Imagine twice as many developers

I didn’t see Danese Cooper‘s talk

I should start by saying I have never complained about my career in technology. (And I’m sure Danese wasn’t thinking about me personally when she wrote her title!) To the contrary, I feel like I’ve lived a charmed life in technology. Not only have I had very few negative experiences but they’ve been outweighed ten times by all the positive ones. And as I tried to point out in my lightening talk, in every negative gender related experience I’ve had, it’s always been guys who’ve jumped in to straighten things out.

I really credit the people in technology for my great experience. It started in college with the guys in the lab (we didn’t have Linux on a laptop), the graduate students I met at happy hour, and the professors who spent hours helping me, asked my opinion and took my feedback seriously. (To be fair, I should note that some of the exact same people gave my college roommate a very different experience. She left computer science, but no worries. She got a PhD in electrical engineering from MIT and now balances a career in technology with not one, but three, toddlers. I’m in awe.)

So I’m not whining about my experience as a women in open source – it’s been great – but I talk about women in technology all the time to try to get more women in open source. Think about the best developers you know, those superstars that you admire, the ones whose code and ideas you use every day … Now imagine there were twice as many of them. That’s what bringing more women into technology could do.

We’re making good progress – there were a lot of amazing women at OSCON – but there’s still a long ways to go – I was the only woman at the GNOME mobile meeting.

Now I do think we are usually talking to the wrong crowd. If I had told the GNOME mobile meeting guys, "hey, there’s no women here" they would have gone "yeah, we know." We need to be out talking to those women, and girls, who might join us but haven’t yet.

Sugar (the software on OLPC) and my conversation with Walter Bender

I had a good conversation with Walter Bender, former president of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) and the founder of Sugar Labs. Sugar is the software that comes on OLPCs. It also comes in some of the Linux distributions like Debian, Ubuntu and Fedora and can run on most laptops.

Walter is interested in how Sugar Labs can make Sugar successful. He wants to make Sugar successful because Sugar helps computers be effective in education by providing a user interface for kids that promotes "sharing, collaborative learning, and reflection." It’s currently used by half a million kids world-wide through OLPCs but there are a lot more kids out there.

I think the huge advantage that Sugar has is that is a very noble project with noble goals. How can you not get people excited about helping kids learn? The challenge they have is reaching the right groups. The three groups they need to reach are:

  1. Developers. Sugar still has a lot of things that need to be developed or changed. Like any software project, it’s an ongoing process. (And I know my mother-in-law, Anita, has a list of features she’d like to see!) I think this group is out there and willing. If you have a good cause, there are some very good developers out there that have shown they’re willing to give time and energy to making good things happen.
  2. Upstream. There are parts of Sugar – or rather lots of things that have been developed by and for Sugar developers – that probably belong upstream in either GNOME (GTK) or the Linux distributions. I think these groups are very open to discussion and doing what makes sense. (I offered to facilitate any introductions or conversations that need to happen, if they aren’t happening already.)
  3. The outreach community. I could have called this "teachers and kids" but I think it’s bigger than that. I think there’s a whole community of people out there (like my parents, almost-retired teachers) that would love to help schools get started with computers. There are also groups out there refurbishing computers that would love to get them to the schools that need them. This is where the key work has to be done. My dad has said he’d be more than happy to help but someone needs to show him (and people like him) how the software works and then connect him to the schools that need help. And make sure those schools have hardware. (I wanted to create a sister school program between my stepson’s school and a school in Mexico, buy OLPC for all, set them up and have them become email buddies. Dad was going to do the Mexico part, I was going to do the fund-raising and Colorado parts. But then OLPC had supply chain problems and then I got a new job.) I imagine user groups and conferences of people willing to volunteer or take volunteer vacations to educate local schools and schools in developing countries how best to use the software in classrooms.

The other thing Walter and I talked about funding. I really encouraged him to do a donations program like FSF’s associate members or Friends of GNOME. I think you could get people to give to a cause like kids in education. And then use the money to fly developers to conferences, teachers to conferences and schools that need them to get things rolling, maybe hardware or funding for some of the recycling efforts, etc.

But by far I think his biggest challenge will be reaching the people that can help him do the outreach effectively.

Seven mentors!

So earlier I blogged that I had seven bosses. (It was mostly in reaction to the fact that I felt like I was getting way too much attention!) But I realized this morning that I really feel like I got seven mentors. What a way to start out a new job – with not one mentor but seven!

The GNOME board of directors has been great. They were very clear from the beginning that I should feel free to ask them any questions. When I expressed concerns that I was going to flood their mailboxes, they said, no, no don’t worry. (I think that was Vincent – I hope the rest of you agree. πŸ™‚ They did tell me not to necessarily expect verbose replies and that I might see a lot of "+1"s which means "I agree" or "me too". So I’ve been sending them lots of mails, some important, some FYIs and some just downright trivial (who does x?) and they’ve replied quickly to all of them!

