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Interview with New Fedora Project Leader Jared Smith

Earlier this year, former Fedora Project Leader Paul Frields announced he'd be stepping down from the post and that Fedora and Red Hat were searching for a new project leader. At the end of June, Frields announced that Jared Smith would be taking up the position. Since this is a pretty important job in our community, we thought it'd be a good idea to talk with Smith and learn more about him and his plans for Fedora.Jared Smith First, congratulations on your selection as the next Fedora Project Leader (FPL)! When does your tenure officially begin? And, what will your first few weeks entail, if you know?

Jared Smith: My tenure began on July 12th. My first couple of weeks have involved traveling to the FUDCon conference in Santiago, Chile and the FISL conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil. As you probably already know, FUDCon is the Fedora Users and Developers Conference. FUDCon is a mixture of barcamp-style training sessions, as well as a chance to further the development of Fedora in some group development sessions. The FISL conference is also a great event, with literally thousands of attendees.

Fedora has seen strong growth in Latin America and we now have more than 100 Fedora Ambassadors in the region. We're actively working with our ambassadors to help grow not only the number of end users, but the number of people who actively contribute back to Fedora as well. seem to have a fairly corporate background, first managing a large Linux network for an Internet traffic auditing company (Omniture), and then managing training, documentation, and community relations for an enterprise telephony systems integrator (Digium).

Smith: My work at Omniture was strictly corporate, but while employed there I was quite active in several community organizations, including the Salt Lake Linux Users Group, the Provo Linux Users Group, the Utah PHP Users group, and I also helped to found the Utah Asterisk Users Group.

My roles at Digium were much more community focused. As their community relations manager, it was my job to ensure that Digium understood the needs and wants of the community, and to help the community understand the desires of Digium. Digium is much more than just a telephony systems integrator -- it's a company that believes in the open source model. They're the benevolent sponsor of the Asterisk project, which is an open source telephony engine that powers roughly 18 percent of new VoIP handset deployments in North America. They make profits on hardware, training, and services and then funnel the majority of those profits back into ongoing development of the open source code. Fedora, meanwhile, is often considered a community distribution, rather than a corporate one. Do you see a dichotomy here?

There's always going to be some tension between people who only focus on the corporate side or the community side of things. My own personal opinion is that the principles that unite the corporate world and the community are much bigger than the points that divide them. I think it's fair to say that in most open source projects (especially the ones I'm most familiar with – Asterisk and Fedora), the markets on the corporate side wouldn't be what they are without the tremendous help and support of the community, and on the flip side the communities wouldn't be able to advance nearly as quickly as they have without the resources given them by the corporate sponsors. In short, it's much more of a symbiotic relationship than a competition. Is Fedora relevant for the enterprise?

Smith: In certain cases, sure. The biggest use of Fedora in the enterprise is as a cutting-edge desktop Linux distribution. At the same time, the rapid release cycle that helps drive innovation on the desktop is one of the factors that makes it less attractive as a back-end system in the server rack. Most enterprises want their back-end systems to be on a much slower release cycle, and having spent a lot of my career in the data center, I perfectly understand why the release cycle of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is preferred for the more traditional server role. In his introductory post to the Fedora list, outgoing FPL Paul Frields mentioned that you've been participating in the Fedora community for about three years, through the infrastructure and documentation teams. Was that corporate-sponsored work? What successes were you most proud of? Any notable failures you learned from?

Smith: Most of my participation in the Fedora community has been on my own personal time. I've been using Fedora ever since it was created, and was using Red Hat Linux before that in both professional and personal capacities. But it wasn't until a few years ago that I really started becoming an active contributor and not just an end user.

There are two successes that I'm most proud of. On the documentation team, I helped work on our conversion to the Publican documentation toolchain. I have been doing publishing using the DocBook standard for several years and written a few of my own toolchains to managing the DocBook publication process. When Red Hat released its Publican toolchain as open source, I quickly dove in to see if it would make a good fit for the Fedora documentation team. Along the way, I fixed a few bugs and helped flesh out a few new features too.

On the infrastructure side, I was happy to be able to help develop the Fedora Talk service. Fedora Talk allows Fedora contributors to communicate with each other using voice over IP, either from a softphone client on their desktop or a VoIP telephone set. Jeff C. Ollie did the majority of the groundwork in getting the server set up, and then I stepped in and helped add some functionality for features such as conference calling and call recording. We also mapped out a set of features we would like to add to the service in the future. How large are the Asterisk and Fedora developer communities, respectively? How do they compare, in size, demographics, and "culture"?

