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Interview with Gentoo Developer Nathan Zachary
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Joined: 25 Jul 2004
Posts: 892
Location: Pompano Beach, Florida

PostPosted: Thu Aug 27, 2009 8:13 pm    Post subject: Interview with Gentoo Developer Nathan Zachary Reply with quote

If you want to listen to the podcast;

If you would prefer to read the interview;

1) Is Gentoo your first open source project?
Yes, Gentoo is the first open source project to which I have contributed. I have used open source software for a long time, even when I was still a Windows user. I preferred applications like CDex, VLC, OpenOffice and Firefox, to their closed-source alternatives. That being said, I didn't actually contribute anything to those projects except the occasional bug report.

2) How long have you been a Gentoo user?
I started using Gentoo in 2005, but I really had no idea what I was doing, and failed many times at the installation alone. However, the installation process gave me great insight into the inner-workings of Linux, and really acquainted me with the terminal emulator.

3) What has your journey been like with Linux, and how did it start?
The first time I ever tried Linux was in 2001, for a school project. I installed Red Hat 7.1 (Seawolf), and started using it as an "alternative" operating system. It was really quite interesting because my computer programming professor said "Zach, you seem bored with the things we're doing in class. Have you ever heard of this operating system called 'Linux'?" I hadn't at the time, but I was really fascinated with the idea that an entire operating system could be developed for free and by people all over the world. I wasn't ready to switch all my computers over to Linux at that time, but I did keep it on this old laptop I had.

I didn't do much with Linux until around late 2002 when I started losing faith in Windows based on how many computers I was fixing on a weekly basis due to malware, spyware, and virus problems. Also, starting in 2003 I worked for a hosting company that ran CentOS on all of their servers. That pretty much forced me to learn some bash commands, the file system hierarchy, and permissions. I then started "distro hopping," and from then until about 2005 I tried TONS of flavors, including KNOPPIX, Fedora, MEPIS, PCLinuxOS, Arch, SLAX, Zenwalk, and Kubuntu. I still have a computer on which I try out new distros, but I found that Gentoo was the only one that met all my needs.

4) What motivated you to become a Gentoo Developer?
I firstly became a staffer, working as a moderator on the forum. So many people there had helped me with all my installation issues that I started getting online and helping people with their problems--sort of a "pay it forward" type of mentality. A few months later, Roy asked me if I wanted to become a forum moderator, and I graciously accepted. I guess the biggest motivator for me was the idea that I could participate in something that I use much of the day, every day.

5) Walk me through the process of becoming a Gentoo Developer.
Ah, becoming a developer is really an interesting process within Gentoo. All of the specifics regarding procedure can be found on the Gentoo website. However, I didn't really do anything to become a staffer except help out in any way that I could on the forum. I answered a lot of questions, primarily in "Installing Gentoo" and in "Desktop Environments," but also poked my head in the non-support sub forum. I never really got involved in "Off the Wall" though. Anyway, like I said, Roy asked me to join the moderator team. Then I had to take the staffer quiz, and my mentor helped me out with the questions to which I couldn't readily find the answers. He (Pilla) was incredibly helpful with regard to the rules and responsibilities of forum moderation with Gentoo. I eventually received my email, username, developer webspace, and all that fun stuff. Now, I have an awesome mentor for becoming a full developer. I have read the devmanual and the developer's handbook, but there are certainly still things that are difficult to figure out when looking at example ebuilds and commits. Ben is generous enough to help me understand all those areas which are not covered extensively in the manuals. I will be submitting my ebuild quiz in the VERY near future; just polishing up my answers a bit. Then I will have to go through a training period with my mentor before I have the ability to mistakingly botch up something...I mean commit to the tree. Hahaha.

6) What aspects of Gentoo do you feel the developers and maintainers have got right?
I believe that we, as a distribution, do most things really well. I think that our strongest point is the willingness of most members of the community to help one another. The users--which I believe includes developers as we were all Gentoo users before becoming developers--all volunteer in the ways that we can. We help each other with problems on the forum, via IRC, through other chat protocols, by filing bugs, by testing new features (like the --as-needed LDFLAG about which Diego wrote), by supplying ebuilds to the Sunrise overlay, et cetera. We have many strengths, but I think our plethora of support media comprise our largest asset.

