Monday, November 11, 2013

Summary about what the openSUSE Team @ SUSE is doing

openSUSE 13.1 is about to be Released (Nov. 19th) and I would like to share what the team I am part of is doing.

I joined SUSE in June 2012, almost 18 months ago. I haven't written much about anything during this time. And it haven't been because I hadn't time, but because I haven't have enough energy. I have received though these past months several requests to write a little about what I do at SUSE, so here we go....

The openSUSE Team is a good mix of long term SUSE employees and fresh blood, youth and experience, openSUSE and other distros background, on site and remote workers, people with management or commercial/customer support experience together with integrators and developers, people coming from R&D or product focus companies together with people with a strong community profile.... a very diverse (1 Taiwanese, 2 Czechs, 1 Dutch, 1 Serbian, 4 Spaniards and 3 Germans) and talented group. We also have trainees in the team. Having students is something I like because it helps any team to develop engagement skills.

The Team has as major focus the openSUSE distribution. It is element around which the whole project circles. It is the key point that sustain everything else in openSUSE. Obviously we put effort in other actions but we try that everything we do is directly related, have its roots, in the distribution, in the software. Obviously we are not the only force in openSUSE, not even the most numerous. There are hundreds (literally) of people that participates in this collective effort.

The team have a big impact since we are dedicated full time to work on the project, we have focused our activity in limited areas and we are fairly well organized. But in terms of effort, the rest of the community has a much bigger weight than my team... fortunately :-).

Those familiar with KDE will understand what I mean if I name Blue Systems work in the project today.

From the community perspective we have focused our action in two major areas:
* The openSUSE Conference.
* openSUSE news portal (marketing).

In 2012, like it happened before, SUSE took the lead in organizing the Conference. This changed in 2013. A group of contributors led by Kostas and Stella, reputed community members, organized it, opening the door for a new model within openSUSE.

SUSE role in the organization changed. Now we support the organizers in different tasks instead of leading the organization. For me, this is a relevant success story that should serve as example for many in the future. I feel very comfortable in this new role because the efficiency of our contribution has increased significantly. Organizing an event FOR a community is different than supporting the community in organizing THEIR event, right?

In marketing my team makes a significant impact by keeping the News portal as a reference point of information about openSUSE. We focus most of our action around the openSUSE Releases. We also link the innovation brought by SUSE into openSUSE with our community. We help SUSE Teams in marketing their work when it makes sense.

These two actions leave us little time for supporting further initiatives in the news portal. We do it once in a while though, not in regular basis. The situation in this regard is not much different than other communities I know. Keeping the main news portal up and healthy requires more people than usually is available. A more collective approach is what we all want. It is not an easy goal to achieve in any case.

So we basically have concentrated our effort in three main areas:
  • What we call "the future". You will know more about it soon.
  • The openSUSE Development and Release process, that will have openSUSE 13.1 as the main result, coming in a few days (November 19th).
  • Community work. Specially around the openSUSE Conference and the news portal.

I hope this overview provides some answers to those of you interested in what I am up to lately. You can follow closely our actions through our Team blog, that has Jos Poortvliet as main editor and the whole team as authors.

This week I am participating together with other colleagues in SUSECon'13 and openSUSE Summit 2013. If you are in the Orlando Area, FL, US, consider coming. You won't regret it.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Two risks when working as employee in Free Software communities

I would like to point two risks that I have experienced myself and as manager throughout the last few years working in open environments (Free Software Communities) or projects involving interactions with them.

1.- In any community, there is so much to do...., so many interesting and innovative areas, so many disruptive ideas that can make a difference. There are so many projects that, with a little extra effort and some knowledge, could improve so much....everybody would notice the change, the difference, the impact.

When working as employee or as sponsored contributor you interact with so many people that needs help, that deserves to be helped, that you can learn from... that if you are not strong enough, after a while, without noticing, a significant part of your agenda is somehow determined by those who you help. But although you work on the same project that they do, share principles and environment, they not necessarily share your goals, your responsibilities, your duties, your motivations.

Spreading the energy through different areas, working under demand instead of having a clear control of your agenda, focusing on short term results instead of mid term ones, becoming a pillar for everybody else work in detriment of your own goals, of your own results, is a common syndrome I have suffered myself for a while, specially when working remotely from home, and I have experienced as manager of teams and projects.

What makes the action of any team (or professional) significant in any environment, and particularly in a open ecosystem like a Free Software community, is their ability to maintain during a long period of time a sustained effort focusing its energy in a single point. Only when the plan is achieved or after a proper analysis, jumping to another one is the right thing to do (in normal conditions, obviously).

The effect is even bigger when those points of focus are linked, serving a mid/long term purpose, aligned in a concrete direction. Then the impact is multiplied by the alignment of other people around you.

A key toward success is selecting targets with high impact, spreading its positive effect through the entire project. This multiplying effect requires a high amount of energy in early stages (activation energy).  The chances to create a significant and direct impact in several areas of any project at once are very low unless your team is big... and many not even then.

So the first risk is the loose of focus and its consequence is a reduced impact of the work done.

2.- Working in a Free Software community is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life. I feel appreciated. My contributions counts. Many people is aware of them. I can work to make them more noticeable. The more popular my contributions become, the more people express me gratitude. The more relevant I become, the more people listen and interact with me...

This process is a spiral that you can learn how to climb in an effective way after some years. We end up learning how to play the game.

When you are a long term contributor and you are in charge of a key part of a project this is exactly what might happen. You arrive to the top of the pyramid, which is a comfortable zone. Too comfortable sometimes. If internal and external balanced forces are not applied, like competition, an adequate professional environment, external pressure/challenges... even the best professional can become too pleasant.

Reward can become a strong drug. It might elevate you in a bubble that, in the mid term, might have a direct and negative impact in the quality of the work you deliver. This is specially true for engineers/contributors that lead significant areas of a community project in which there are not enough contributors to create quality assurance procedures. Or are not applied to the leaders.

The second risk is the lose of "self demand" and its consequence is the reduction of quality of your work.

In my case, changing responsibilities and working environments every few years have helped me. I am not sure to what extend though. Others should judge it, I assume.