Meet the Platform Team Managers: Robbie Williamson

In the first of a seven-part series on Where Karmic's Karma Comes From , I'd like to introduce you to the managers of the Canonical Platform Team. The Platform Team is made up of the following teams: Foundations, Kernel, Desktop, QA, Mobile, Community, and Server. In this first interview, Robbie Williamson, the Ubuntu's Foundations Team Manager, discusses what's coming out in Karmic Koala and what we can expect in the Lucid Lynx release.

As the October 29th release of Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Kaola) approaches and planning for Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) begins during the November Ubuntu Developer Summit, I thought this would be a great time to speak with a few of the teams that help polish Ubuntu until it shines.

Amber Graner: Could you please introduce yourself and tell me a little about what you do at Canonical and for the Ubuntu Project?

Robbie Williamson: I manage the Foundations and Security teams, working for Matt Zimmerman on the Ubuntu Platform team within Canonical.
The Ubuntu Foundations Team is responsible for delivering the core Ubuntu system, which is common to the whole Ubuntu family of products and services, and the rock upon which we base all other Ubuntu technology. Specific areas that the Ubuntu Foundations Team is responsible for currently include:

  • boot;
  • installers and CD images;
  • maintenance of central package infrastructure, such as the Ubuntu archive and seeds;
  • release engineering and management;
  • development standards and collaborative development support;
  • the toolchain (compiler, C library, etc.);
  • and package management.

The Ubuntu Security team strives to make Ubuntu as safe as possible without compromising usability and to provide responsible and respectful disclosure of security issues. Their primary purpose is to:

  • track vulnerabilities in Ubuntu,
  • provide updated packages containing security vulnerability fixes,
  • develop proactive security measures to protect Ubuntu,
  • and help guide other groups when they implement security-sensitive features.

AG: Out of all the things in the Karmic release, what are you and your team most proud of?

RW: Foundations: The complete transition to upstart in boot, which played a major role in improving the overall boot experience for Ubuntu.
Security: Everything related to AppArmor, which is a lot of boot-time changes, new profiles and integration, and a big push for upstreaming.

AG: What was the biggest obstacle you faced for this release and how did you over come it?

RW: Oddly it became one of the things I'm most proud of, the transition to upstart. The obstacle came a few days before the Alpha 6 release, when we were in the middle of moving over our code from our test PPAs into the official release repository. In the middle of this process, our build infrastructure went down, which led to only a subset of packages being moved over. Usually, this isn't that big of a deal, but these set of packages were very interdependent. This meant that once you started upgrading with them, you had to finish the upgrade, or your boot was broken. Any tester or developer who ran a package upgrade after this breakdown had their system's boot broken.

We had both Canonical employees and community members working around the clock to restore the build system (so that we could finish preparing for Alpha 6), get the word out to stop folks from upgrading until we fixed things, and come up with fixes for people who had upgraded and were completely stuck. It was awesome, in every sense of the definition, to see how quickly the Ubuntu developer and test community rallied to get this fixed.

AG: What can we expect from you and your team for Lucid Lynx, Ubuntu 10.04?

RW: Besides faster boot times, I wouldn't expect anything else too flashy from either Foundations or Security. With 10.04 being an LTS, we really want to focus on hardening the underlying core systems.

AG: Understanding that every developer and community member's contribution and participation is appreciated, but if you had to name a "rockstar" that helped Karmic's Karma rock, who would it be and why?

RW: I really can't name one single person, there's too many. I could say Scott Kitterman [ScottK on IRC], Kubuntu Juggernaut, Ubuntu Core Developer, a leader for the MOTU Release team, and strong advocate for Ubuntu Server. But then that would leave out Mario Limonciello [superm1 on IRC], creator of Mythbuntu, another Ubuntu Core Developer, strong Ubuntu advocate at Dell, and somehow he still has time to run marathons! The list goes on and on. The fact is, we absolutely need – and truly depend on – our entire community to get every release out the door.

AG: How and where you would encourage more community contributions?

RW: I'll start with the "where" first, and say Ubuntu Server. Traditionally, many server admins are understandably risk averse, so we don't get as much Alpha/Beta community testing of the Server as we'd like. Canonical could probably hire hundreds of testers specifically for Ubuntu Server, and the test feedback would still be nothing compared to what we know the community can provide. With all the cool cloud technology going into our server flavor, it's even more fun to play with now. I'd encourage more community people to join the Ubuntu Server community and start helping us deliver an awesome cloud-enabled server product.

AG: When you think of the Ubuntu Community and the spirit of Ubuntu, what comes to mind and how do you foster that within yourself and your team?

RW: I suppose it's the idea of everyone helping everyone else. By that, I mean there's no unnecessary boundaries put between developers, testers, and community. Everyone's voice is heard and opinion respected because we all want the same thing: Ubuntu to succeed. There are disagreements, as expected, but we try to work them out in an open and civil manner. When it comes to the team and what we have to deliver, I try to keep this in mind. Yeah, I'm the "manager" of the Canonical employees and "leader" of the teams, but so what? This doesn't make me anymore important than anyone else or give my opinion any more weight.

Before I came to Canonical, I was at IBM, and while there I was lucky enough to go to a talk by Lou Gerstner, famous for bringing IBM back from near collapse in the mid '90s. Although retired, he apparently still pops in for talks from time to time – go figure. Anyway, the one thing I took away from his talk was his philosophy on being a good manager. It was basically that 90 percent of the time a good manager is just another member of the team, doing his or her best to help the team succeed. I don't see my "team" as only being Foundations or Security. My "team" is the entire Ubuntu community, and I need to do what I can to help it succeed.

More information about the Foundations Team can be found at: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/FoundationsTeam). For more info on how you can participate in and contribute to Ubuntu, visit: http://www.ubuntu.com/community/participate.

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Follow along as Ubuntu enthusiast and Community organizer Amber Graner helps put the "You" in Ubuntu.

Amber Graner is an active Ubuntu community member and organizer who encourages everyone around her to participate, support, and learn about Ubuntu and Open Source. With a smile and a sense of humor, Amber reminds people that there is a place for everyone in the Ubuntu community – regardless of technical skill level (or lack thereof). She is constantly looking for people, places, and events within the Ubuntu community that help inspire Ubuntu users to participate actively within the Ubuntu community. Email Amber at amber AT ubuntu-user DOT com.

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