Meet the Platform Team Managers: Rick Spencer

In part one of this series of interviews with the Canonical Platform team, we heard from Robbie Williamson of the Foundations Team. Part two introduced us to David Mandala of the Mobile Team. In part three of this series, Where Karmic's Karma Comes From , we hear from Rick Spencer, Engineering Manager for Canonical's Desktop Team.

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

Rick Spencer: I'm Rick Spencer. My job title is "Engineering Manager, Desktop." This means that I have the distinct pleasure of helping the desktop team get done whatever is necessary to ship the best possible desktop to users. This involves things like organizing requests from users and Canonical partners so we can choose the right things to work on, facilitating meetings, and chasing down non-technical issues so they can focus on fixing bugs and implementing features. I also work with the other engineering managers to set a vision for the release, and load balance work across the teams.

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

RS: Well, that's hard to say really, because I am really proud of the whole desktop team. This is a group of people who work incredibly hard to deliver great stuff for their users. I've never worked with people like this before, and I've learned a lot about team work from them.

That said, for years I've been wanting to make development on Ubuntu easier, and so I am really excited about Quickly. So specific to this release, Quickly fulfills a long standing dream of mine, to make programming more easy and fun on Ubuntu.

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

RS: Well, I guess I could speak for the desktop team here. We had a lot of new technology flowing in Karmic. Consider that we have a shiny new xorg stack, we brought in Empathy/Telepathy, the Ubuntu One project, we updated to the latest GDM, etc. Lots of upstream changes that bring real benefits, but also new integration challenges.

Looking at it all, I am very happy with the quality we have in Karmic. It is really looking like a great release in terms of both features and quality. I think we overcame these challenges by being very systematic in breaking down the work required, and tracking it through out the cycle. Martin Pitt, the desktop team tech lead, kept a close eye on the work, and ensured that the right things were getting done at the right time. I think he avoided any last-minute surprises by working this way.

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

RS: We are looking forward to building some more user-facing features on top of the new technologies that we brought into Karmic. And also, polishing some of these features. I hope to see a desktop that makes it easy to collaborate and stay in touch with other Ubuntu users, no matter where those users are geographically.

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 is it and why?

RS: There is no way I could pick only one, so sorry, I'll have to break your rules here.

First, of course, are the users. Making a desktop that delights our end users is what fires our imaginations and keeps us working hard. Without users, the Ubuntu Desktop has no reason to exist. So I want to thank everyone who contributes to our success by using Ubuntu.

Then there are all the bloggers and tweeters who share their excitement about Ubuntu with their sphere. I can think of one blogger in particular who went so far as to organize Atlanta Linux Fest, and who always writes thoughtful user-centered postings about Ubuntu.

In terms of community members who contributed to Ubuntu through code, I would not be able to pick just one. However, dchen comes to mind for his tireless work on audio; didrocks, who basically wrote the hard parts of Quickly and is also a key maintainer on the desktop; Amaranth for rocking Compiz; and chrisccoulson for his tireless work across the desktop. Really, the Ubuntu team just involves too many contributors to pull any one out as the top pick.

Ultimately though, I think that Martin Pitt is the heart and sole of the desktop team. As the tech lead, I think anyone would say that he does a stellar job of helping all of these contributors working together.

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

RS: Well, one think I would like to see is the user community spreading the Ubuntu desktop more. We've made some good technical strides in making this easy to do, for instance the USB creator that the Foundations Team maintains. But I think we can do more. I'd be interested to hear from enthusiastic users how we could help them with this more.

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?

RS: I think the most important element of this is to remain respectful and sincere in your communications with others. When you see bug reports where people personally attack developers, disparage the quality of other people's work, etc., this is not conducive to improving software or having good working relationships. So, I hold myself and my team accountable to upholding the Ubuntu Code of Conduct. If community members happen to hold themselves to lesser standards, we need to ensure that we do not stoop to their level.

Keep positive and assume the best of people. It really works!

AG: Rick, thank you and your team so much for the wonderful job you do on the desktop work. As you know, the Desktop is very important to me and I appreciate you taking time to answer these questions today, and all the questions I pop in #ubuntu-desktop (on Freenode) and ask you, too.

More information about the Desktop Team can be found at: For more information on how you can participate in and contribute to Ubuntu, visit:


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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