We interview Michael Hall, Ubuntu app development liason


Benjamin: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Michael: My name is Michael Hall, I’ve been a software developer most of my career, touching on a number of popular and obscure languages and technologies. I’ve always had an interest in science and technology, and fell in love with computers when I got my first 386 at 11 years old. Now I’m grown up (legally anyway), married and have two kids, neither of which are terribly interested in computer science, but both of whom think open source is just the natural way things should be.

Benjamin: What is your title at Canonical and what does your role focus on?
Michael: I actually had to look this up in our internal directory. Technically my title is “Community Coordinator”, though I’ve formally and informally referred to myself as the “Upstream Liaison” and “App Development Liaison” depending on my focus at the time.

When I first joined Canonical’s Community Team my focus was on upstream relationships (Debian, Gnome, individual upstream projects, etc) as well as relationships for projects where Canonical was the upstream (Unity, Ayatana projects, etc).

But recently, my primary focus has been on growing and supporting our App Developer community, something which took on more importance when we released the Ubuntu SDK earlier this year, since it was a new toolkit and focus for Ubuntu app development, and something that we were playing much more of a driving force behind.

Benjamin: What does a typical work day look like for you?
Michael: Wake up, check and see what my co-workers in Europe have been up to, respond to direct emails or IRC pings, get out of bed.

My day-to-day schedule mostly depends on what I’m working on, I tend to have weeks-long focuses that require different routines. The past couple of weeks, for example, I’ve been getting things organized for the next UDS, which has involved adding information to Ubuntu Summit website, a little bit of hacking on the summit source code to make modifications based on feedback from the last one, and a lot of working with track leads and engineering managers to make sure they are getting their sessions scheduled.

On other days, I spend my time talking with app developers about their work, any problems or shortcomings they’ve encountered with our tools or API, then talking to the Canonical engineers tasked with building them to make sure they know what works, what doesn’t, and what still need to be done. A lot of my effort goes into simply facilitating the communication between internal and external groups (and often between two internal groups as well). I spend a lot of time promoting the work being done by the community and canonical, on social media like our Facebook page and Google+ community for Ubuntu App development, and expanding the resources on the Ubuntu Developer Portal.

Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I still get to write some code. In addition to minor contributions to the Summit project, I’m also building a new API website to provide better online documentation to app developers, which has kept my coding addiction going.

Benjamin: What is most exciting about your role at Canonical?
Michael: My job is, I think, the best job in the world. I get to be involved with cutting edge technology, a diverse and passionate community, and get paid for it. Ubuntu still has one of the best communities around, and it’s a wonderful privilege to be able to spend so much time working with them.

I’m really very excited about Ubuntu for phones, our new App platform, and convergence in general. I think we’re going to see a lot of change in mobile technology in the next few years, and Ubuntu is in a position to drive a lot of it. And by Ubuntu I mean more than just the software or Canonical, the whole community is playing a part in building and shaping our platform, and I think that is something that is going to make us stand out in a crowded field.

Benjamin: Before this role you did other work at Canonical can you tell me about that?
Michael: Quite right, I began working at Canonical ISD as a web developer, developing things like the USN website, Ubuntu SSO and maintaining the variety of WordPress and Django websites run by Canonical.

I learned a lot while working in ISD. I had a great manager, Māris Fogels, who taught me the importance (and art) unit testing, something I hadn’t paid any attention to before. I also learned a lot of new technologies, or how to better use ones I thought I already knew. I’m certainly a much better developer now than I was before I joined.

Benjamin: You were a community contributor before being hired by Canonical what was the transition like for you?
Michael: I had been an Ubuntu user for nearly a year before I learned about the community and LoCo teams. It was through my LoCo team that I got involved in community activity, met Canonical employees, and ultimately got involved in the LoCo Team Portal ( development, and from there the Summit project. In fact, when I interviewed for a web developer position at Canonical, being able to show my work on those projects was probably a big contributing factor to my getting hired.

Doing web development at Canonical was nothing new to me, but there were a number of very big changes I had to adapt to. The biggest change, unsurprisingly, was working from home. I’d had the option to do that at past jobs, but it’s baked into the culture of Canonical because most of us do it. Tools, processes and expectations are all built around that, and the fact that people in the same team actually live on different continents, and it all works surprisingly well for us.

Another big change was working for an open source, community-oriented company. I’d been “allowed” to submit changes to open source software in past companies, and once I was even “allowed” to make an internal project open source. But in Canonical that’s the rule rather than the exception. You also usually have a community that is involved in your work, and you are expected to be involved with that community. Working someplace where you’re *expected* to be on IRC, talking to people outside of the company, is kind of a weird thing at first.

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