Flock 2019 Trip Report

Just flew back from Flock to Fedora in Budapest, Hungary and boy are my arms tired! As always, it was an excellent meeting of the minds in Fedora. I even had the opportunity to meet my Outreachy intern, Niharika Shrivastava!

Day One – Thursday

As usual, the conference began with Matthew Miller’s traditional “State of Fedora” address wherein he uses pretty graphs to confound and amaze us. Oh, and reminds us that we’ve come a long way in Fedora and we have much further to go together, still.

Next was a keynote by Cate Huston of Automattic (now the proud owners of both WordPress and Tumblr, apparently!). She talked to us about the importance of understanding when a team has become dysfunctional and some techniques for getting back on track.

After lunch, Adam Samalik gave his talk, “Modularity: to modularize or not to modularize?”, describing for the audience some of the cases where Fedora Modularity makes sense… and some cases where other packaging techniques are a better choice. This was one of the more useful sessions for me. Once Adam gave his prepared talk, the two of us took a series of great questions from the audience. I hope that we did a good job of disambiguating some things, but time will tell how that works out. We also got some suggestions for improvements we could make, which were translated into Modularity Team tickets: here and here.

Next, Merlin Mathesius, our official Modularity Wizard, gave his talk on “Tools for Making Modules in Fedora”, focusing on various resources that he and others have created for simplifying the module packaging process.

Next, I rushed off to my annual “State of the Fedora Server” talk. This was a difficult one for me. Fedora Server has, for some time now, been operating as a largely one-man (me) effort of just making sure that the installation media continues to function properly. It has seen very little innovation and is failing in its primary mission: to provide a development ground for the next generation of open-source servers. I gave what amounted to an obituary speech and then opened the floor to discussion. The majority of the discussion came down to this: projects can only survive if people want to work on them and there really isn’t a clear idea of what that would be in the server space. Fedora Server is going to need to adapt or dissipate. More on that in a future update.

Later that afternoon, I attended Brendan Conoboy’s talk “Just in Time Transformation” where he discussed the internal process changes that Red Hat went through in order to take Fedora and deliver Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8. Little of this was new to me, naturally, having lived through it (with scars to show), but it was interesting to hear how the non-Red Hat attendees perceived it.

For the last event of the first day, we had a round of Slideshow Karaoke. This was a lot of fun and quite hilarious. It was a great way to round out the start of Flock.

Day Two – Friday

The second day of Flock opened with Denise Dumas, VP of Platform Engineering at Red Hat, giving a talk about “Fedora, Red Hat and IBM”. Specifically: How will the IBM acquisition affect Fedora? Short answer: it won’t. Best line of this talk: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

After that came a lively panel discussion where Denise Dumas, Aleksandra Fedorova, Brendan Conoboy and Paul Frields talked to us about the relationship between Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8, particularly where it diverged and a little of what is coming next for that relationship.

After lunch, I attended Pierre-Yves Chibon’s talk on Gating rawhide packages. Now that it’s live and in production, there was a very high interest; many were unable to find seats and stood around the walls. There was a short lecture describing the plans to get more tests and support for multi-package gating.

Next up, I attended Alexander Bokovoy’s talk on the “State of Authentication and Identity Management in Fedora”. Alexander discussed a lot of deep technical topics, including the removal of old, insecure protocols from Fedora and the status of authentication tools like SSSD and Kerberos in the distribution.

I went to yet another of Brendan Conoboy’s talks after that, this time on “What Stability Means and How to Do Better”. The focus on this talk was that “stability” means many different things to different people. Engineers tend to focus on stabliity meaning “it doesn’t crash”, but stability can mean everything from that through “backwards-compatibility of ABIs” and all the way through to “the user experience remains consistent”. This was quite informative and I think the attendees got a lot out of it. I did.

The next talk I attended was given by Niharika Shrivastava (my aforementioned Outreachy intern) and Manas Mangaonkar on “Students in developing nations and FOSS contribution limitation”. It provided a very interesting (and, at times, disturbing) perspective on how open-source contribution is neglected and even dismissed by many Indian universities and businesses. Clearly we (the FOSS community) need to expend more resources in this area.

Friday concluded with a river cruise along the Danube, which was a nice chance to unwind and hobnob with my fellow Fedorans. I got a few pictures, chatted with some folks I hadn’t seen in a long time as well as got introduced to several new faces (always wonderful to see!).

Day Three – Saturday

By the time Saturday rolled around, jet-lag was catching up to me, as well as some very long days, so I was somewhat tired and zombie-like. I’ve been told that I participated in a panel during the “Fedora Summer Coding 2019 Project Showcase and Meetup”, but I have few memories of the event. Kidding aside, it was a wonderful experience. Each of the interns from Google Summer of Code, Google Code-In and Outreachy gave a short presentation of the work they had been doing over the summer. I was extremely proud of my intern, Niharika, who gave an excellent overview of the translation work that she’s been working on for the last two months. The other projects were exciting as well and I look forward to their completion. The panel went quite well and we got some excellent questions. All in all, this year was one of my most positive experiences with internships and I hope very much that it’s setting the stage for the future as well.

After lunch came the headsman… I mean the “Modularity & Packager Experience Birds-Of-A-Feather” session. We started the session by spending fifteen minutes to list all of our gripes with the current state of Modularity packaging. These were captured on a poster board and later by Langdon White into a Google Doc. We then voted, unconference-style, on the issues that people most wanted to see addressed. The top four subjects were selected and we allocated a quarter of the remaining session time for each of them.

I personally missed the first topic as I ended up in a sidebar discussing internationalization plans with one of our Fedora Translation Team members, who had been following the work that Niharika and I have been doing in that space.

