Interview with Elizabeth Krumbach

O’Reilly Open Source Award recipient Elizabeth “pleia2” Krumbach shares how she got her start in open source.

UU14_interview.pdf 103.19 kB

allows you to determine whether the environment


is one you’re comfortable


with, some are more friendly than others.


Q You are active in many open source


projects. Can you tell readers a little


about those projects and how they can




A The big projects I’m involved in on


the Ubuntu side are probably Ubuntu


Classroom [7], News [8], and Women


[9]. For all these projects, we have chat


channels and mailing lists where you


can learn what we do, and new contributors


are welcome.


In Xubuntu [10], I am the website and


marketing lead, but we’re a small team,


so I pitch in with testing, documentation,


and whatever else comes along. There are


tasks that often come up during team


meetings, which everyone is welcome to


attend, and on the development mailing


list. We talk about docs and art and everything


that goes into making Xubuntu


here, too, not just highly technical things.


I really love local community (LoCo) [11]


Ubuntu teams, so I do a lot of work with


Ubuntu California [12] these days and


run the server that hosts the US [13] and


Pennsylvania [14] websites.


Finally, I would caution against joining a


project and simply saying, “Hi, how can I


help?,” because most projects aren’t really


equipped to answer that question when


they know nothing about you. You really


want to find an area that interests you and


ask specifically if there is something you


can do, or better yet, find a task yourself


and approach them about it. My serious involvement


with Xubuntu began because I


noticed the website wasn’t updated much


and I offered to help maintain it.


Q Looking back over your time in


open source, do you have any idea how


Q Congratulations on winning an


O’Reilly Open Source Award [1]. For


readers who haven’t heard about that


award: What is it? What did winning this


award mean to you personally?


A O’Reilly gives five Open Source


Awards [2] per year at OSCON [3], and


this award is given to people who have


“demonstrated exceptional leadership,


creativity, and collaboration in the development


of Open Source Software.”


Although I do a lot of work in open


source, I have to admit to being surprised


by winning. I’ve never made an effort to


be a particularly public figure in the open


source world, and my work has been


driven by interest and digging into projects


where I saw things needed to be done. It


was quite an honor to be recognized.


Q If you could give one of these


awards to an unsung hero in the community


who would it be? Why?


A Many people I’ve worked with over


the years are exceptional. I’ve always


been impressed by the work and longterm


commitment of Daniel Holbach [4]


in the Ubuntu community [5]. Not only


does he have the skills as a true leader


within the community and is someone I


always know I can talk to, he’s also a


talented developer.


Q What advice would you give anyone


wanting to get started either using an


open source application or distribution?


A The first advice I’d give is to not


expect it to be a free clone of other software


you’re familiar with. Particularly


when you’re learning to use something


like the Unity desktop [6] environment


in Ubuntu, when you truly approach it


as something new, you’ll find yourself


learning new shortcuts and all kinds of


better ways to do things.


I’d also say don’t be afraid to try new


things or break things. You’ll be in the


process of learning and you never learn


so much as when you’re breaking things!


Q What makes getting involved in


Open Source projects and communities


so important? Do you have suggestions


for readers who want to transition from


user to contributor?


A The benefits of getting involved with


open source are pretty obvious from the


perspective of the project – they get your


expertise. There are also a lot of benefits


for you, including getting to work in an


interesting community with a variety of


people, real experience with whatever


facet of open source work you’re contributing


to, and it’s common for people to


get career boosts from contributing. From


my work in the open source world, I now


have friends all over the world – and


often visit when I’m in town – and my career


has certainly benefitted.


When you start out, I’d suggest finding


a project you’re interested in and visiting


the project website to see if they have any


kind of “get involved” link that may have


lists of things you can work on to help. If


not, I’d say join their mailing list or chat


channel to get a feel for the community.


Tasks will often surface – my first contribution


to open source was writing docs


[documentation] for a project after the


lead developer mentioned in chat that


they really needed to be rewritten. It also


O’Reilly Open Source Award recipient Elizabeth “pleia2” Krumbach


shares how she got her start in open source. By Amber Graner


Community Contributions:


Beyond The Technology


Image courtesy of O’Reilly & Associates




News Interview: Elizabeth Krumbach


12 ISSUE 14 Ubuntu User


many volunteer hours you’ve invested in


these projects? What drives you to keep


doing it?


A I’m almost afraid to guess. For the


first several years I was working with


open source it wasn’t a lot – maybe a


few hours a month. For the past four


years or so, it’s been like a second job. I


put in at least 10 hours a week, sometimes


upwards of 20.


The more you get involved, the more


you’ll see places where you can help, so


it’s easy to become more involved. After a


while, it’s saying no to new opportunities


that becomes hard. I think what keeps me


going is that I honestly care about the success


of the projects I work on, so I do


whatever I can to make sure they are sustained.


