Robyn Bergeron, the new Fedora project leader (FPL), described herself on the OpenStack wiki as an "all-around untechnical person." Given her background, the description is too modest, but it does emphasize that she brings to her new position perspectives that are different from that of her predecessors — in particular, that of a industry analyst.
Although Bergeron studied economics in college, her first job combined duties on a help desk with part-time system administration. She later became a business analyst at Intel, focusing on the embedded chip vertical markets.
For several years, she was a full-time mother, but "I started missing
my technical roots," she said. "I started getting involved
with various open-sourcey things: I did the editing for papers for the
Linux Symposium, and then I sort of stumbled into Fedora Marketing,
mid-to-late 2009. From there, I sort of steadily progressed." Hired
in November 2010 by Red Hat as Fedora Program Manager to oversee the
features of each release, she has also been the Fedora Marketing team lead,
and a facilitator for the Fedora Cloud SIG.
With this background, her appointment by Red Hat was "not a
shock," she said, to either her or the Fedora community. Referring to Jared Smith, the previous FPL, she added:
I was fairly well-positioned to know what Jared's roles and duties were, because he and I developed a lot of the scheduling to keep more track of what the FPL does. I was pretty familiar with all that stuff, so I was an easy person to fit into the role. I like to use the phrase 'recovering sys-admin,' but I think that combined with the analytical things I've done, I bring a different perspective to the role.
Setting technical priorities and directions
Staying true to her analyst perspective, Bergeron said, "One of the first things I'd like to do is get a handle on statistics. If you don't have some specific statistical data that you know is valid, it's very hard to choose a direction in which to go."
Asked to elaborate on the statistics that interest her, Bergeron suggested:
Number of users, and where they are downloading from: are we very strong in specific regions, do we not have support in other regions? Are we tapering off? If we're seeing significant growth, is that attributable to the outreach [the Fedora Ambassadors] are doing? Can we make that a repeatable process and do it elsewhere?"
In addition, she would like to better track the personal goals of members of the Fedora Board and other active project participants. That is, she would like project members to be able to answer questions like: "What are the milestones you need to get there? What are the data points that you want to hit so we're being successful? I think people feel better when they can concretely see that they're meeting milestones and progressing somewhere."
This kind of tracking, Bergeron suggested, is becoming increasingly
important as Fedora moves away from being focused on the desktop and server
markets and starts to enter the mobile markets. "A lot of [my role]
is finding what the big interests are people have in Fedora," she said. "I mean, what do they want to do with it?"
Despite this caution, Bergeron has already identified some of the
directions in which she would like to see Fedora develop. Although she
describes Fedora's support for
the ARM platform as "one of the areas where I'm still learning a lot," she already recognizes it as an area where the Fedora community would like to see more activity. "I know for sure, particularly based on the number of people who sat in on some of the sessions at FUDCon that we have a tremendous lot of people who are extremely, extremely interested in the ARM platform who are diligently getting it ready to work, and hoping that everything will be set for Fedora 17 to have an ARM release."
Another priority is support for cloud computing. In Fedora 17, Bergeron said:
We're expecting to have pretty much every major infrastructure and service platform included. We're going to have OpenStack, CloudStack. We have Aeolus, OpenNebula — you name it, we pretty much have it. We've gone from having really outdated, old, yucky stuff to the point where we actually have [multi-platform support] built into our release process. We're also looking at adding a couple of new things, like images that people can use for their own personal virtualization / cloud use.
In addition, Bergeron remains interested in making Btrfs the default filesystem for Fedora. However, contrary to previous announcements, that change will not happen in Fedora 17. According to the ticket in the Fedora bug-tracking system, neither Anaconda, the Fedora installer, or Kickstart, the automatic installer, supports manual repartitioning with Btrfs, and with Anaconda scheduled for a rewrite for Fedora 18, a change of plans seems only logical. "It was a question of whether we could support it in the way we would need to if it's going to be the default filesystem," Bergeron explained.
In general, Bergeron professed to be generally satisfied with Fedora's state. Although complaints about overall quality erupt periodically on the user mailing list, Bergeron pointed out Fedora's well-defined release criteria and process and active QA team as proof that Fedora's quality remains high.
Commenting on the perception that Fedora's quality is compromised by its tradition of introducing new features, Bergeron said:
Fedora for what it is -- essentially, a community supported product -- does a very good job. We have excellent release criteria, specific to desktop types, processor types, for alpha, beta and final [releases], and an amazing QA team and members in the community who help out. And in recent releases, we've added Auto QA
and automatic bug reporting
. Some of those things have really helped to improve the quality of where we're at right now.
One of the things that people really like about Fedora is that they're basically getting a preview of what's going to be in Red Hat Enterprise Linux right down the road. It's putting them ahead of the curve. [And] I know plenty of people who are ordinary daily users, and they're just as happy as developers doing things I couldn't possibly explain to people.
Inevitably, some of the media coverage of Bergeron's appointment highlighted that she was the first woman to be FPL. Similarly, comments on the reporting often focused on whether this milestone mattered. However, Bergeron herself is non-committal on the topic:
I'm happy for people to recognize it, but it's certainly not my platform. It's not anything I'm using to my advantage or disadvantage. The most I can really say is that it's progress for Fedora. But I'm not here as FPL to promote women. I know that some people have had difficulties being women in open source, but I've never had a single problem. No barriers — everything has been great for me. Fedora's been a wonderful family. I'm here because I've done good things, and that's the end of it.
Asked if she has any plans to increase women's participation in Fedora, her reply was, "I have plans to get more contributors involved" — her emphasis suggesting yet again that she is not much interested in the subject.
By contrast, Bergeron sounded far more enthusiastic about using Fedora Ambassadors to increase contributors in general. She suggested continuing the practice of targeting regions for attention by Ambassadors. She also suggested specifically targeting potential contributors with design and programming skills, and taking another look at how easy joining Fedora really is, and how newcomers can become active more quickly.
Still another policy Bergeron plans to put in place is to start the process of preparing potential candidates for her eventual replacement. "Part of being a leader is thinking of who might follow you from Day One," she said. "It's part of leadership, picking out people you think might be good and encouraging them to step up and take new tasks, and seeing how they might perform in those areas."
However, one area that Bergeron has no plans for changes is Red Hat's
appointment of the FPL, which is done with little input from the Fedora
board or community. Outsiders often criticize the lack of
community control and input in the appointment of the FPL, some suggesting
that the process proves that Fedora is not a true community distribution,
but still controlled by Red Hat. But when the question came up, Bergeron said simply, "No one in the Fedora community has come out screaming that it's the wrong way to do it. I think it's always easy from the outside to say that's the wrong way, but so long as the community is comfortable with it, that's an okay thing to do."
When LWN talked to Bergeron, she was obviously still settling into her new role. However, she characterized this period of transition as a time to evaluate:
Any time you take on a new role, it's a good time to step back and look at your role through a new lens. Historically, that's what all the FPLs have done before me, to step back and make sure that they're on the same page as other people. I'm pretty sure that all my predecessors were very technical, while most of my expertise is in written communications and marketing — although I can certainly do plenty of technical things on my own. I also tend to be more whimsical in my communication than some of the other folk. But that's part of being FPL, helping people to become engaged in different ways, to keep things fresh and new for them.
As though to emphasize her whimsy, Bergeron concluded the conversation with, "I'm happy to be here. And I love hot dogs."
She is referring, of course, to Fedora 17's code name, Beefy Miracle, but the comment hints that whimsy might, as she promised, be yet another aspect of her leadership. At the same time, the comment leaves no doubt of her familiarity with the distribution she is now leading.
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