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Re: GR: welcome non-packaging contributors as Debian project members


On Tue, Sep 14, 2010 at 05:53:46PM +0900, Stefano Zacchiroli wrote:
> [ Draft GR text below, look for "-----".  M-F-T set to -vote. ]
> ...

I really welcome the intent of the GR and would support this, but I
think an important task for non-packagers missing in the list.  As you
probably know I started the Debian Med project (in 2002) with the goal
to make Debian the distribution of choice for people working in the
field of medicine.  While I do not think that we have reached a state
that you can do any task in Medicine with Free Software because there is
simply a lack of this software from upstream we managed to be there
where we wanted to go: If somebody asks what distribution to use in
medical care and research a quite often given answer is: Use Debian.
Several upstream maintainers contact us and we are working together with
them to build high quality packages from their software.

I tried to spread the knowledge I gathered in this project into other
fields and the technical name is Debian Pure Blends.  However, I learned
that it is not only a question of the technique.  I frequently have seen
that we are lacking some skills I would like to sum up as "project
management skills".  If I try to estimate my project managing work in
Debian Med it is about 40% and 60% technical and coding work.  That's
quite an amount and I felt my time well spent - but there is a chance
that other people with good social skills and a reasonable technical
understanding could also fulfill this job in other teams.

So I would like to suppose the role of project managers as non-packagers
and we should invite active users of a project into this role.

Here are two examples what I mean:

  1. If a person contacts a team on the mailing list by an "I would like
     to help" mail and from the content of the mail it somehow becomes
     obvious that this person is really interested and capable to do
     something, I would immediately (<12 hours) answer with a warm
     welcome and offer some hopefully interesting jobs to work on (in
     Debian Med we have a Wiki page with such tasks for developers and
     users).  I consider this behaviour as quite normal - but it is not
     as I have seen in several examples over years.

  2. I contacted a DD (in PM) who is active in a certain field where
     a large and active community exists (OpenStreetMap), whether we
     should act more actively on this field and got a response in the
     tenor:  Most OSM software is not suitable for a Debian stable
     release -- OSM stuff changes too fast ...  I don't say that this
     is no valid point.  I just think that some technical opinion (valid
     or not) prevents binding a strong community to our distribution.
     If you ask me we should reach a state where the OSM community
     explicitly suggests to use Debian and we should find ways to
     approach this contact.

These are only two out of a lot of examples where people who are not
exclusively focussed on technical tasks like packaging could help
advancing Debian to meet new challenges.  We even have examples where
technicans do fulfill this role at some extend:  I think the Debian Med
example I was starting is accompanied by Debian Science and Debian Edu.
A counter example is Debian Lex which is just lacking technicans - so
we really need both and IMHO it does not harm if the non-packagers have
some technical insight - if not I'm afraid their opinion will not be
accepted by the technicans. [1]

I strongly believe that Debian as a "Metadistribution" in the sense
that it provides solutions for whole workfields will give it a new push
because it is not just the size which Debian makes unique amongst
distributions.  Size can just be gained by diligence and number of
people, but providing complete *solutions* in a well structured
distribution is an intelligent way to grow and this does not need only
technicans but also people who are good in project management and
working with teams.

Kind regards


[1] I could mention some Debian packaging teams which would heavily
    need those project managers I have in mind, but it would just
    make this mail longer - I think the principle is clear.


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