I’m also fortunate to be at a point


in my life where I have the resources and


means to spend so much time working on


things I’m passionate about.


Q You are a member of Ubuntu Community


Council. Can you tell readers


what that council is, how you get to be


part of it, and what the council does?


A The Community Council (CC) [15]


is one of the two governing bodies of the


Ubuntu community, the other being the


Tech Board [16]. The CC pretty much


handles non-technical decisions and disputes


within the project, including


changes to the Code of Conduct, helping


other projects, and staffing smaller


boards and councils. We’re also available


to talk to when people need advice


about the direction of a project or are


having problems in their community or


finding blockers that they need help getting


through. At our meetings every


other week, we invite feedback about


the state of the Ubuntu project from anyone


in the community.


The Community Council is, with the


exception of Mark Shuttleworth who is a


permanent member, elected by Ubuntu


Members [17] every 2 years. Any


Ubuntu Member can be nominated for a


role on the CC, but those who are


elected tend to be those who have a history


of being well-respected for their


fairness and dedication to the project.


Q What is your current distribution of


choice? What operating system did you


start with?


A I’m currently using Xubuntu on most


of my systems at home, and Debian [18] on


most of my servers. My first Linux distribution


was Red Hat 7.2 [19], and 10 years ago


I started using Debian. When I discovered


Ubuntu in 2005, I put it on a laptop and


WiFi worked out of the box, so I kept with


it, installing the Xfce desktop [20] because


it was an older system. My day job is as a


systems administrator, and we use a debbased


distribution, so it was easy for me to


stick with the same at home.


Q What have been some of the most


exciting and rewarding moments for you


as part of the Ubuntu Community? Also,


what are some challenges you’ve had to


overcome? What did you learn about


yourself and about being a better leader


because of those experiences?


A The local community (LoCo) teams


are where I really have found the most


exciting and rewarding moments. From


meeting people from other LoCos when


I’m traveling to attending events put on


by the local team during the Ubuntu Developer


Summit (UDS) [21], it never


stops being an inspiring source of involvement.


The biggest challenge I’ve faced is dealing


with conflict when I’m personally


friendly with people on both sides of the


conflict. As a leader, I’ve had to make and


stand by some personally painful decisions


that have impacted people I care


about. Similarly, I struggle with the balance


between giving people chances to


improve their behavior and the harm it’s


inflicting upon the community. Fortunately,


I work with a lot of other great


leaders, and my tendency toward personal


forgiveness is tempered by their


passion for making sure the broader environment


is a healthy place to work.


Q Is there anything I haven’t asked you


about that you would like to discuss?


A I didn’t talk much about Ubuntu


Women, but the goal of getting more


women using and involved with open


source has been a passion of mine for


many years. At first it was driven by selfishness


– I didn’t want to be the only


woman in the room – but I’ve since


learned from studies about diversity that


projects and teams simply work better


and are more successful when they are


diverse. Because I want open source to be


as great and successful as possible, I


think increasing diversity is a healthy way


to get there, and the struggles many


women face in open source is one I’m


personally familiar with. We never have


enough contributors, and ignoring half


the population because they didn’t have


the same opportunities or encouragement


to get involved with open source isn’t a


great way to fix this problem. I’m quite


proud of the work Ubuntu Women has


been doing to promote female role models


and mentors throughout our community


and to offer a space where women


can meet and collaborate.


Q Thank you, Elizabeth, for taking


time out of your busy schedule to talk to


us about Ubuntu and its community. n


[1] OSCON 2012 – O’Reilly Open Source


Awards video:


http:// youtu.








[2] O’Reilly Open Source Awards:


http:// tinyurl.






[3] OSCON 2012:


http:// www.








[4] Daniel Holbach:


http:// daniel.








[5] Ubuntu Community:


http:// www.








[6] Unity: http:// unity.






[7] Ubuntu Classroom Blog: http://








[8] Ubuntu News Team Wiki:


https:// wiki.








[9] Ubuntu Women:


http:// wiki.






[10] Xubuntu: http:// xubuntu.




[11] LoCo Teams: http:// loco.






[12] Ubuntu California Loco Team:


http:// loco.










[13] Ubuntu US:http:// ubuntu‑us.




[14] Pennsylvania Loco Team: http:// loco.










[15] Ubuntu Community Council: https://










[16] Ubuntu Technical Board:


https:// launchpad.








[17] Ubuntu Membership Wiki: https://










[18] Debian: http:// www.






[19] Red Hat 7.2:


http:// tinyurl.






[20] Xfce: http:// www.






[21] Ubuntu Developer Summit:


http:// uds.








Interview: Elizabeth Krumbach News Ubuntu User ISSUE 14 13