New Job, New Blog

I started a new job last week, as Technical Architect of Ubuntu. I’m thrilled to be here, I couldn’t have crafted a more perfect job if I’d written the job description myself. I’ve been reflecting this week on how I got here. Many people know me for my involvement in Parrot, Perl, or Python, but my first love in free software was Linux, specifically Debian. I was already actively involved in my local Linux user group over a decade ago, hacking and speaking, even teaching a summer class at the LUG. I became a public figure in the Perl community almost by accident (it’s a funny story involving a cruise ship, I’ll tell you sometime over beer). But, I took to the Parrot codebase so quickly precisely because it was so similar to the Linux kernel: a large, complex body of C code with subsystems for memory management, concurrency scheduling, I/O, and networking, plus a host of add-on modules. I mentored under Parrot’s founding Architect for the first few years of the project, then took on his role after he retired.

I’ve been involved in Ubuntu almost from the beginning, though not in a public way. In the training material for Canonical new hires there’s a photo of the original founding team, it was fun to see that I know most of them personally. My first UDS was in 2006, and even though I’d already been an Ubuntu user for more than a year, it was a life-changing experience. It wasn’t just about the code, though it certainly was exciting to see such enthusiastic action toward making Linux a compelling replacement for the “Big 2”. It was even more about the people, this amazing team of brilliant, wonderful humans joining together to change the world. It was something like being adopted into a new family. I’ve made it to about one UDS a year since then (I missed two in a row once, and was terribly disappointed). I’ve considered applying to Canonical multiple times over the years, but the specific roles I looked at were never quite right for me. And I was too busy getting ready to ship Parrot 1.0 and working to support my free software development habit (gotta pay the bills somehow), to do much more than packaging work and kicking in ideas at UDS and to the people I knew and talked to regularly. I’ve enjoyed watching some of those ideas come to life, even if I couldn’t be involved in the actual construction.

UDS-M this year was another life-changing experience for me, but in a different way. I was already kind of keeping an eye out for a “next thing” to do, not with any urgency, just an open mind. The Parrot project shipped 2.0 in January this year, and has moved into a stage of refinements rather than “pushing to release the first production version”. And since 1.0 last year, we’ve been moving the project more and more to distributed design involving a team of highly experienced contributors, rather than a single driving head, so it no longer consumes my every waking moment.

At the beginning of the week at UDS-M, I commented casually in an email to Mark, “These are my people and it makes me happy to be here.” And then it struck me how very true that statement was. As the week went on, I started looking for ways to get more actively involved. I talked with Kees Cook about helping on one of the security blueprints. I talked with Robert Collins and Martin Pool about helping out with Python 3.x migration for bzr. Towards the end of the week, I bumped into Robbie Williams and Rick Spencer talking about the new Technical Architect role they were planning on posting. Rick suggested I should apply for it. I sounded interesting, I mean I’m a Software Architect, that’s what I do, I even contributed to a book on the subject. But, it wasn’t until I talked to Colin Watson (who is also my Debian mentor) about the job over dinner on Friday at Ubuntu AllStars that I really decided to apply. Add on time for the job to be publicly posted, time for the interview process (where I understand many qualified candidates were discussed and considered), and time for me to wrap up my final year of chairing OSCON, and here I am.

Right at the start, I should make it clear that I am not the SABDFL. I’m here to help turn his vision into reality. That’s what architects do, translate between the potential for a building and carefully measured graphite on paper, then act as a resource for the whole crew as they work together to translate an abstract plan into hard steel, warm brick, and shining glass. I’m here to champion the community’s vision for Ubuntu, to facilitate conversations as we integrate multiple perspectives and balance multiple needs, to ask good questions that help us find better solutions. I’m here to help smooth some of the bumps in the road, because no road worth traveling is ever completely easy. I’m here to sing harmony to the SABDFL’s melody, with the whole choir, to soften the lows and brighten the highs. If you want a name (or just have a fondness for recursive acronyms like I do), you might call me the SABTAFL, that is, “SABDFL Appointed Benevolent Technical Architect For a-Long-time-but-not-necessarily-Life”. 😉 But, “allison” is a perfectly good name, I don’t need any other.

To give credit where credit is due, there have been 4 great influences on my career over the years, mentors, friends, people who believed in me, encouraged me to dream big dreams and try big things, who taught me that I’m better, smarter, wiser, more dynamic, and resilient than I ever imagined. In alphabetical order: Damian Conway, Greg Kroah-Hartman, Mark Shuttleworth, and Nathan Torkington. Thanks guys, I wouldn’t be here without you!

