ROSE Blog Interviews: Margarita Manterola, Debian Developer

Rikki Kite

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Mar 18, 2010 GMT
Rikki Kite

Debian Developer Margarita Manterola recently threw her hat into the ring to be the next Debian Project Leader. Surprisingly, she was the first woman ever to do so.

Join me in congratulating her for nominating herself and wishing her Good Luck!

Q: Who are you?

A: My name is Margarita Manterola. I'm a 30-year-old Software Developer from Argentina. I develop mostly in Python, but also in other languages, such as C or PHP. I teach programming at my local university. I've been married for five years to Maximiliano Curia, who is a System Administrator and a Debian Developer, like me.

Q: What do you currently do in open source and what do you love about it?

A: I do many things with Open Source. I develop open source software at the office, I help administrate an installation of over 200 users of Debian GNU/Linux, and every semester, in the course where I teach, we give the students a Live CD that they can use to develop software under GNU/Linux. And, obviously, I also help developing Debian.

The activity I like the most is fixing bugs. It's one of the great things of open source and the one that I enjoy the most: by having the code available, I'm able to fix a program and make it do what I want without having to go through the original developer.

Q: What's your experience with the Debian Project?

A: I started participating in Debian in 2003. At first, all I did was report bugs and try to fix a few. I was afraid of making mistakes, of people not receiving my bug reports well. In 2004 I went to DebConf, that is the annual Debian Developers conference, which was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. I met a lot of very nice and interesting people there, and I was encouraged to participate more actively in the project. Also, there the Debian Women project was founded, and very quickly I became involved with the project.

The main aim of the Debian Women project was to bring more women into Debian. In order to do that, we had a special mailing list and a special IRC channel, where all kinds of questions, ideas, and socializing was welcomed. Thus, with the help of all the people involved in Debian Women, I started maintaining a few packages and then applied to become a Debian Developer. I became a Debian Developer on November 2005.

After that, I've focused mainly on fixing bugs in packages, helping with the releases, and the general shape of the distribution.

In 2008, we held DebConf in Argentina. I was part of the main group of organizers. We worked a lot, but were very proud with the results: everybody had a great time, and we got to have hundreds of Debian Developer very close to home.

Q: What inspired you to throw your hat into the ring for Debian Project Leader?

A: In 2008, during DebConf, I had a nightmare where I was DPL. I don't recall the details now, but I do remember that it was terrifying. When I commented about this with Steve McIntyre – who was then the DPL (and still is until next month) – he told me that I could be a good DPL, and talking with other people, quite a number had the same feeling that I could be a good leader for Debian.

In 2009, when the time of elections came some people suggested to me that I should run, but I was not ready for such a commitment yet. This year, when the time came, I was still doubtful, but I let myself be talked into it by several friends within the project.

Even though I still don't feel too certain, I do believe that I would be a good leader.

Q: What makes you the best candidate?

A: I have some ideas of what can be done to push the project forward, that I think can really make a difference for the next year(s). But above all, I'm a good listener, and I think that I can also listen to the ideas of others in order to make a move towards a better Debian.

The role of the DPL is to lead the project, and I feel that I could set some important goals and get the developing community to work together in order to achieve those goals.

Q: What changes would you like to see within the project and how could you be a part of that?

A: We are currently suffering from lack of manpower. The amount of open source software keeps always growing, but the amount of Debian Developer does not. Thus, we need more people to help us, and we need to be able to let them help us (which is not always easy).

I plan to do several things in order to first make Debian more attractive to contributors, and then make everybody's contributions more valued.

Q: What's the election process like?

A: There's one week where you have to nominate yourself. I don't like this too much, since I think it might come out as a bit of too much pride, but that's how it is. By the end of the week, this year we were 4 candidates. I was the last one to nominate myself.

Then there are three weeks, which is what's currently going on, where candidates are questioned by Debian participants about lots of different things, like what they'd do to get more people into Debian, how they'd solve a certain situation, or how they'd spend Debian's money.

Finally, there are two weeks of voting, where all the Debian Developers can vote for the people they want. The voting process is a bit special: people get to choose who they want as their first option, who as their second option, and third and fourth, and if they really don't want someone to win, they can vote for that person after the "None of the above" option.

Q: You're speaking to a group of women from other fields who are considering switching careers. Why should they consider moving into an open source-related career? What should they know about the open source environment to prepare them for the transition from a different field?

A: Working with open source is very satisfying, and it doesn't really mean changing your career. You can be a doctor, a biochemist, a lawyer, a writer, a social worker, a teacher, and whatever else you like and use open source to enhance your work.

In any case, I think software developing is great because it's a fun and easy way to create something useful that you and others can use. When you share your software with others, you get the help of the community in making it better. When you help in the developing of one of the big open source projects (like Mozilla, OpenOffice, GNOME, KDE,
etc.), you get to improve the software you like in order for it to be better and more like you'd want it to be.

Earning money with Open Source is not hard, as some proprietary software people make it look like. You can earn money by making customizations of the software, by giving support to users, by teaching others how to use it, by publishing books about it, etc.

The field of Open Source software is very wide, with very different types of projects, but in the majority the best asset is dedication. Titles are usually disregarded – what counts is what you do.

Q: What question do you wish I'd asked? And how would you answer it?

A: I'm not sure, but you can read more about my goals and plans on my platform:
http://www.debian.org/vote/2010/platforms/marga

–––––––––––––––––––––

If you or someone you know would like to contribute to this interview series, please send your responses to the following questions to me at rkite AT linuxpromagazine DOT com:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you currently do in open source? What do you love about it?
  • You're speaking to a group of women from other fields who are considering switching careers. Why should they consider moving into an open source-related career? What should they know about the open source environment to prepare them for the transition from a different field?
  • You're speaking to a group of high school students (male and female). Why should they consider exploring career options in open source?
  • What question do you wish I'd asked? And how would you answer it?

Read previous interviews:

Valerie Bubb Fenwick, Staff Engineer at Sun Microsystems

Ellen Siever, co-author of Linux in a Nutshell

Juliet Kemp, author and admin extraordinaire

Red Hat's Mel Chua

Noirin Shirley, Vice President of the Apache Software Foundation

Cheryl McKinnon, CMO of Nuxeo

KDE Project's A. L. Spehr

Con-Techie.com's Kendra "Admin" Schaefer

Emma Jane Hogbin, co-author of Front End Drupal

Sharon Moreland, Technology Consultant at the Northeast Kansas Library System

Meike Reichle, Debian Developer

Máirín Duffy, Team Lead for Fedora Design Team

Hillary Rettig, author and activist

GNOME.Asia's Emily Chen

GSoC participant Kanika Vats

FSF's Deborah Nicholson

OSBR.ca's Dru Lavigne

Stormy Peters, Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation

Linux Foundation's Angela Brown

Erica Brescia, CEO of BitRock

Ohio LinuxFest's Beth Lynn Eicher

Ohio LinuxFest's Moose

LinuxToday.com's Carla Schroder

Urban Forest Mapping Project's Kelaine Vargas

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