Unsung Heroes... the Sponsoring Queue

In Open Source we have lots and lots of unsung heroes. If my mom (using Kubuntu at work) won’t notice some awesome piece of work somebody achieved that’s one thing. As far as I know she doesn’t even check Ubuntu’s press releases. But we have folks in our community who are much more in the loop than my mom. Most of them won’t know that somebody spent hours improving our compiler or made the bug workflow easier or spent hours improving some detail.

There’s one group of people I’d like to thank particularly because of its importance for Ubuntu. Everybody involved in the Sponsoring workflow. What does Sponsoring mean? There’s a wiki page explaining it, but here’s how it works:

  • you fix a bug or update a package and have a package change of some sort ready
  • in a bug report you’ll attach your solution
  • then subscribe the sponsors team
  • the fine people in the team will review your proposed changes and upload them eventually.

Where that fits into the bigger picture? Easy: it allows people who are not Ubuntu developers (yet) to contribute fixes and improvements. It’s particularly important as it helps us to refine the patches and education of new contributors is an immanent feature of the process.

To make the awesomeness more concrete: the sponsors process several hundreds of those review requests per month.

I talked to a few people, new contributors to the MOTU team and people doing sponsoring about the incredible work they do.


One of the first people I talked to was Morten Kjeldgaard who joined the MOTU on a sunny day in April. He’s doing awesome work in the areas of MOTU Science and elsewhere and is very active in his Sponsoring work. Let’s hear what he has to says:

dholbach Thanks for doing sponsoring - you kick ass! :-)

mok0 How can you tell?

dholbach Oh - I have a fairly close look on the sponsoring queue myself, so I notice who’s deeply involved in it and I appreciate the good work you do there!

mok0 Ah :-)

dholbach Do you still remember when you first were being sponsored? What did it feel like?

mok0 I was first sponsored when I submitted a new package to Ubuntu via the REVU system. It was my first experience with the reviewing system, which initially felt a bit frustrating, so it really felt great! I have since come to appreciate the careful – sometimes nitpicking – reviewing procedure, and the ping-pong that goes on between sponsor and packager. It makes for a much better result in the end, much better packages for the users and a better user experience.

dholbach So you learned a lot?

mok0 I have really learned a lot, on many levels. First, of course, I have learned a lot about packaging software, but I have also learned a lot about licensing, free software, and last bug not least, how the development process goes on in the free software development community.

dholbach How is that today when you’re reviewing? Do you have a lot of conversations with people you sponsor? Do a lot of patches need discussion?

mok0 I have mostly had conversations with people on IRC. I find that it is more efficient, and you can create a better atmosphere and help the packagers better. I have not discussed patches so much (yet), I have to admit that when I have attempted to apply a patch and it doesn’t apply for some reason, it is a bit frustrating, and I merely ask for another patch that works.

dholbach Absolutely - it’s one thing I experienced myself… talking to people on IRC and fixing bugs together was not only instructional, but also big fun!

mok0 Yes it is big fun and having a fun, creative and inspiring atmosphere is the hallmark of Ubuntu, and it is really important to maintain that!

dholbach Thanks a lot for summing up my feelings exactly - it’s one of the things that makes me enjoy being a MOTU like on my first day :-)

dholbach How would you like proposed patches to improve or are they all good already? Is there a particularly common mistake?

mok0 The most common mistake I have encountered is that the patch is made against another version than the most recent one from Debian/unstable. If the patches from LaunchPad apply, I generally find them quite good. Sometimes the submitter has forgotten things like closing the LP bug, then I just fix that for them. I feel that in order to save time and be more efficient, we need to have the helpfulness at all levels of Ubuntu development, so it wouldn’t make sense to reject the patch and send it back to the submitter for trivial reasons. That is the way of the MOTU :-)

dholbach Absolutely and with a helpful and friendly comment the contributors usually incorporate the advice the next time. :-)

dholbach What kind of packages do you mostly sponsor? Do you have a strategy or something you particularly like?

mok0 My big interest is packages for science, I am familiar with several of the packages via my work, so when I have to choose from the long list on u-s-u, those are the ones I usually pick first. Other than that, I have to admit, I give priority to software that I like, that I think is useful or fun. dholbach And that’s absolutely fine. :-)

dholbach What kind of patches / fixes would you like to see more?

