deciders, of structure and processes. And that, I believe, is an excellent thing. It is primordial to keep it that way, because that, I think, is actually what most people really enjoy here. Meritocracy really works, with a few caveats we need to be aware of and work on (the mold thing I wrote about above, and the hurdles for getting into the project as a contributor.)

But sometimes, we lack direction, visibility, some hand holding (without its negative connotation). With leadership, I mean that we need more people to step forward a bit and facilitate decisions and directions. Not take those decisions, but help them happen. Leadership by example, of course, and by merit, obviously.

Foundation

It is obviously a topic that deserves a few words on its own.

I was actually the one who pushed for having an openSUSE foundation (as a non-for-profit) when I was on the board, even though the first one who vocally mentioned the idea was Martin Lasarsch, quite some time ago (Martin, I totally miss you in the project).

The goal was and still is very clear, even though it probably has not been sufficiently communicated since then: act as a recipient for funding and donations because, at that time, there was no possibility for individuals and other sponsors to contribute money to the openSUSE project through Novell. The idea is to be able to use those funds in order to support activities in the project where our current sponsors would not be interested in, or could not provide money for, for reasons of budgeting or political reasons (as in, being a company in the US, where software patents are enforced, where DMCA exists, etc...). Examples would be hosting infrastructure for things that cannot be hosted at opensuse.org, or fund travels and expenses for Ambassadors, etc...

Since then, it has probably become everything to everyone, and the expectations are high (trademark ownership, control the project "independently", etc...). But those expectations, if they differ from the above, would not be met anyway. The idea was also to set *something* up, something supposedly smaller, but at least have something. And we could see where we would go from there, if it turns out to work well and have the right people to run it.

At the last openSUSE conference, in Nürnberg, back in September, Cornelius Schumacher (whom isn't only fame for his technical contributions to openSUSE and KDE, but also for being a member of the KDE board since quite some time) raised a funny question: do we really need a foundation ?

At first, I thought (and replied): well, yes, of course we do. Oh well :)

Then we talked a bit about it, along with the insights and laser sharp view of Coolo, whom joined the discussion.

Right now, my opinion is as follows:

  • the openSUSE board itself hasn't "stabilized" yet:
    • the openSUSE board, as it is now, hasn't been working optimally yet, to say the least: besides for this election (yay!), we barely had enough candidates to fill the seats, with one election even turning out not to be one, because the amount of candiates was equal to the amount of seats
    • we're still in a finding phase for the board, where the board itself (well, whomever is on the board) needs to be more proactive and find its right place in the community, and with "place" I mean activities and duties
    • the community, too, needs to find its place for the board, and bring up ideas, requests, missions to the board
    • I believe we might actually be able to do so with the coming term, but it is simply a thing that takes a little time to happen (as it showed to be the case for other boards in other open source projects too)
  • the situation has changed:
    • Attachmate has liberated SUSE from being the cash cow that saves the financial balance of one or another business unit of Novell and being moved around under structures that didn't necessarily make sense, into an entity of its own, with more control over its fate, and the ability to work better
    • there has already been quite some progress on the options for funding the openSUSE project through SUSE, thanks to the work behind the scenes of Andreas Jaeger and Alan Clark
    • we're quite positive that we will be able to achieve most goals we wanted the foundation to exist for through the current infrastructure, with SUSE as its main sponsor
  • a foundation bares a lot of risk, too:
    • if it turns out to not work well (e.g. not finding the right people to run it, not being able to find enough sponsors and funding, or even worse, abuse), the damage could be irreversible: there are no guarantees that we could simply go back to the current situation, none at all
    • a non-for-profit comes with an enormous legal framework it has to comply with, and that's not only something pretty much all of us don't like having to take care of, but it is also tedious, not fun, and quite abrasive as far as motivation is concerned
    • we will probably have to attract and have totally different people on the foundation board than the ones that are on the openSUSE board, most probably even people who aren't active in the project in the first place, because we will need people with experience and background on the matter, as well as specific skills (running after sponsors, managing the funds well, accounting)
  • it works pretty well as of now (as explained in a few points above):
    • it's not perfect, of course, and there is still quite some room for improvements, but
    • some of those improvements have already been implemented or are being worked on, as mentioned above, and we will surely be able to explain them in more detail in a near future

Essentially, when weighing the pros and cons, I personally believe that the better option, right now, and in the context we have now, as opposed to some time ago when we decided to have a foundation, is to not have a foundation and work with the current model.

