October 3rd, 2007

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fedora's two constituencies

A recurring "behind the scenes" theme of my job for the past year or so has been achieving balance between "the folks who care about Fedora for Fedora's sake" and "the folks who care about Fedora because it is the upstream of RHEL".

There are people in the former category who are both Red Hatters and Fedora community members. People in the latter category are basically all Red Hatters -- the engineers, engineering managers, and product guys whose job is to produce Red Hat Enterprise Linux every two years or so, and who have actual revenue numbers on their heads.

There's always been a give and take between these two groups. Sometimes the Fedora folks don't understand (or realize) how what seems like a small or insignificant decision when viewed only in the Fedora space has larger side effects on the folks who rely on Fedora as their upstream (ie: the RHEL folks). And sometimes the RHEL folks don't understand why the community feels so strongly or passionately about a particular goal or feature. Both groups are always trying to help the other understand. Having patient people on both sides, and knowing that ultimately everyone cares about a good end product helps a lot.

When I started my Fedora job, I didn't really understand this issue very well myself. My focus was 100% on "Fedora for the sake of Fedora" and I learned the hard way that in many cases we (meaning the Fedora-specific) folks need to force ourselves to think about things from the RHEL point of view. Not to necessarily change our decisions as a result, but to at least make sure that we *consider it* when making decisions. That is not to say that I don't put Fedora's needs and interests first -- I do. Red Hat in fact MAKES IT MY JOB to put Fedora first. But I guess what I am saying is that I have learned that "putting Fedora first" doesn't mean "ignore RHEL". Similarly, I think that the RHEL folks have seen that their lives can be significantly easier when they understand which pieces of Fedora are most important to the community at large, and by helping us to achieve our goals in those areas. A bit of mutual back-scratching, if you will.

Now I don't think that is a worry that the typical Fedora contributor should have. We want the the typical Fedora contributor focusing just on Fedora. But the Fedora/RHEL dynamic is a worry that you sign up for by being on the Fedora Board, being a Red Hat person whose full time job is to work on Fedora, and to a lesser extent being a member of the Fedora Engineering Steering Committee. With greater responsibility comes greater responsibility.

Lately John Poelstra has been a crucial bridge between these two communities, and I can't thank him enough for his work.

For all of us in the Fedora community, especially the engineering side of the fence, I think that we need to keep developing our ability to flag a topic of conversation that is being had within Fedora as a "let's make sure that the RHEL guys know about this" kind of a topic. Many times, the folks who are working on RHEL simply want to make sure that they can participate in -- not make demands, but participate in -- the discussions that we are having. Because of the demands that are on their time, having folks like John and myself being able to take an hour of their time every two weeks and say "here are the things happening in Fedora that you might want to pay attention to" ultimately helps everyone.

It's an interesting balance. We're better at it now than we were a year ago, but there is still room for further improvement.
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on punctuation

Growing up, I was always taught that when a quotation ends with some sort of punctuation mark, that punctuation mark should go INSIDE of the quotation marks. "This is how it is done," said the teacher.

I hate that rule though. I think that the written words look a lot better when the punctuation is OUTSIDE of the quotation marks, and so I tend to do that. "This way looks better", said the dissident.

All of this leaves me with a guilty conscience, and whenever I write anything, I end up imagining every English teacher that I ever had shaking his or her head in disappointment. Are you reading this, Mr. Klausner?