The other topics that were discussed at length involved how to perform offline local module builds, creating documentation and tooling to enable non-MBS services like COPR and OBS to create modules and how to deal with rolling defaults and rolling dependencies. Langdon White took additional notes and is, I believe, planning to present a report on it as well, which I will link to once it becomes available.

This was unquestionably the most useful session at Flock for me. We were able, in a fairly short period of time, to enumerate the problems before us and work together to come up with some concrete steps for addressing them. If this had been the only session I attended at Flock, it would still have been worth the price of travel.

Day Four – Sunday

Due to a slight SNAFU scheduling my return flight,  I had to leave at 11:00 in the morning to catch my plane. I did, however, spend a while in the morning playing around with some ideas on how to offer simple module creation to OBS and COPR. I think I made some decent progress, which I’ll follow up on in a future blog post.

Conclusion

As always, Flock to Fedora was an excellent conference. As every year, I find that it revitalizes me and inspires me to get back to work and make reality out of the ideas we brainstormed there. It’s going to be an interesting year!

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I am a Cranky, White, Male Feminist

Today, I was re-reading an linux.com article from 2014 by Leslie Hawthorne which had been reshared by the Linux Foundation Facebook account yesterday in honor of #GirlDay2017 (which I was regrettably unaware of until it was over). It wasn’t so much the specific content of the article that got me thinking, but instead the level of discourse that it “inspired” on the Facebook thread that pointed me there (I will not link to it as it is unpleasant and reflects poorly on The Linux Foundation, an organization which is in most circumstances largely benevolent).

In the article, Hawthorne describes the difficulties that she faced as a woman in getting involved in technology (including being dissuaded by her own family out of fear for her future social interactions). While in her case, she ultimately ended up involved in the open-source community (albeit through a roundabout journey), she explained the sexism that plagued this entire process, both casual and explicit.

What caught my attention (and drew my ire) was the response to this article. This included such thoughtful responses as “Come to my place baby, I’ll show you my computer” as well as completely tone-deaf assertions that if women really wanted to be involved in tech, they’d stick it out.

Seriously, what is wrong with some people? What could possibly compel you to “well, actually” a post about a person’s own personal experience? That part is bad enough, but to turn the conversation into a deeply creepy sexual innuendo is simply disgusting.

Let me be clear about something: I am a grey-haired, cis-gendered male of Eastern European descent. As Patrick Stewart famously said:

patrickstewart

I am also the parent of two young girls, one of whom is celebrating her sixth birthday today. The fact of the timing is part of what has set me off. You see, this daughter of mine is deeply interested in technology and has been since a very early age. She’s a huge fan of Star Wars, LEGOs and point-and-click adventure games. She is going to have a very different experience from Ms. Hawthorne’s growing up, because her family is far more supportive of her interests in “nerdy” pursuits.

But still I worry. No matter how supportive her family is: Will this world be willing to accept her when she’s ready to join it? How much pressure is the world at large going to put on her to follow “traditional” female roles. (By “traditional” I basically mean the set of things that were decided on in the 1940s and 1950s and suddenly became the whole history of womanhood…)

So let me make my position perfectly clear.  I am a grey-haired, cis-gendered male of Eastern European descent. I am a feminist, an ally and a human-rights advocate. If I see bigotry, sexism, racism, ageism or any other “-ism” that isn’t humanism in my workplace, around town, on social media or in the news, I will take a stand against it, I will fight it in whatever way is in my power and I will do whatever I can to make a place for women (and any other marginalized group) in the technology world.

Also, let me be absolutely clear about something: if I am interviewing two candidates for a job (any job, at my current employer or otherwise) of similar levels of suitability, I will fall on the side of hiring the woman, ethnic minority or non-cis-gendered person over a Caucasian man. No, this is not “reverse racism” or whatever privileged BS you think it is. Simply put: this is a set of people who have had to work at least twice as hard to get to the same point as their privileged Caucasion male counterpart and I am damned sure that I’m going to hire the person with that determination.

As my last point (and I honestly considered not addressing it), I want to call out the ignorant jerks who claim, quote “Computer science isn’t a social process at all, it’s a completely logical process. People interested in comp. sci. will pursue it in spite of people, not because of it. If you value building relationships more than logical systems, then clearly computer science isn’t for you.” When you say this, you are saying that this business should only permit socially-inept males into the club. So let me use some of your “completely logical process” to counter this – and I use the term extremely liberally – argument.

In computer science, we have an expression: “garbage in, garbage out”. What it essentially means is that when you write a function or program that processes data, if you feed it bad data in, you generally get bad (or worthless… or harmful…) data back out. This is however not limited to code. It is true of any complex system, which includes social and corporate culture. If the only input you have into your system design is that of egocentric, anti-social men, then the only things you can ever produce are those things that can be thought of by egocentric, anti-social men. If you want instead to have a unique, innovative idea, then you have to be willing to listen to ideas that do not fit into the narrow worldview that is currently available to you.

Pushing people away and then making assertions that “if people were pushed away so easily, then they didn’t really belong here” is the most deplorable ego-wank I can think of. You’re simultaneously disregarding someone’s potential new idea while helping to remove all of their future contributions from the available pool while at the same time making yourself feel superior because you think you’re “stronger” than they are.

To those who are reading this and might still feel that way, let me remind you of something: chances are, you were bullied as a child (I know I was). There are two kinds of people who come away from that environment. One is the type who remembers what it was like and tries their best to shield others from similar fates. The other is the type that finds a pond where they can be the big fish and then gets their “revenge” by being a bully themselves to someone else.

If you’re one of those “big fish”, let me be clear: I intend to be an osprey.