Walking the plank

Fellow hackers!

Running for DPL is like walking the plank: standing in the centre of attention, a crowd watching your every move, the last steps before you fall into the sea full of sharks of your own doubts: Will I live up to the standards set before me? Will I be able to perform the duties bestowed upon me? Will I have the courage and the strength to swim through? Will I be enough? Will anyone follow my lead, and walk the plank with me?

I have travelled long and far to be able to stand on this plank today. It all started a little over a decade ago, when the powers that be let me join Debian. I packaged a few things, adopted others, I played an AM with some reasonable success, even contributed some useful comments, started long-running, heated... discussions; I made friends and enemies alike, I had the pleasure to work with brilliant minds, but sadly, I disappointed others. And eventually, I disappeared.

But years later, when I emerged from the slumber and sought to restore my former rank, to my surprise, I was welcomed. And even better, when I made it to DebConf, I felt at home. I knew I have arrived. This vibrant community, this strange mix of very different people working together was fascinating to see in person.

This experience leads me to invite you now, to travel a road we have not tread on before. The Debian empire, our distribution, with the vast amount of packages we have, is already enormous. The raw manpower of hundreds of volunteer hackers is something to be proud of. We're known for our technical excellence, and bar a few mishaps, our quality.

These goals we have achieved, what else lies ahead then? Cooperation with down- and upstream? That's already in progress, and while there's a lot remaining to be done, there's no revolution necessary on that front, nor should be any necessary. More packages, more packagers? A solved problem. More non-packaging contributors? In progress! As always, improvements can and should be made, but these are goals and wishes we have solutions for, which are on track, even if they still need care, or are taking their first baby steps.

What then? What strange path do I want to open? What crazy idea does this man standing on the plank have?

Unlikely to be a surprise, but what we lack is - and has always been - manpower. Not raw, packaging manpower - with hundreds of people, we have that covered. We lack people where we need them the most: our key projects, core teams, where everyone fears to tread. There have been many improvements on this front in recent years, quite a few teams received a healthy boost, but I believe that the state of things, and especially the way we attract new contributors can still be improved upon a lot.

My primary aim is to make Debian, as a project, able to attract passionate talent from within the project, or from outside, or better yet: both. Not just new blood, or brilliant minds - we're doing reasonably well on both fronts, and been continuously improving. That part, I do not worry about.

I do worry about passion. I worry, that the contributors we attract will eventually get bored, or burn out, and that's a problem. Keeping people interested, motivated, and passionate is a challenge, and this is an area I would like to improve on. To find the right people to run with the flame, so to say, to lead the way and inspire the rest. To find ways, together with the core teams and the rest of the project, to make tasks in desperate need of manpower more attractive, more rewarding.

I do not, however, campaign to make Debian "fun". From where I'm standing, it has been fun for the past decade. No. I'm campaigning for a bit more... charm, if so you prefer. I long to see the day when reading bits from the various teams is actually a good, entertaining (not necessarily funny!) read, not just a dry list of bullet points. While to-the-point announcements of such nature are useful and interesting to those who are already involved in the respective teams, it's much harder to digest for those who are not. If these updates, these periodic news and bits and pieces could be also used to attract more contributors... wouldn't that be impressive?

We're very good at software, we're unparalleled when it comes to packaging, and we improved a lot in our communications and publicity, but our attempts at recruitment are - I believe - lacking. While there were and are attempts, someone new to this free software world would still find Debian intimidating. I wish to change that, to make our routine communications accessible too. I'd love to see well-written, appealing requests for help, with just the right amount of technical and non-technical balance. This is something I've been experimenting with as part of my involvement in this year's GSoC, so far, I believe, usefully. But there's certainly a lot to improve upon, still.

But! I recognise I've been babbling about far too long, and this introduction already stretches too far, so lets sum all of the above up in a few boring bullet points (which will also serve as a good example of why I much prefer the less formal, free flow of thought used until this point)!

Mouse in the sea

Who am I?

I am but a simple hacker, a little mouse behind the keyboard, mostly known by my nick: algernon. I was born.. a while ago, a little less than three times the time that ticked away since I first joined Debian. Offline, I have "Gergely Nagy" printed on official documents, and some people strangely prefer to call me by that name, over my nickname.

I've done a few interesting things in my career as a programmer: I wrote a Makefile so scary that I still shiver when I look back at it. I worked as a sysadmin, wrote perl scripts, reinvented the wheel three times in a row. I hacked on video streaming software, and nowadays I'm enjoying the eventful life of a software engineer at BalaBit's support department, and spend a bit of my paid time working on syslog-ng, dreaming up crazy stuff like animating one's flow of logs.