mok0 I would like to see patches that improve the user experience of ubuntu. Some things are really simple, perhaps trivial, but having icons for all gui apps in the menus, that the icons are good looking and follow the style and so on, it is important when users first come to Ubuntu and need to be convinced that this is a truly great OS. Other things are more complicated (and I don’t know much about it) like sound and video. These are things that users expect from their OS, and they have to “just work”. Fortunately, we have several MOTUs that are experts in that area!

dholbach Is there something new contributors could help you with? :-)

mok0 The Ubuntu Contributors is a new construction at Ubuntu, and a valuable one. In practice, I think, they will become the recruiting grounds for the MOTU. These are people who are already experienced with Ubuntu as users, but who have gone further than that, they have started to fiddle with the packages that make up the OS. There are lots of really good stuff that the contributors are doing: they are looking at Debian/unstable to seee what bugs have been fixed there, and if something needs to be sync’ed or merged into the next version of Ubuntu. They are also fixing bugs and working on improving the general user experience of Ubuntu, but – last but not least – also to maintain the “geek” factor, where we have the latest and greatest versions of the big important packages.

dholbach That sounds very good - so you think looking at bugs that have been “fixed elsewhere”, test those fixes and incorporate them into Ubuntu is a good idea for new contributors?

mok0 Absolutely. But, one important thing is that it is necessary for the contributor to make sure (s)he understands what the patch is doing, and that they carefully test the software on their own workstation before they forward it to the LP queue. Specifically, the contributor should see that patch fixes what it is supposed to do. I hope there are many Ubuntu users out there that will see that they now have a truly great way to contribute without having to know a lot about programming etc. that is generally required for the MOTU.

**dholbach **Absolutely! Do you a message you would like to go out to new contributors?

mok0 Yes… keep up the great work, you ROCK! (I believe that is the typical Ubuntu phrase) :-)

dholbach Thanks a lot for the great work you do! Keep it up! :-) dholbach That’s been great fun - thanks a lot for your time!

mok0 thanks dholbach!

  • dholbach hugs you *** mok0** hugs back

Also I talked to Iulian Udrea who got around 20 uploads sponsored to the Ubuntu archive already. He’s a great guy and really easy to work with. Here’s what he has to say about Sponsoring:

dholbach What has your sponsoring experience been like up until now?

Iulian Well, to be honest it was really amazing. The sponsors are great, patient, respectful and not only them, ALL Ubuntu contributors. Every time I had a fix I always found someone that is available to give me a hand to upload my patch

dholbach That sounds great - Did you learn a lot in the process of sponsoring? Do you remember the last thing you’ve learned in the sponsoring process?

Iulian Of course I learned a lot. The wiki pages were excellent and very useful. The last thing… uhmm, when I send a patch to a sponsor I have to wait until the sponsor is available to check and upload it. I always keep in mind that I am not the only one who waits, so in this case everyone gets what they want.

dholbach Right - that makes sense.

dholbach Which packages do you mostly look after? Do you follow some kind of strategy when you try to fix bugs and make Ubuntu better?

Iulian I am using GNOME and obviously I like to help with gnome packages. There are some other packages that I always use and would like to give a hand when it’s needed. The packages are: irssi, vim-, git- etc. I also mantain a package in universe and I would like to take care of it. No, not really, I do not follow some kind of strategy when fixing bugs. Just make sure that every change I made is the correct one.

dholbach Awesome - seb128 will be happy to hear that. :-)

dholbach Is contributing to Ubuntu hard? If so, what do you think could be easier?

Iulian Contributing to Ubuntu is like riding a bike. When you get used to it you will never quit using it. I think every thing in Ubuntu is easy so the most important thing is that we should/must keep up the good work.

dholbach Excellent - I was secretly hoping to hear that… I too feel that it takes a bit of courage and pioneer feeling to dive into it and sharpen one’s detective skills. If you’ve experienced it as a “bike ride” - that makes me very happy. :-)

dholbach Is there a message you would like to go out to the Ubuntu sponsors?

Iulian Not really, no. Just make sure that there are no open bugs in the sponsors queue. :-)

dholbach One to new contributors? :-)

Iulian First of all I would like to say that you guys did the best thing to start contributing to Ubuntu. Please don’t forget that the hardest step is to get in, once you’re in you will never want to get out. Trust me! Another thing is that no one knows everything and what I want to tell is when you have something that you don’t understand or have a question, please, do NOT hesitate to ask. :-)

  • dholbach hugs you :-)
  • Iulian hugs dholbach back.

The message I would like to get out?


dholbach

1957 Words

2008-06-27 18:48 +0200

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