Most career management gurus would say that a mentor is key to success and I just got a whole team of mentors! Now I’d better get back to work.

[And I should point out that I feel like others in the community are also going out of their way to mentor and help. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dave Neary – he’s been a great help!]

Warning!

So today I decided to quit (or at least seriously cut back on) caffeine, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and carbs. So you can blame any behavior you don’t like on that – for a couple of days anyway. (And if you see me drinking a diet coke, please remind me that I’m cutting back!)

On that note, a new study (yet another study) shows that consuming fructose actually changes the way our bodies process sugar. Fructose is mostly commonly consumed as high fructose corn syrup that is added to just about every packaged food.

The researchers found that lipogenesis, the process by which sugars are
turned into body fat, increased significantly when as little as half
the glucose was replaced with fructose. Fructose given at breakfast
also changed the way the body handled the food eaten at lunch. After
fructose consumption, the liver increased the storage of lunch fats
that might have been used for other purposes.

I don’t think they’ve figured it out yet, but I think it’s fascinating that the calories in, calories out model is finally being challenged.

The Tipping Point of Marketing

I always figured that if you didn’t notice an ad, it was because it was either (1) in a place you were never going to notice it or (2) you’ve seen it and tuned it out. So I was quite surprised last night when Frank came in last night and said "You put GNOME stickers on the beer fridge!"

See, the thing is, I put those stickers on the beer fridge last year, after GUADEC 2007. But for some reason – maybe because I now work at the GNOME Foundation or because I just got back from GUADEC again or because I’ve been talking a lot more about GNOME – he noticed the stickers for the first time last night. (FYI, he likes the stickers.)

P.S. The stickers will be coming to the FSF store soon.

OSCON versus OSBC, True or False?

OSCON and OSBC are two big open source software events. I like both of them but I find them to be very different conferences. During OSCON, I had a conversation with Larry Augustine where we tried to define the difference between OSCON and OSBC. We debated whether it was different companies or people that made the difference but I didn’t feel like we figured it out.

I had this thought today:

True or false? People go to OSBC to meet with companies represented by people. People go to OSCON to meet with individuals who sometimes happen to work at companies.

You could obviously ennumerate a lot of specific differences between the conferences (panels vs lightening talks, sponsor keynotes, booth prices, type of speaker, etc) but I think it’s more than conference organization that gives them different flavors.

Leading questions

Why I need to stop asking my almost two year old leading questions.

Did you have lunch? Yesh.
What did you have for lunch? <silence>
Did you have pizza? Yesh.
Did you have hamburgers? Yesh.
Did you have spaghetti-o’s? Yesh.
You had a lot to eat! Yesh.

It beats saying no all the time!

Trust and Empower

In response to all the questions I've been getting, I've been posting a lot about myself. Please feel free to respond or leave a comment and make it a discussion instead of a monologue about me!

"What's my management style?" My flip answer is you don't really manage people*. My more serious answer is that I strive to trust and empower.

  • Trust people to do the right thing. Trust them to have good ideas. To want to make the project, organization, team or company successful. Trust them. They want to do good.
  • Empower them. Make sure they know you trust and believe in them and give them what they need to execute on their great ideas. Maybe it's a computer, or a person to bounce ideas off of, or help convincing others, or some space, or fun people to work with, or a better understanding of what the company is trying to do … My very first manager at HP came to me one day and said "Stormy, what can I do for you? What can I do to make you more effective?" (I responded with "go to my meetings for me" and he said ok!) I've kept that in mind ever since. A manager's job is to make their team effective.

And then circle back around. It's not enough to say "I trust you" and throw a bunch of money at them. They might not know what to do with the money – they might need some help. (Or they might be in the wrong job – one they don't believe in.) And you need to know enough so that you can convince upper management that your team is doing a good job and everyone should let them keep working on their great ideas.

People get hung up on whether managers delegate well or not. Delegating does not equal managing. (Not delegating can equal bad management, but delegating isn't managing.) If someone is having trouble delegating, one of two things is up.

  • The first is simple, they just might not know how to delegate. This is easy to fix. If you want to learn to delegate, grab someone whose management style you admire and ask them to sit in on a meeting you are running. And either during the meeting or after, have them point out places you could have delegated.
  • The second reason people don't delegate is a bit more complicated. It's lack of trust. Either lack of trust that the other person will do it "right." Or lack of trust that people will actually believe they are doing anything useful if they are delegating everything to other people. However, if you trust and empower, your team will not question whether or not you are working. They'll love you and they'll get lots done and so your manager will love you. But it's a leap of faith in the beginning.

