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openSUSE:Board election 2011 platform template wstephenson

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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

My name is Will Stephenson, I'm from the United Kingdom, and I've lived in Germany for 6 years now, since I moved to Nuremberg to work for SUSE Linux. I live with my wife and daughter a few minutes from the SUSE office.

I started out as a student of German, along the way became a computer scientist researching wireless mesh networking, earned my keep working on a J2EE implementation and the odd website, and became a KDE hacker working on instant messaging.

Originally I came to SUSE to work on the KDE PIM suite and Kopete in SLE, but my role quickly broadened to be part of the general KDE team and from there has evolved into being one of the openSUSE Boosters, so I've seen a lot of how the distribution is put together, both technically and socially. I've been part of the openSUSE project since day one, travelling to tell people about the openSUSE project, the distribution and the Build Service.

SUSE was my first distribution. I started using it in 1999 and through all the ups and downs I've seen, I've never lost my belief in SUSE as a great piece of engineering from a super group of people.

When I'm not at work these days I enjoy time with my family, riding bikes, coding for fun and hanging out with friends.

I have a couple of underused blogs, these days I mostly tweet or post on social networks.

I am a SUSE employee.

Major Issues

I see two major issues that the board should help the project address. One is immediate and the other is longer term:

Moving forward and growing up

When I first came to work for SUSE, I was amazed by the number of big Linux names working here, and thrilled by the thought of how much I could learn from them and that I could contribute to the big green box that I'd been buying every few months. This motivated me to give my all even in the face of resource shortages, infighting, and external scandals.

Now, openSUSE still has the reputation of being a well-engineered distro, but in my opinion, this mostly rests on our past glories. openSUSE is materially less important to SUSE than ever before, and will not be resourced as it was in the past. SUSE engineers have many other demands on their time, which usually do not benefit openSUSE directly. We have continued to make releases, but have had to reduce our ambitions in line with our reduced capabilities, and have learned to tolerate more problems with the distro.

However, a graceful decline is not what I foresee for openSUSE. openSUSE has a great potential as the only major distribution that has both true freedom to shape its future and strong backing from a commercial vendor. Others have the illusion of freedom as long as the dictator's wishes are followed, or are bound to meet the testing needs of the next enterprise product and thus have their technical direction set by employees. I hope that openSUSE will become a Free community-led distribution that also manages to innovate and inspire.

To realise this potential, I think the openSUSE Project as a whole needs to really change up in how it works together and produces the openSUSE distribution. The community needs to move from doing things at the edge of the distribution - packaging, theming, testing, marketing, to taking responsibility for real distro design decisions, for documenting them and for implementing them to a high standard. This is already happening in a few visible parts of the distribution but in others it is still the existing maintainers who are carrying the load and setting the agenda. Moreover, we as a community need to take responsibility for educating ourselves and each other, to develop their skills and increase our capabilities. We need to engage with all our upstreams actively, so they recognise us as valuable collaborators.

If we can do this, and demonstrate it, openSUSE will become a magnet for talent across the wider Linux community and beyond and will grow and do amazing things beyond creating software to put in a box. I think the board should, as a priority, foster this accelerated evolution of the community.

More than just a Linux distribution

Looking beyond what we do now, we need to consider what we as a project will be doing in the longer term. Just making a Linux distribution is "been there, done that". There are other community Linux distributions, too. And although we lead with our open tools such as the Open Build Service, others are doing this too. In the meantime, other technologies, such as writing apps for closed mobile systems, may be more attractive to new developers. Just concentrating on making a Linux distro runs the risk of focussing too narrowly on past challenges while the world moves on without us.

When I think about what makes the openSUSE project unique, it is as a place where people with shared values can come together and collaborate on creating something from many diverse components. At the moment this is the openSUSE Linux distribution. To ensure that openSUSE remains an exciting and relevant project, the board should lead the community in thinking about the project's future.'

Minor Issues

Professionalism in our interactions with each other

As a minor but related issue to our need to "change up" as a project, we need to become more effective in our interactions with each other. Too often, our mailing lists are clogged with off-topic posts, bikeshedding, flaming and stop-energy. We need to recognise this as a project and stop tolerating it. Like weeds and barnacles on a boat, this increases the effort to contribute to openSUSE. Upstream developers have told me that it's not worth their time to engage with the openSUSE community on our mailing lists, and this kills our competitivity as they instead choose to be more involved with other distributions. The board should encourage active moderation of our most important lists so they are fit for purpose.

Widening participation

This is a perennial topic, but any time I read the openSUSE Forums, I find dozens of unreported bugs and workarounds that are valuable to the community and the development of the distribution. In relegating forums to user-only land, we're missing out on this value and failing to engage potential contributors. As a structural problem of the project, the board should seek a way to extend participation outside our traditional mailing-list, wiki and IRC media.

Another area where we need to look outside our core constituency of typical geeks and their preferred environments is opening ourselves to contributions from around the world. On attending 2011 in Bangalore, I was extremely frustrated with how badly our tools and websites handle less-than-optimal network conditions. Generalising this to the whole project, we need to look outside our box and fix our processes and interfaces so that often enthusiastic contributors not in Europe or the USA on a fast, reliable, unmetered internet connection can contribute. The board should see this as an enabling task to ask all areas of the project to improve in.

Role of the board

I think that the board should not become a power centre within the project, and am against the board controlling development or setting directions. My wishes for the board are things I thing the community should think about and the board should facilitate this.

Furthermore, I think the board should recognise its own limitations and discipline itself in how much work and projects it accepts. Board members do not have unlimited time for board work and should not be afraid to say No or Later to demands made of the board, rather than setting unrealistic expectations or pushing an ever-increasing set of action items in front of it from meeting to meeting. The board should lead by example in being professional in its work and keep meetings short and effective.

Why you should vote for me?

I've got a lot of experience in Free Software communities, being an active member of KDE e.V. for several years. I've got a lot of experience interacting with other groups outside openSUSE and KDE and have a good picture of how the Free Software world works. I'm used to getting things done with less resources than I would like and can use this to the openSUSE project's benefit. I value a consensual approach over a diktat, but I am enough of a realist to know that you can't please everyone all the time if you want to achieve anything.


I've covered this in detail in the above sections.


Room for your supporters to leave a word about you