(Appropriately, this post was written on the machine that was my very first Ubuntu desktop. Well, I’ve upgraded pretty much the whole guts of the thing a few pieces at a time over the years, and it currently runs Lucid. But at some deep level, if computers have something like a soul, it’s the same machine.)

32 thoughts on “New Job, New Blog

  1. Will your level of involvement with Parrot (the foundation and the project) remain the same?

    • I’ll continue as Chief Architect of Parrot, and may even have a little more time than before as I simplify my life down to one job plus Parrot development. I won’t be on the Parrot Foundation board this year (I declined the nomination), partly because of time concerns, but more because I think we have a number of talented leaders in our community and that it’s time for them to take more prominent roles in the foundation.

  2. Hi Allison,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I remember meeting you at the UDS in Mountain View (you also participated in FOSSCamp) and thinking “wow, we should get her more involved in Ubuntu”.

    And then meeting you again at UDS-M and thinking “Ok, really, we really really need to get her more involved in Ubuntu.”

    I am really glad you blogged your story about who your mentors are, you’ve inspired me to do the same thing.

  3. I couldn’t be more excited how much Ubuntu has grown, from just a half-baked implementation of Debian (4.10) to a full-on innovative drop-in replacement for WinBloze or O$ X (10.04/10.10). Welcome to the Ubuntu community, Allison (You remind me of my sister), and I hope you can make 11.04 even more innovative (if GNOME 3 isn’t delayed a third time).

  4. Congratulations Allison.

    My greatest hope for Ubuntu (future) is that systemd replace upstart. That would be a great step forward, hopefully with Scott James Remnant’s support.

  5. Cool, a woman as a Technical Architect, and in top management. Best of luck!

    I’m using Ubuntu for five years now – liking it very much – but I think there is a growing quality problem. After the last upgrade to 10.4, I had to encounter more than ten bugs on my desktop PC, four of which just have been fixed by the recent August updates! – Beware, those bugs occured in officially supported mainstream applications …


  6. If computers have a soul, it is called their Operating System. 😉

    And the Lord created the structure of reality, and Charles Babbage saw that it was good. Then Bill Gates created Microsoft, and the people saw that it was evil. And RMS & Linus created the independent FOSS world, and the developers saw that it was good. Then Mark Shuttleworth created Ubuntu, and the common people saw that it was good.

  7. Great to have a Perlite having a say in the architecture of my Operating System. Let’s keep modern Perl a first class citizen on Ubuntu and remember the free software commitment while choosing default applications…

    Congratulation, you are the right person for the job!

  8. Should women stay on the technical track? « Stormy's Corner

  9. This is fantastic, great news! Made me happy to read your story. Well done.

    This is my 4 year of Ubuntu and it’s people like yourself that make the difference.

  10. Who are your mentors? | Daniel Holbach’s blog

  11. Hi Allison,

    You and I met at the AT meeting where you presented your architectural work with Ubuntu last month. If it helps, recall that I said to you, “okay, you’ve set a pretty high bar with your presentation–I hope to challenge it.”

    While I didn’t get the opportunity to present as they couldn’t seem to get the key. Still I thought you might like to see what I was talking about…you can peruse my presentation slides here:

    Click to access ann.pdf

    Very Best,


  12. Congrats. I haven’t heard of Lucid before so I’ll check it out. I used Ubuntu last year for more than 6 months and it was better as an OS in almost every way. The reason why I never stayed with it was having to use a command line in Gimp to batch process images, and trying to run Steam in Wine was pretty buggy, can’t resist the odd video game or two still!

    Let’s hope Ubuntu carry on the momentum and push the envelope even further to make it accessible and more appropriate for the general user.

  13. Allison, do you follow any specific process as a Technical Architect? Do you use a methodology like SCRUM, Lean, or RUP (Rational Unified Process)?

    • I follow agile development practices, but tend to take a pragmatic approach, mixing the best from various methodologies rather than strictly following any one. If you’d like a little more detail on my philosophy, I recommend reading the work of a friend of mine, James Shore.

  14. Congratulations! When I started to use Octopussy first thing I had to do was to figure out Perl (partially). From Perl to A.R it’s obviously just a small step. I start to like that language more than Python, but I also start to like FreeBSD more than GNU/Linux. Ooops! Maybe I shouldn’t have said that… 🙂

  15. Sarah Novotny joins OSCON for 2011 - O'Reilly Radar

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