Hey, only fools never change their mind ;) (and thanks again to Cornelius and Coolo for their wake-up call)

That being said, it is still a worthwhile goal to pursue in terms of independence and I believe that a more optimal solution would be to have several major sponsors and not just one. But we should put it on ice and have the discussion again in 1 or 2 years from now, when the board will have taken its right spot in the bigger picture, when we can assess whether the possibilities with SUSE have worked well or not, and when we'll have more food for thought.

Minor Issues

Ambassador program

Right now, the Ambassador program is not very successful, especially in the way that it is a bit misleading. We keep running into people who believe that they must be Ambassadors in order to promote or participate in the project, or people who simply aren't connected to anyone else in the project and whom, hence, cannot really get what they need to do their activities efficiently. It is quite a bit of a chicken/egg issue too.

I believe we should rather think about a more appropriate model for

  • people who want to promote openSUSE at conferences, LUGs, etc...
  • people who act as local contact points and coordinators amongst contributors

Manu and Kostas have already put quite some thought about that in the past, and Kostas is actively working in a more apt concept, but I believe it should get more focus, more input, and more support.

Collaboration

With other distributions, that is. I believe that we're quite uniquely non hierarchical in our (lack of) structure, which is mostly a good thing, and for several reasons, we're a good middle ground to actively engage with other distribution projects to get more collaboration going on.

There is simply too much duplication of work, lack of exchange of experience, too much not invented here syndrome happening. We can do better, as it will improve things for everyone: contributors and users. Less work, better quality.

We have our differences, obviously, and that's good, but we have so much in common too.

Role of the board

I already mentioned a few bits about that above and hence I won't reiterate everything here, I know I'm already way to verbose :D

Basically:

  • caretaking of the community aspects of the community
  • actively think about initiatives, discussions, and proposals of solutions about matters that revolve around the human aspects of our community

And, well, everything I wrote above :)

Why you should vote for me?

I have been actively contributing to this project for quite some time now and I do have quite a network of people I know, met, talked to at length, exchanged ideas with, learned from, and appreciate deeply. That is quite an essential part of the puzzle, especially if the goal is to concentrate more on the "people" aspects of the community. Due to my activities outside of openSUSE, and most specifically FOSDEM, I also have quite a few connections to people in the larger realm of open source. I've seen the openSUSE project evolve over time, from an outsiders perspective during S.u.S.E. times to an insider role at its very core.

It could also be a drawback, because of tunnel vision, lack of fresh ideas, etc..., but I have also been in touch with people who do bring that fresh air into the project recently, and have really started to take a step back to try to get a bigger picture of things. Tunnel vision may always happen though, but that is why we all need to talk with each other :)

I think that my track record in terms of contributions speaks for itself, especially in the more technical/developer part of things. I am both having a deep understanding of technical things as well as caring for the human aspects.

I've been told to be a pretty good listener too, and I do my best to always have an open ear. I believe that emotions are equally important as actions and facts, because everything is emotion, perception and subjective anyway. As I would like the board to move a lot more into community support, I believe that it is a necessary quality. Yes, I deeply care about the people in this project, at least equally as much as for the more "technical" aspects.

Also, I believe that I have a pretty good idea of how the board should evolve, and I'm a pretty pragmatic person -- not that I don't have any ideals or things I believe in, but let's try to find solutions that work.

And last but not least, you can count on me for staying honest and keeping others honest if needed, care about giving credit where it's due, and deeply care about our project in general.

Aims/Goals

I won't mention any aims or goals of technical nature, as that is totally irrelevant for the openSUSE board (as the board, by its very definition, a definition I contributed to shape up, may not have or take any influence on technical aspects, unless if conflict resolution is needed.)

We need to do a better job at supporting people and ideas within our project, through our experience, our qualities and our networks in it.

Generally speaking, and most of them being at least outlined above, my goals are clearly on the people side of things within our project. I want to do my best at making our project a nicer, friendlier place to spend time in, to do, to learn, to have feedback, and just to spend time with friends in.

Endorsements

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