Smith: The Fedora community is obviously larger than the Asterisk community. Fedora has over twenty-two thousand people who have signed the Individual Contributor License Agreement (CLA), which indicates their willingness to contribute back to Fedora. On the Asterisk side, they have nearly a thousand community members who have signed their contributor agreement. Both Fedora and Asterisk have contributors from a wide variety of countries, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. In both communities, contributors span the gamut from the hobbyist level to the professional developer. As FPL, do you anticipate being able to continue your contributions to Asterisk and open source telephony? Would you like to comment on the relevance of open source VoIP and IP-PBX technologies to the enterprise?

Smith: I intend to stay connected to the Asterisk community, but I certainly won't have as much time to contribute back as I did while I was employed with Digium. Is there any special tie-in between Asterisk and Fedora? I notice the Asterisk project only seems to distribute binaries in yum format. Meanwhile, AsteriskNow, the "software appliance" distribution, switched from Conary to RPM package management last year... is it now built atop Fedora?

Smith: AsteriskNOW is built on top of CentOS. There is no special tie-in between Asterisk and Fedora. The RPM packages for Asterisk were simply created to help facilitate the development of AsteriskNOW. Can you tell us a bit about the 6,500 machine server farm you managed for Omniture? Were those all Fedora/Red Hat boxes? What tools did you find most useful in managing them, or did you write your own?

Smith: I'm sure Omniture (now part of Adobe) would prefer I didn't go into too much detail on its server farm, but the machines were running Red Hat Linux and I used a lot of open source software in my day-to-day duties there. Some of our management utilities were written in-house, and I wish I would have been able to use utilities like cobbler, puppet, and func while I was there. Emacs, or vi? C or C++? CLI or IDE? Any notable open source projects (besides Asterisk) that you've contributed to, either as a programmer or through documentation/training? I see your blog has a big plug for Publican...

Smith: I prefer vim. It keeps up with me and doesn't get in my way.

I prefer C, but C++ isn't too bad. Unfortunately, my C and C++ programming skills are a bit rusty these days, as most of my coding these days tends to be in interpreted languages.

I'm very much a command-line commando. That being said, I've been very impressed at how far the IDEs have evolved over the past few years.

I use a lot of different open projects for various things. I'm not the world's best programmer, so much of my contribution to open source tends to be reporting bugs and helping the developers stay aware of how end users are deploying their software. I'm a big fan of PostgreSQL, but haven't contributed directly to that project. I do enjoy helping friends learn about PostgreSQL (and relational databases in general) and have given several talks on the subject. Like I mentioned earlier, I've done some DocBook publishing work using tools like Publican, xsltproc, FOP, and so forth. You seem to be a very civic-minded guy, active in a local LUG, scouting, and church choir. Do these activities serve as a refuge from work pressures? Or, do they build skills useful in leading a major developer community like Asterisk or Fedora?

Smith: Those types of activities do both — they give me a constructive release from the pressures at work, as well as give me another avenue to make the world a better place. One of my favorite quotes says, "You are a piece to the puzzle of someone else's life. You may never know where you fit, but others will fill the holes in their lives with pieces of you." I'm always looking for opportunities to help fill a need and lift someone else's burden a bit. What are your goals as FPL? Better documentation, perhaps? Anything else? When it's all said and done, and you've passed on the FPL mantle, how do you hope to be remembered?

Smith: My first two weeks on the job have involved a lot of travel, so I haven't fully formed my complete set of goals. That being said, here are the things that stand out to me as being very important.

  • Continual improvement of the Fedora distribution. I want to avoid mediocrity wherever possible, and ensure that Fedora continues to be a solid feature-packed distribution.
  • Give users and developers the tools they need to innovate. The main purpose of an operating system is to give you the tools you need, and then stay out of your way and let you do your job.
  • From a community perspective, Fedora should have that same focus – to give the people the tools and support they need to be successful.
  • Provide technical leadership and excellence, and be a training ground for future leaders in open source. In a nutshell, this means we help today's users become tomorrow's contributors, and today's contributors be tomorrow's leaders. This means we prepare today for growth and change tomorrow, and try to avoid taking short-cuts that cost us in the long term. We show by our actions that we truly believe in the open source way, not as just a means to an end, but as an end in and of itself. Is there anything I should have asked about, but didn't? Anything you'd like to say to's many readers?

Smith: First of all, I'd like to say “thank you” to the thousands of people who have helped make Fedora what it is today. Secondly, I invite each and every one of your readers to contribute back in some manner. It doesn't have to be with code. It could be helping a friend. It could be writing documentation or helping with translation. It could be helping out with artwork or design. It could be packaging software. My challenge to the reader is to make Fedora better than you found it. Thanks very much for your time, and we wish you all the best of luck as FPL!



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