7) What is it about Gentoo you would like to see improved?
I would like to see a little more flexibility when it comes to recruiting developers and accepting help when it's needed. I think that the process of becoming a developer is one of rigor, and while I think that is both necessary and appropriate, we need to be more open to user contributions. For instance, a project that is severely lacking in manpower is our documentation team. Gentoo has always been known for INCREDIBLE documentation, and right now our documents are falling behind in some areas. It is easy to see the reasoning behind this decline; there are people working diligently on creating new documents and updating older ones, but the volume of work is just too much. I have always had a good line of communication with Josh, and he has helped me with learning GuideXML (the markup for our official documentation), creating new documents, and getting them committed to the official repository. I think that if more users were willing to learn GuideXML, and to document their own experiences with installation, desktop environments, security protocols, and whatever else, then we could have an even more robust and perpetually-updated collection of documents to aide one another. However, that brings me back to my main area of concern: more readily accepting users' contributions. We might have an easier time with updating documents if we could collaborate more with the general userbase.

8) What are some of the Projects within Gentoo that you enjoy contributing to?
Currently, my favorite projects are the forum and documentation. I am also a part of the Gentoo Support Everywhere (GSE) team. We are branching out to other support websites (mainly LinuxQuestions right now), and helping users there with Gentoo-related issues. I especially like the idea of GSE because it is a prototypical synthesis of philanthropy and project-based PR. I get to help out others with their Gentoo problems, and at the same time, increase Gentoo's presence in the Linux world by showing that we are willing to help people from within their preferred support environment.

9) What applications would you like to see included within Gentoo.
The application that I waited for for a long time is now in the official tree. I was waiting to use tint2 with all of my Openbox setups. I don't really like having a panel all that much, but tint2 is lightweight and fully customizable. What will make it even better is the ability to hide it, or the option to allow other windows to cover it. Both of those features are supposed to make it into the next release. I would also LOVE to see the stabilization of baselayout-2 and openrc. I had that setup on all of my machines until the newer versions were released. In my opinion, they now require too many keyworded applications for a primarily stable-branch environment. Besides those exceptions, every other application that I have gone to install has been available.

10) What open source software can you not live without at home and at work?
Oh gosh, there are a ton of applications that I use on a daily basis, and need. The long list of programs that I have installed on every machine would be: Thunderbird, Sunbird, OpenOffice, some type of terminal emulator (preferably LXterminal), GPicView, Whaaw Media Player, Filezilla, PCManFM, and Leafpad. While a few of those applications are a little heavier than I prefer, they offer everything that I need including familiarity.

11) Which open source programs would you like to see developed?
Firstly, Sunbird could use some work, especially in load times, and performance in the "month-view" mode. Sometimes it gets a little on the sluggish side. Secondly, I would also like to see the interface of the GIMP improved to be more "user-friendly." It may be that I used Photoshop for so long that I am having trouble learning the new environment though. Lastly, PCManFM is an incredible file manager, and I would like to use it for managing the desktop background and icons as well, but the inability to remove or change the "My Documents" icon on the desktop is keeping me from doing so.

12) What resources have you found most helpful when troubleshooting within Gentoo?
Bugzilla and the forum have helped me the most. I usually check those two spots before looking at any other resources. Typically if I can't find the solution to my problem by looking at the build log, runtime error output, or either of these two sources, then I have stumbled across a new bug and need to report it myself.

13) I read your openbox documentation. If you were installing openbox on a fresh install, what programs would you use to enhance the desktop.
I like many of the LXDE components to enhance the Openbox setup. For instance, LXappearance is incredibly helpful when setting GTK themes, and icon themes. LXterminal is a lightweight VTE-based terminal emulator that doesn't pull in a lot of dependencies. PCManFM is a great file manager to use with Openbox. Leafpad is an awesome text editor, and GPicView is an amazing image viewer that loads insanely fast. Other than those components, I would recommend conky and/or tint2.

14) Do you get to do much programming?
Not really all that much lately. I have been swamped with work in XHTML, PHP and MySQL. Other than those web-based languages, I haven't had much time to program. I do basic things with XML and BASH, but nothing worth noting really. Just whatever is necessary to help customize my Openbox setup.

