ROSE Blog Interviews: Emma Jane Hogbin, co-author of Front End Drupal

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Sep 11, 2009 GMT
Rikki Kite

Q: Who are you?

A: Emma Jane Hogbin. I wear a lot of different hats but my main focus is to make technology suck less for businesses and "solo-preneurs." I do this through training and Web development (HICK Tech), technical writing (co-author of Front End Drupal) and advocacy/training (conference presentations and workshops). I also knit the Drupal socks and released the pattern under the GPL.

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

A: Right now I'm focused on enabling other people to use open source technologies. That's a pretty broad description though so let's take a look at my schedule for this week. Right now I'm working on the Bazaar Web site redesign (community consultation, HTML/CSS and documentation); submitting usability and documentation patches to Drupal for its upcoming release; preparing new instructional videos to accompany Front End Drupal (my first book!); and working on a new set of DIY classes for HICK Tech this fall.

This year has also been a personal year of documentation for me. I started the Writing Open Source conference with Addison Berry and have been working hard to improve the resources that go with open source software. It's been fantastic and exciting to see FOSS software mature to the point where things like documentation and usability are getting the importance they need and deserve.

I love the variety of work that I do in open source. Sometimes it's very private work where I'm preparing a Web site deployment for a single client; and sometimes it's working with a community of developers to improve a product. Sometimes I'm working with a client that lives 15 minutes from me, and sometimes I'm up late talking to a client that's literally on the other side of the world. Open source makes geography and distance seem almost trivial. But it also makes technology affordable to people who live just up the street.

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: Of course you should include open source in your career wherever it makes sense! As budgets shrink more and more companies are turning to open source software. The smaller budgets are often spent on people, not products, which is great if you're one of those people who knows how to use (and maybe even write code for) the in-demand software. And the work doesn't always come in expected ways. For example: I would have never thought two years ago that I'd be able to contribute to a version control software, but now I'm helping Bazaar make their Web site more accessible to people just like me!

Be more than just a consumer though: get involved in the software that is of most interest to you. A lot of open source projects are "do-ocracies." Take the time to find events where the "do-ers" are gathered. Talk to people online and in person. Get to know the people you're working with – and if you don't like them, look for different people. This might mean switching projects or just finding different people within the same project. Be careful though: don't let a single interaction colour your perception of a whole project. A liberal dose of common sense is often all it takes to know if a project is a good fit for you.

Q: You're speaking to a group of high school students (male and female). Why should they consider exploring career options in open source?

A: #1: You get to work with people from around the world while still in your PJs.
#2: You get to travel to really awesome conferences around the world.
#3: You can have meetings at your local cafe and say to the waiter, "Just a second, I'm in a meeting with someone from Argentina...."
#4: You don't need work experience to get work experience. Drupal has a developer who started when he was 11. He brings his parents to
#5:The work you do will go around the world and will potentially be used by millions of people who can't afford proprietary software just because of where they live.

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

A: How did you pick the project(s) that you contribute to? I've worked with a number of projects over the years and it's always been based on passionate people. This might be through a specific blog entry or a conference presentation or even getting really awesome help from people in IRC and on mailing lists. When someone does something really awesome and they're tied to a specific project I'll check to see if there's a way to them back as a way of saying thanks. By starting with individual people I have an automatic mentor for that project's community. Once I've got my foot in the door, I can do a better evaluation to see if the community is a good fit: generally the ones that can articulate and appreciate small, helpful tasks are the ones that get my ongoing contributions.


If you are a woman in open source, I'd love it if you'd take a moment to answer these interview questions and send your responses to me at rkite AT linuxpromagazine DOT com. If you'd like me to interview a particular woman in open source, drop me a line and let me know who she is and where to find her.

Additional reading:

Interview with Carla Schroder

Interview with Kelaine Vargas

Interview with Moose (Ohio LinuxFest)

Interview with the GNOME Foundation's Stormy Peters

Interview with Beth Lynn Eicher (Ohio LinuxFest)

Interview with Erica Brescia, CEO of BitRock

Interview with Linux Foundation's Angela Brown

Interview with GSoC participant Kanika Vats

Interview with FSF's Deborah Nicholson

Interview with Hillary Rettig

Interview with Máirín Duffy

Interview with Meike Reichle

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