My Debian work so far

I went the usual route of a Debian Developer: packaged a few pieces, adopted a few others, wrote some of my own (one of which I'm still trying to rid the world of). I worked as an application manager for a while, enjoyed most of it, and as did many, burned out in the end. During those early days, I contributed a little here and there, too. The exact details escape me by now, but the BTS should have my name all around the place.

Since I rejoined the project, I've been watching debian-bugs-dist@ like a hawk, looking for misfiled bugs to handle, or to chime in to discussions I found interesting. I contributed some minor code here and there, came up with dh-exec and am now part of the GSoC admin team.

My goals

My goals are, I believe, well explained above, I do not wish to repeat it again, as there is no other way to put it. However, I do want to emphasise, that all the great work the DPLs in the past years have been doing, are worth doing, and I will do my best, if elected, to follow in their footsteps, and if possible, improve upon their ways, along with pursuing my own vision.

To achieve my goal of fuelling passion, the tools and accessories are already available, the opportunities are already present, waiting to be exploited, they just all need some ignition. I'd like to oversee that, and watch the world burn in desire to spend a lifetime hacking on Debian.

But I'm getting carried away - apologies!

The key to my goal is communication, search for talent and passion, and the finding a way to keep these going. A hard task, and a vague one at that, too. But unfortunately, I work mostly by instinct, driven by experience. This proved to be valuable at my day job, I'm confident I can exploit the diverse experience I picked up over the years to further Debian's goals.

Why am I fit to lead?

I have nearly no previous experience in leadership. But I worked under many different leaders, both within the context of Debian, and outside of it. I worked under terrible leaders, weak ones and strong, stubborn fighters. I have seen and felt all the goods and all the wrongs they can make, and I have learned - I hope.

The experience of having worked under very different leaders, on very different projects gives me an ample pool of knowledge, to see how leadership should work, and what mistakes to avoid.

As I rely on the years of experience I picked up when I'm hacking, I'm confident I can similarly rely on it if elected for DPL.

Additional info

I'm hoping that during the campaign period, a lot of questions will be asked, about things I forgot, or simply did not think worthy to mention.

There's only one thing I want to remind people who read this far about: unlike last time, I'm playing to win, despite the perhaps unusual format of this platform.


As is custom, in this section, I would like to speak a few words about the platforms this year - about Zack's and Wouter's and my own too.

Stefano Zacchiroli

Zack's platform is... interesting. On one hand, it's a clear and well done platform, with specific plans listed and ways to achieve them.

On the other hand, looking at the two bullet points in the preamble, the highest priority goal seems to be ensuring that there is a smooth transition to a new DPL next year, and that he can finish the pending projects he's been guiding the past two years.

Both goals are commendable, and the pending projects will need to be brought to completion aswell. However, I could imagine a better scenario to achieve all these goals than reelecting Stefano: change the DPL now, and delegate Stefano to guide his projects to completion: he's obviously the most appropriate person to do that, giving him a free hand would be a smart move in my opinion.

This way, Zack can see the pending projects brought to completion, take a huge load of work off the shoulders of the DPL (and with this, easing the transition), and time permitting, even work together with the DPL to make the transition even smoother.

Since his calls for volunteers to participate in DPL-ish tasks failed in the past, I believe turning things around a bit, and letting someone else sit on the throne and get his hands dirty, with the former DPL guiding his steps would yield better results.

Wouter Verhelst

From reading Wouter's platform, I get the impression that we share similar ideas, which is great, because that means all three candidates are pretty much on the same page, give or take a few smaller differences.

However, there's something I miss from his platform, something I find hard to pin-point... perhaps a lack of a Bigger Plan? Same thing I miss from Stefano's platform. Perhaps it's not even in mine.

Nevertheless, I think a DPL should not only think within the constraints of a one-year term, but have a vision that points past that. I don't see that in Wouter's platform, and it certainly isn't in Zack's, either.

Gergely Nagy

My own platform was - and still is - a bit of an experiment, and as such, wasn't entirely clear, and had only a few answers to the "How?" questions.

I believed that the hows do not necessarily belong to the platform, there's a campaigning period to discuss and refine them. I wouldn't want to put bullet-pointed plans into a static platform, that will be indexed and searchable for years to come. I'd rather discuss the hows on a mailing list, that's more interactive. Nevertheless, some generic ideas were part of my platform, just not down to a bullet-pointed action plan.

Another thing I heard criticised - although the question wasn't raised publicly yet - is that my platform gave the impression that we already have sufficient packaging manpower. We don't. What I intended to imply, is that we have a reasonable inflow of new contributors (though, that can, and certainly must be improved) and new packages, that we're on a good track here. What we lack, is coordinating that manpower we have, and concentrating it to areas where work is still needed. This, in turn, fits into my desire of making people even more passionate about what they do.