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How I made my way into Debian


It was asked on this list to hear from people who have recently
gone trough NM if these bad, scaring stories about it are true and
how it just went. I have approved as a DD in January so I guess I might
still count as "recently". And so I felt obliged to write this report.
Sorry if it is somewhat lenghty.

[I have written this text in one run, I didn't tried to stream lining
it, to clearify it or to proofread it. I will happily explain it
in a discussion and elaborate on certain points if needed, though]

How I came to Debian - the time before NM

I first used Debian about 2 years ago, shortly after the release of
woody. I began to work in my students body and one of my colleagues
converted our bureau's network (about 8 PCs) from Windows to Debian.
I had used Linux before but was really a novice still. Mauch has
changed in these two years ;)

I tried to help my colleague with maintaining the computers and was
quickly impressed by Debian's easy administration and package managment.
To learn more about these things I also had to visit Debian's webpage
where I noticed some spelling errors in the German translation. So
I sent email to the person listed as Translation Coordinator (Gerfried
Fuchs aka Alfie) and submitted my patches. Then some more and then
I translated a first page. To do this I learned the way how the Debian
website is organised and build (good documented I think). After some
more translations (about two or three months later IIRC) Alfie
agreed to request write access to the CVS repository.

I really was a newbie to Linux still (my private computer still run
Win98 at this time, btw.) but I did know Perl. Since much of the
complexer generations are implemented in it I began to submit patches
for the general website, too. This was the first point where I ran
into some kind of trouble: Rarely someone seemed to care and comment
on my patches (IIRC debian-www was generally somewhat quieter at that
time because few people were working on the website beside
translations). So I asked and got finally told that I should just commit
the changes if nobody objects and I'm confident of them. So I did.
Somewhen in this time I switched my computer to dual-boot.

At the same time I participated in a pratical course about compiler
construction and we used a Free Software toolkit called Eli. It wasn't
included in Debian and as I wanted to make some of the work at home
and not in the lab I took me the new maintainer guide and packaged
it. It wasn't that hard as the software has a really clean and well
structured build process. I didn't considered the package really
ready for inclusion in Debian.

A new project appeared. While working on the web page I noticed that
were a long pending todo and bug list for the scripts behind
packages.debian.org and nobody was working on it. So I began to
work on it and after two or three months I had something ready.
This was probably the point where I decided to go through NM
since I now was confident that I wanted to investigate time
and work in this project and was confident I could be of help.

The NM process

Still there was little comment on my new packages.d.o scripts
and I had no write access to the CVS in this area (and it wouldn't
helped me much as the debugging needed at least someone participating
with access to the Debian server hosting it. Josip Rodin [aka Joy]
promised me to look at it but he is a man of many duties and few time.
So I saved the current state of the scripts and turned to new
appointments. I searched through the list of orphaned packages
and adopted magpie and lincvs. (The former because it was similar
to my packages.d.o scripts, the latter because I found the program
interesting and worthwile to keep) IIRC Stephen Stafford and Peter
Palfrader [aka weasel] were sponsoring me. I got my key signed from
another DD here at my univeristy and applied for NM. Alfie was
advocating me as he knew me best and was able to judge my work.
This was in May 2003.

magpie was a Debian native package and so I was the upstream maintainer
as well. I opened an Alioth project and tried to get rid of some bugs.
But it turned out that the codebase was too bad and I haven't had the
time to rewrite it completly so I dumped it and requested its removal
from the Debian archive.
LinCVS was fun to deal with on the other hand, has a very active and
friendly upstream maintainer group, just fun :)

I got a AM assigned and he did go with me through the P&P questions.
I think I performed very well. Wasn't hard at all, just had to read
debian-policy, developers-reference and the BTS documentation.
(I had translated the NM pages before that so I knew what lied
ahead of me ;)

Then there was one of these negative incidents some perhaps fear
of: My AM hadn't had enough time anymore and I waited for the
T&S questions, and waited, and waited. I wrote a mail to him about
every month and he always replied fast but only to say that he was
still busy (large project in his firm). So I mailed FD as well to
inform them of the problem. Besides that I worked on lincvs which
did go well and tried to get my eli package in Debian, too which
didn't go well because I didn't find a sponsor.

In the meantime I also began to lurk on debian-qa and tried to
help there with preparing QA uploads for orphaned packages,
BTS stuff and so on. My main work still laid on the Debian
wep page where Alfie began to accuse me of working more on the
English version than the German one ;)

End of the year, several things happened very fast: First the
compromise of some of the Debian servers, leaving me without
access to the web page CVS, very frustrating. But Martin Schulze
[only known as Joey ;)] wanted to set up packages.d.o again and
noticed my efforts on it and we began to apply my scripts. And
Martin Michlmayr [aka tbm] finally decided to  took my application
over and we did go through the whole T&S part in the week after
christmas. Again just reading documentation plus some fixes in my
lincvs package.

Two weeks later I got mail from James Troup :)))


As you might have noticed, going through NM wasn't without hurdles for
me but I now realize I only wrote two sentences about the NM process
as such :/ All other things were only indirectly related to it.
A few morals I want to extract from my experiences:

 * Ask. You will probably have to ask a lot of questions
   before you grok Debian. That's not always easy but that's how it

 * Be part of it. From what I see as a sponsor, as AM
   and as former counter part for both of these roles, problems
   often occur if people think they can participate in Debian without
   reading mailing lists, without reading the web pages and without
   talking with other people from the community. Try IRC if you
   haven't, try to meet other people in your LUG, at events,
   lurk on mailing lists to see if you find them interesting
   enough to continuing reading them, ...
   (One part of becoming DD is learning your tools, and
    IMHO your mail client (and perhaps your IRC client)
    is a very important one of them, never underestimate
    the value of a set of working mail filter rules ;)

 * First work, then privileges. You will have to prove yourself
   before someone will trust you. We don't "know" each other, we
   only see the others work (and his behaviour on lists and IRC).
   Try to find a job in Debian even if it isn't easy to do it without
   beeing DD, then apply for NM/request CVS/SVN/arch write access.
   (This will also ensure that you find out if you have the time
   to work in Debian)

 * Teams are good, teams with a VCS are even better ;)
   Finding a sponsor for packages people don't know and don't
   use can be frustrating (my eli package is an example, it has
   only few users and I really only got it into Debian because I
   became DD). Teams like the wep page editors, the d-i people,
   the maintainance groups on Alioth are way more open and can
   give you working possibilities near to a DD. This situation
   is way different from what it was some years ago AFAICT!
   Alioth is part of that success story. The trend goes to
   team maintaince and this is a good trend.

 * Be diverse. If you have the time and the engagement, try to
   find more than one occupation within Debian. So frustration
   in one area can be balanced with success in another one
   (this has worked very well in my case, but I have invested
   much much time in it)

 * Be patient and be gentle. We're nearly all volunteers here, something
   might go wrong and we will make errors that cause you
   work or anger. Always consider good if you want to write in a mail
   "you have to", "you most not" as in most cases this might not
   be true.

Frank Lichtenheld <djpig@debian.org>
www: http://www.djpig.de/

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