Featured: Vincent Untz, GNOME/Novell

30.05.2011 20:37
Anika Kehrer

We thought he doesn't want to participate in the Speaker Fetaures - but due to an email delivery error his answer reached us just this late, after LinuxTag! Quel malheur... Frenchman Vincent Untz joined the GNOME project in 2002 and startet working on the Linux distribution openSUSE at Novell in 2008. The 30-years-old engineer says his job is crazy, but he loves it all the more, and his perfect day features awakening on a snowy winterday.

Talk #1 "Pushing for more cross-distribution collaboration", Friday, 13.05.2011, room Berlin I, 10 - 11 a.m: This talk will discuss cross-distribution collaboration, with examples of successes and failures. It will highlight when collaboration is possible and how to build the environment that can encourage such efforts. To Vincent's Talk #1

Talk #2 "Rejuvenating your desktop with GNOME 3", Saturday, 14.05.2011, room Berlin II, 11 - 12 a.m: The talk will describe the process that lead to the GNOME 3 creation, will describe the main changes delivered in this new major version and will provide hints towards future development of GNOME. To Vincent's Talk #2

Backstage with Vincent

Vincent, you are both a longstanding GNOME foundation member and a release manager. Would you say there is a difference between the "political" and the technical part of what you do?

I actually left the release manager role a few days ago, after GNOME 3.0 went out - getting GNOME 3 out was my main goal in the project for nearly three years, and now that we have released GNOME 3.0, I feel I can move to other roles.

I would say that a good part of the release manager role (and more generally, release team member role) is not that much technical, but about managing the work, goals and expectations of the community. In many ways, it is close to what the GNOME Foundation Board does.

I think the most important part of being a member of the Release Team or the GNOME Foundation Board is to have a big picture of the project. This is actually harder than it might sound as GNOME is a really huge project, with so many contributors, teams and subprojects. This involves monitoring everything, identifying forthcoming project-wide issues and areas that should get focus, and communicating with everyone, among other jobs.

That would be the main difference with a purely technical role, where it is often possible to focus on a small specific area, on which you can work with a small set of identified people. That does not mean the technical role is easier, though ;-)

GNOME is a desktop system, something people from the non-technical world hardly realize it exists, or can be worked on, independently from an operating system. What is your experience with explaining GNOME to people?

Indeed, many people take the desktop for granted, as part of the operating system, while on the other hand, they have less trouble identifying specific applications as standalone projects. It can be seen as an issue because the GNOME brand goes less well-known than the distribution brands, for instance. However our approach to the desktop is that it should tightly integrate with the operating system, in order to offer an optimal user experience. From this perspective, the fact that people feel the desktop is part of the operating system is a success for us.

When I explain to non-technical people what GNOME is, I often oversimplify things by declaring that GNOME is, more or less, everything that people see on the screen (except the applications, of course). This is with GNOME that you start an application, that you switch between applications and windows, that you interact with your hardware, that you manage your files, etc.

It is worth pointing out, though, that as soon as people are interested in improving the user experience, they immediately get to know what GNOME is and they do understand the difference between the GNOME project and the lower parts of the stack.

Apart from GNOME, openSUSE and the whole Tekkiverse - which part of life is of special interest for you, something you personally find really fascinating?

For some reason, I am also well-known for loving ice cream and the French language. Mais j'ignore vraiment pourquoi ;-)

I think I am actually curious about mostly everything. Of course, I do not have time to be really curious about really everything since that would just keep me busy all my life. But I can hear something about a compositor, a TV show, a language, a country, an insect, a planet, or really anything, and it will lead me to look for more information about that for hours. But my small brain cannot keep all this knowledge, unfortunately... I guess I'm fascinated by knowledge.

In work life, you are a "Booster" at openSUSE/Novell - meaning, you help enable teams and technical projects with and for the community. If someone wants to envision this a little bit more: What does a typical "Vincent-day" look like?

Ah, I do not think there is any typical Vincent-day. There is a wide set of activities I take time for:

- on Monday, I can work with people to improve openSUSE and help them contribute to the project (this can include mentoring people, reviewing work, pushing for decisions...).
- on Tuesday, I can hack for hours on some specific technology (in GNOME, for instance), while ignoring the rest of the world, or review patches that are in my queue.
- on Wednesday, I can look at a conference -- either help organize it, prepare or deliver a talk, help man a booth, meet people to discuss many different topics.
- on Thursday, I can have meetings: those could be team meetings, meetings with people from other projects to see how to collaborate on some topic, meetings to solve specific technical or social issues. Or I can handle various administrative tasks (like pushing to make sure that what some people requested happens).
- on Friday, I can answer tons of mails and do nothing else, since a good part of what I do is communication. I am generally late with that, though.
- on the week-end, I can time some time off, or decide to just catch up with any of the above tasks.

It is a bit of a crazy work since there are so many areas to track, so many small goals to target and so many people to talk to. But my job truly is exciting!

Why did you choose to present a talk at LinuxTag 2011?

I wanted to have some great time in Berlin :-) Actually I was not sure I would come to LinuxTag this year since it is conflicting with another event in France. But LinuxTag is a great international event, and between the collaboration work we are pushing and GNOME 3, I felt I could not miss this opportunity to promote our work.

On top of that, there are always great people coming to Berlin, and it is a good opportunity to meet my teammates face-to-face!

Vincent's Data Sheet

Place of birth: Grenoble, France.

Place of living: Grenoble, France. But I moved several times since my birth :-)

Age: 30

Favourite programming language(s):
C / Python

Favourite FOSS operating system flavour(s):
openSUSE :-)

A day is perfect for me, if ...
... I have solved a specific issue that was obsessing me, or if I wake up and realize it is snowing outside.

It really annoys me, when ...
... people do not work together, generally for bad reasons. Because of lack of communication or because they do not want to invest efforts in that.

What is FOSS and Linux all about? My answer in 3 sentences:
We always use our computers and other devices without thinking much about how they work. Free Software comes with a philosophy, and not just some technical details: for instance, freedom and knowledge sharing are two core values of Free Software. Do you want to learn more about that, and why it matters?

More Speaker Features? Find them here.

Category: Homepage, Speaker Features