I’m sure a large percentage of the Ubuntu Community will know, or at least have heard of, the next person in the interviews. A person who has been involved in the Ubuntu project right from the start, A blog well worth reading, and not to mention being a keen advocate of free software. Without further ado, I give you one of my favorite interviews so far.
1. Tell as much as you’re willing about your “real life” like name, age, gender, location, family, religion, profession, education, hobbies, etc.
My name is Benjamin Mako Hill. I am 28 years old, male, and I live in Somerville, Massachusetts just outside Boston. My day job is doing research at MIT. I am a fellow at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media and am currently doing work on a PhD somewhere between the Sloan School of Management and the MIT Media Lab. My research focuses on using social science to build a better understanding of community dynamics in free software communities so we can help support them better!
Most of my hobbies revolve around free software and free culture communities and that is where I spend most of my spare time. When I can come up for air, I also like to bike and cook and I am a voracious reader.
2. When and how did you become interested in computers? in Linux? in Ubuntu?
I’ve been interested in computers as long as I can remember. My first computer was an XT somewhere in the early or mid eighties. I learned to program in BASIC and played games and it was lots of fun. I started using free software when I was 12 or 13 and was using GNU/Linux during the first couple years of its life. I was involved in the BBS community around Seattle where I grew up and then in the early consumer-accessible Internet in the early 90s.
3. When did you become involved in the forums (or the Ubuntu community)? What’s your role there?
I was part of the founding members of the Ubuntu team back when Canonical was called “No-Name-Yet.com” and when the team was called “The Warthogs.” I was Ubuntu’s first community managers, I think its safe to say — ¬†things were more complicated back then and we didn’t really have job descriptions.
Unlike Jono Bacon, who was hired right after I left, I wrote code and did some technical package work. That said, my core responsibility was growing the Ubuntu community during the first year. That certainly happened, although I doubt I deserve too much credit!
I did a community related stuff including handling the distribution of all those millions of CDs that were sent out for free (I wrote the first version of ShipIt). I also wrote the Code of Conduct, designed most of the Ubuntu governance systems, and lots more! Early on, I even got to send out the first announcement of Ubuntu when our first beta version was ready! That was pretty exciting and a huge honor given all that has happened!
I worked at Canonical for about a year and a half and then left to go back to graduate school at MIT and to work on the One Laptop per Child project as part of my research there. Of course, I have stayed involved in Ubuntu by serving on the Ubuntu Community Council where I still serve (having just been re-elected!). I have also authored the Official Ubuntu Book (now in its 4th edition) and, more recently, the Official Ubuntu Server Book where I helped provide a little support for the excellent work of the book’s first author, Kyle Rankin. ¬†I’m very proud of both books!
4. Are you an Ubuntu member? If so, how do you contribute? If not, do you plan on becoming one?
I am! In fact, I’m pretty sure I came up with the idea for membership in the project and I definitely am the one who defined the process through which membership would happen originally. Things have changed a lot, and are much improved, as lots more folks have gotten involved.
5. What distros do you regularly use? What software? What’s your favorite application? Your least favorite?
I use Debian and Ubuntu and not too much else distro wise although Fedora’s committement to free software keeps attracting me. I use lots of software. ¬†I primary work at the command line (zsh) as I don’t really like using a mouse. ¬†I use the ion3 window manager, mutt, vim, and irssi most of the time. My day job is an academic so I do most of my programming these days in R and make extensive use of Zotero as well which are my two current favorites, I suppose.
6. What’s your fondest memory from the forums, or from Ubuntu overall? What’s your worst?
I have so many fond memories of Ubuntu from the early days. Remembering Ubuntu when it was small project is crazy. We’ve grown so much in such a short period of time, it’s shocking.
One of my favorite moments was when we at Canonical realized that the forums, which were created by the community, had taken off so wonderfully. It was an amazing sign of a successful community that the forums (unofficial at the time!) would be created and grow to such a wonderful resources with no input or involvement from us. It was such a wonderful sign of an empowered community.
7. What luck have you had introducing new computer users to Ubuntu?
Lots! These days though, I hardly know anybody that doesn’t use free software (and Ubuntu in particular)! That’s one reason that I am excited by the OLPC project, and more recently, by SugarLabs. Although I think the interpersonal sell is still the best, I think there are lots of structural steps we can take to make introducing people easier in general and that seems to be where I’ve been putting my energy more recently. That goes doubly for young people!
8. What would you like to see happen with Linux in the future? with Ubuntu?
I’d just like to see the phenomenal growth keep up.
9. If there was one thing you could tell all new Ubuntu users, what would it be?
I think that some people in our community have lost sight of the principled reasons we started out down this road. Although in many situations that’s OK, I think it’s critically important that we remind ourselves about why we are doing what we are doing. These principles go back to GNU and the Free Software Definition but extend to Debian and its social contract and, finally, to Ubuntu and our own philosophy documents! We come from a strong lineage of principled driven projects and we shouldn’t let our growth distract from that!
We’ve created great stuff, and that’s important because it helps bring lots of people into our projects and gives our projects users, credibility, and legimatacy. But we need to remember that, when we
started, we weren’t the best. ¬†Of course, we weren’t anything yet! What we had was vision, passion, and a drive toward principles. A big part of that was a passion for software freedom. Another part was a passion for respect and civil interaction and humanity toward others. ¬†Another part of that was a drive for technical excellence. All three have been essential ingredients to our success and we can’t forget any of them.
If we’re going to continue to succeed, we need to be focused on those ideas. We should treat the great stuff we produce as a way to bring folks to a bunch of a wonderful, powerful ideas, and not as an end itself.