15) What can users do to improve Gentoo?
I would like to see more stabilization requests. If you've been running some program from the testing branch and it has been in the tree for more than 30 days, file a stabilization request. This is mentioned on LinuxCrazy, and I wish more users would take this advice. Our testing branch seems to be great most of the time, but our stable branch feels outdated in many regards. We don't yet have baselayout-2 or openrc stable, and that would be wonderful to have for all the users who tend to run the stable branch exclusively!

16) What are some of the most difficult things to configure on a new install?
I think with the current documentation, it would be difficult for a new user to get X installed using evdev. The official Xorg guide doesn't show that evdev should be listed in INPUT_DEVICES, and there are several post-installation steps that are missing as well. For instance, merging the X server pulls in dbus and hald, but it doesn't start either of them by default, nor does it add them to the default runlevel. Therefore, when the user issues startx, he or she will have neither keyboard nor mouse. It's not that these aspects are difficult to configure, it's just that the documentation is out-of-date, and a new user will have to search through forum posts to find answers. Other than that issue, I think that laptop power management can be difficult on some machines. The documentation there is pretty solid, but there is one error if I recall correctly. The power management base that is mentioned in the guide conflicts with pm-utils. Both provide the necessary tools though, so it's not a big deal. Configuring one's power management scheme can be a little tricky though. For instance, I had a rough time doing something that I thought would be simple-automatically changing xbacklight settings when acpid detects a switch from AC to battery. Ugh...

17) In your travels on the Forums, what users would you like to see recruited to become Gentoo Developers?
There are lots of great people on the forum, so I don't think that I can narrow it down to certain individuals. One person that I thought was doing an excellent job with helping people was Sylvain. Not too many months later, he was asked to join the team. There are TONS of excellent users that would make wonderful developers in various areas. Everyone has their little niche, and I would love to see anyone who wants to help in any way step up and contribute. Don't be afraid, developers don't bite...well not that hard anyway. Hahaha.

18) What are some tips you can give users if they want to become more involved, and create relationships with the current developers?
Actually, you summed up what I was going to say quite nicely. I would suggest finding a developer with whom you share interests. Then, you can see what that developer is doing first-hand, and you can study his methodologies for commits, ebuild writing, documentation writing, et cetera. This apprentice-style learning experience can help a user become more involved with developing for Gentoo, and offers a nice starting point to the training process.

19) What are the specs of your current boxes?
Oh boy! I have twelve boxes right now, so I don't think I will list all the specs. However, that being said, none of them are very impressive. Haha. The three I use on a regular basis are bluetux, devtux, and tuxtoddler. Bluetux is my main work environment, used for day-to-day tasks. It is a basic P4 (socket 478) at 3.2GHz with 1GiB of DDR400. It is running Openbox. Devtux is my developer machine on which I do all my testing and, well, developing. It's a Celeron 420 at 1.60GHz with 1GiB of DDR2-667, and it's running LXDE. Tuxtoddler is my little netbook, a Samsung NC10 with 2GiB RAM, running Openbox. All the specifics of tuxtoddler can be found attached to my entry into the 2009 screenshot contest. Nothing fancy on any of them really. Just going through the specs of my machines made me realise that I desperately need to build a new rig. Haha.

20) What gives you the most enjoyment within the Gentoo community.
Two things within Gentoo really boost me up. Firstly, I love seeing a brand-new user get a base Gentoo system installed with the help of people on the forum. It is awesome to see a new user who embraces the steep learning curve, and gets help from all of the resources that we have to offer! Secondly, I think it is great to see developers and users work together. When we put our minds to something, we get it done. One just has to watch the developer mailing lists to see this collaboration in full effect. That mentality of "collaborate and conquer" (admittedly I stole that phrase from the promotional teeshirt) is something that really improves my personal morale, and better yet, is indicative of an increase in perceived collective self-efficacy.

21) Tell us a little more about yourself. What do you do in your free time?
I am 24, and a life-long student. My biggest passion in life is academic study of all kinds, but primarily child development and behavior modification. I have bachelor's degrees in child psychology, elementary education, and positive behavior support. I am currently pursuing my PhD in clinical child and adolescent psychology and an MD in pediatrics. My research interests include psychotherapy for abused and maltreated children, effective parent-child interactions regarding defiance and externalizing behaviors, and atypical gender development in boys.

In my free time, I enjoy reading and analyzing books of philosophy, especially ancient and eastern. I also love photography, and I particularly like to take floral macros and hi-contrast portraits. Lastly, I enjoy running, biking, hiking, and swimming.
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