ROSE Blog Interviews: Meike Reichle, Debian Developer

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Sep 03, 2009 GMT
Rikki Kite

In this interview, Meike Reichle, a Debian developer living in Germany, offers some practical tips for finding a job in the world of free and open source software.

Q: Who are you?

A: My name is Meike Reichle, I live in Hildesheim, Germany, am currently 27 years old and work at the University of Hildesheim's Department of Computer Science and at Pengutronix, a company that offers Embedded Linux services and solutions.

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

A: I am a Debian Developer. Apart from maintaining my Debian packages, I am also part of the Debian Press Team and a member of the Debian-Women sub-project, which aims to increase the number of female contributors within the Debian project. Beyond that I spend a lot of time at Linux and Free Software events in Germany and abroad giving talks about Free Software, Debian, Linux in general, Women in Free Software, and a whole lot of other things.

I find my Debian work very fulfilling for a lot of reasons: first of all I simply like its product, the Debian distribution. I've been using it for many years and felt proud to become a part of it. By now the project has become a home to me, to which I am connected by many friendships and personal relations.

I also very much enjoy talking about Free Software and related topics. Free Software and Digital Freedom are very important to me and I love inspiring and informing others about it.

A topic that is also very special to me is girls and women in IT and in Free Software in particular. I find my work in Free Software very gratifying and wish more girls and women would take up the opportunity and join it. Also I think that Free Software would benefit greatly from a higher number of girls and women in the community.

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: I think I would tell them that Open Source is a very rewarding field, but also a special one. In Open Source you are dealing with projects that are often created by volunteers and these projects are also usually very important to them. This is of course a double edged sword. On the one hand you will see great enthusiasm and amazing dedication, on the other hand you will come across heated arguments and very passionate debates.

In my opinion the best way to deal with this is to take the heat and enjoy (and join!) the enthusiasm. If you want to persist in the Open Source environment, the most important thing is to not be shy – to voice your opinion, trust your qualifications, and put away the occasional setback without losing your courage. Most women I know tend to underestimate themselves. In a mostly virtual community such as Open Source things are very explicit. Subtle hints and false modesty usually don't work out very well. I think that is something you have to get used to as a woman.

Having Open Source as a professional career offers several additional advantages. Economically speaking I'd say that Open Source is a safe choice, since Open Source is a successful concept that is becoming increasingly more important. It will surely be around for many more years and I believe that we will see a lot of currently proprietary software change its business model and go Open Source in the years to come. Speaking for myself, I also find it personally much more satisfying to follow a career that doesn't only pay my rent but also contributes to what I consider a Greater Good.

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: Mostly for the same reasons as listed above. Because it's a choice that is both economically reasonable and personally fulfilling. At such an age I guess the most sensible thing to do to would be to let Open Source speak for itself and motivate the students to become active in the Open Source community and see for themselves if it's for them or not. If you want to explore a career in Open Source, it's very useful to already know the community and have gathered some experience with it.

Also, you don't have to be a full-blown computer scientist to join the Open Source community. There is lot's of stuff to do for people with all kinds of talents! So my advice to those students would be to just dive right in, start making their own experiences and hopefully find out for themselves how rewarding working in Open Source is.

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

A: I guess if you really do want to pick Open Source as a profession and not "only a hobby," another useful piece of information would be where to start or how find such a job.

From my own experience, companies within the Open Source world like to hire people from within the community, since these people already know their way around the community and its rules and work flows and they are usually already known to the companies, which makes it easier for them to assess both their skills and personality.

So, if you have some time (for instance if you are still in school or at a college or university), the best way to get such a job is surely to make a name for yourself in the community first. The best way to get into an Open Source company is if there's no need for introduction. If that is not a choice, I would recommend visiting a couple of Open Source events and personally introduce yourself to prospective employers. Open Source is very people-oriented, and a personal conversation will always be preferable to a simple written application.


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


  • girls and women in IT

    Feminism in Germany in all ways.
  • Gender does matter

    "Which of outnumbered by you influences developer's contribution?"
    I dont know what you mean with this but...

    The height of a developer doesn't matter. Because it does not change how you are socialized regarding technical skills.
    Gender instead has an influence on how people treat you in regard of technical skills.

    It would also make sense to help developer from asian and african countries to contribute. Because they have different situations than developers in europe or usa
  • Re: Gender Difference

    So what?
    Which of outnumbered by you influences developer's contribution?
    And why then not trying to distinguish developers by race? Or by height? Foot size? Favourite colour?
  • Gender difference

    It makes sense to look at the gender of people in open source projects. In such projects, like in most technical fields, women are under represented.
    This is a fact and it makes sense to think about the reasons for this.

    Women and men are socialised differently. Like Meike says. women underestimate their own skills for example...

  • bad linking

    There are some bad links. The link labeled "Interview with Dru Lavigne" links to interview of Kanika Vats and there are more of these bad links in the following links.
  • why-o-why?

    I'm awfully sorry, but what exactly depends on the sex of the developer? Why in world should one distinguish between male and female developer?
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