There are often complicated and valid reasons people don't trust others. Sometimes you "know" you can do it better or faster or easier. You can read more about how it's hard to delegate at Why you shouldn't do it all yourself.

So that's my "management" style. What's yours?

* Seriously, if you are a manager, the word "manager" should not show up any where in your resume except in your title. "Managing people" is not something you get paid to do. You get paid to make things happen.

2008 is the year of the free and open source desktop

At the Linux Foundation Summit, in the middle of an interview, I decided that 2008 is the year of the Linux desktop. (Incidentally, the Collaboration Summit is where Dave Neary planted a bug in my ear about the GNOME Foundation executive director job.)

While my answer was a bit off the cuff (there’s nothing like being
asked for big predictions while being interviewed on video), I do think
that 2008 is a turning point for the free and open source desktop. What has surprised me since then is the number of people that express doubt – I’ve decided that they aren’t seeing it because it’s creeping up on them. I don’t notice too much when my 22 month old learns a couple of new words but when I’m gone a week and he learns 20 new words or so? Wow!

So here are some reasons the free and open source desktop has reached a turning point in 2008:

  • This CIO survey might not accurately reflect the enterprise, but it’s in the ball park. They report that "half of the survey respondents, 45 percent, are using desktop applications such as OpenOffice.org." I’m betting just last year that would have been less than 10%.
  • The number of Linux laptops has increased exponentially with the subnotebook market. Asustek shipped 350,000 Eee PC’s running Xandros Linux in one quarter alone last year! They are expecting to ship 2 million units running Linux this year.
  • Some very high profile projects like One Laptop Per Child are using Linux and other free software like Sugar to reach kids in developing countries.
  • More hardware vendors started shipping Linux preinstalled. Dell started shipping Linux on laptops last year.
  • And while it may not technically be a "desktop" there’s a lot of free and open source software on mobile devices.
  • People like Matt Asay aren’t arguing whether there’s a viable open source desktop but only if it’s necessary that every part be open source. (Granted Matt’s a big open source fan, but my point is, the argument isn’t about "if" but about "how".)
  • … and so on.

So while the Linux desktop may not have a huge presence yet, its market share is growing exponentially. And I’ll take consistent exponential growth over existing market share any day. (It’s a bit like using Chris Blizzards’ market share accounting method. πŸ™‚

 

Why me and computers?

You can make a computer do fascinating
things for you – and coding is the secret language. Rod Cope wrote
the first version of OSSDiscovery on vacation. At the time I laughed
and asked if his wife was still speaking to him. But I understood.
When you have an idea, and the ability to make it real, coding is
addictive. A few months ago, I decided to see what Ruby was all
about
. It quickly became clear that I’m not good at part time coding.
My family heard a lot of, β€œjust a minute, I just have to do this
one thing …”

I first got to use a computer in 3rd
grade. My school got an Apple IIe and I fell in love with it
immediately. I wanted one. I begged and pleaded and I finally got one
– and then we left it behind when we moved to Spain. So I bought a
book on how to program basic and taught myself to program with pencil
and paper. Soon after that we bought an IBM clone and my mom and I got to
battle over who got to use the computer more. (I also learned you can
do lots of cool things to existing programs. The year we had a computer class in school I got in "trouble" a lot by disrupting the class making my computer play music, flash different text-based pictures, etc. I say "trouble" because I don’t think the teacher really minded as I was having fun with computers.) I quickly switched my
life goal from being a teacher for the blind and deaf or doing
something with math to computers. Computers not only let us do things
faster and easier, but they let us do things that aren’t even
possible without them.

At Rice University, I confirmed I’d made the
right choice. I loved my very first computer science class. Taught in
Scheme, it taught me a whole new way of thinking. I ended
up working in the computer science department, doing research during
the summer for my professor Matthias and being a lab assistant. I made lots of
friends in the lab, discovered the internet and eventually web
browsers (which I declared a waste of time – hey, I knew what I was
talking about!) I also discovered email and those rudimentary social
networking tools that we used to use – like fingering someone.
Through a couple of summer internships I decided that I did not want
to be a sys admin nor get a PhD – I wanted to code. I ended up
taking a job with Hewlett-Packard in Colorado in the Unix lab.
(Another one of my favorite classes was operating systems.) One of the main reasons I took the job was the people – they were all excited
about what they did, working at HP, and living in Colorado. My first
job was on the user interface team. From there I moved through
various different jobs until I ended up managing the desktop team. (I
like to joke that all good engineers get promoted … to mangement.)
And from there it’s history: I discovered open source.