A Look At The Landscape, After Five Months

Over the past few months, friends and family have been very curious about how my new job is going, and it’s been hard to stop for a moment and go into detail about it. I’ve been simply nodding and saying “It’s fine”.

This is an attempt at summarizing all the activity that happened in the last five months, though it’s far from being a short summary. If I had to pick a two words to describe my first five months at Canonical, it would be “Pure Awesomeness“. For a more detailed view, grab a cup of joe or your favorite other beverage and keep on reading.

Today is a special day. Exactly five months ago, on January 5th, I joined Canonical to work on the Landscape project.

It has been quite a ride so far, with two sprints with the Landscape team, AllHands and UDS in Barcelona just a week ago, and lots of excitement about the future. Saying that I’m completely stunned by the work everyone at Canonical has been putting together and how much the teams have grown in the last few months doesn’t do enough justice to it.

At AllHands and UDS we got a short preview of the things that are coming out in the next cycle and beyond. An example of that is the newly formed Design and User Experience (DUX) team which will not only be focusing on Ubuntu itself, but on many other areas across Canonical and the whole Open Source community in general.

At UDS, the DUX team had a special ‘booth’ where any person from any project could walk to them and get advice about their personal or favorite application. One person which has favorably used such advice already was Seif Lofty, from Gnome Zeitgeist. I met Seif during breakfast at the first day of UDS and I cannot describe how excited he was about simply *being* at UDS. And he was certainly twice as happy when he left.

Another person I had the joy to meet was David Siegel, of Gnome Do fame. We teamed during AllHands on the infamous “Fun In The Woods” activity, which had some people walking like zombies on the day after.

Even more importantly, I was able to meet many many more other colleagues from different teams and wrap up some loose ends from tasks that I got started during the first couple months. I’m definitely impressed by the amount of plain brilliant people that are part of Canonical as of today.

In a sense, being at a Canonical event is very much like being at a Plone conference. Everyone seems to be very receptive about new ideas and very friendly and laid back. And as a bonus, I was able to exercise my (not so secret now) power of throwing some crazy ideas around and see how they influence people. And man, I’m already impressed by the outcomes, just a week after the fact.

To me, this has been the most rewarding thing so far, to be able make big contributions not in lines of code, but in ideas that can make a concrete difference in the hands of the right people. This is something that can only be possible at a company the size Canonical is at the moment, where it’s just big enough that you can grab a mind or two to push an agenda without affecting the rest of the team and still small enough that you can influence decisions.

As my colleague Jamu would best describe, “I’m PUMPED!”. :)

But that’s not all. Software-wise, I was able to make some big contributions too. The Landscape team just finished a 6 month development cycle that brought many cool features to life. I’m really happy with that, and specially with the speed that this team can get features from the black board into reality. It’s also a much different environment than what I was used to, with very well-defined and refined processes for ensuring the overall quality of anything that is produced. One process that I’m specially enjoying is the requirement for two positive reviews before landing a branch. I hope to talk more about that soon (that is, sooner than 5 months from now *wink*).

As for my role in the team, it is quite different than what I’m used to. I’ve been focusing a lot on the UI aspects of Landscape, on ways to make things more obvious and more streamlined. I’ve been also writing a ton of Javascript, and collaborating with other teams to define better policies for Javascript testing in general. And finally, we will now have a person from the DUX team dedicated to working with us, which will push work on the Landscape UI even further.

I also had the chance of interacting with the Launchpad team, which has a much more refined process due to the size of their team. Over at Launchpad, I started a branch back in mid-December, even before starting at Canonical, to allow Launchpad to use the Chameleon Template Engine.

That was another wild ride, and during the course of this project I was able to contribute tons of fixes upstream to Malthe Borch to make Chameleon even more compatible with plain old ZPT. In fact, it is so compatible at the moment that due to the magic of z3c.ptcompat Launchpad will be able to run *both* Chameleon and ZPT with the flip of an environment variable. Even more stunning, the changes required to code were minimal, basically changing imports to use z3c.ptcompat, and in templates we’ve had to fix some non-XHTML compliant ones and remove unused i18n tags. I am happy to announce that this branch will soon be merged (it was submitted to PQM, successfully accepted and is waiting to land the buildbot queue). The bad news is that not all tests pass at the moment with Chameleon enabled, but we will be dogfooding and fixing those tests as we go. It was too much pain already to maintain a nearly 6 month old branch outside the main tree. ;)

I am really interested in many of the things that the Launchpad team is doing, process-wise. The PQM seems like a very nice idea for a bigger team like theirs, though it would probably be useful to our smaller team in Landscape too, and to others in general. Hopefully I will get a chance to explore it more and talk about it during the upcoming FISL 10, in Porto Alegre.

Lastly, but not least important, I’m also working on getting nightly builds of the Bzr Installer for Windows rolling, and a more streamlined process for the official builds. Karl Fogel, of Producing OSS fame, and our Launchpad Ombudsman is making sure I keep my promises about that, which is yet another great incentive.

All in all, there’s of course a ton of things I forgot to talk about and which happened in the last 5 months, but this post is already getting too long so I will stop right here and save some of the meat for a future one. Stay tuned!

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