Photo of Jane Silber

Jane Silber

Interviewed: April 2006

Ubuntu Stuff

What does "Ubuntu" mean for you?

Naturally I've seen a number of definitions of Ubuntu, and read about Ubuntu in many different contexts. The part of the concept that I carry in my mind is simply "people" their importance and their (sometimes surprising) impact. That thought is reflected in the Ubuntu project in many ways: obviously in the people who use Ubuntu, but also in the people in the community who contribute to Ubuntu, the people and organisations that are helped by Ubuntu and the freedoms it offers, the people who are able to earn their living in some way because of Ubuntu, the social structures in the Ubuntu community, people brought together through Ubuntu-based business relationships, etc.

Which job were you doing before joining Canonical?

I have always been involved in software and software management. Before joining Canonical, I was Vice President of a software development and integration group at General Dynamics C4 Systems (Arlington, Virginia, US). In that position I was responsible for the technical and business operations of a group of over 100 engineers. Prior to that, I had a varied career doing AI research, software development, project management and business development.

What do your daily activities as a C.O.O. involve, and what things you personally enjoy the most? Which is different about the C.O.O. job at Canonical?

One of the best things about my job is the variety inherent in it. My daily activities include building corporate relationships, business strategies, internal processes/policies, and generally helping to keep Canonical on track. I also participate directly in Ubuntu by helping with various parts of the Ubuntu community and managing the ShipIt program, among other things.

One of the things that I enjoy most is the challenge involved in finding the right balance between the cooperative and competing demands of community, corporate, employees, etc. The company and the surrounding ecosystem are like a living animal, with our business development, administration, software engineering, community, technical support, etc as the body's support systems. In order for the overall system to thrive, we need to keep all the component systems healthy, and I like that my job touches on most of those systems.

The other thing I like most is that I am able to read the notes that people write when they request CDs in ShipIt. I don't have time to read all of them, but sometimes when I need a break from IRC, email, and meetings, I will read a random sample. It's so inspiring to read the things that people are doing with Ubuntu and the CDs we provide. And the notes are such a strong reminder of the impact of our actions on people's lives; they give me renewed motivation to continue doing what we're doing, and to do it wisely.

How was the company structure composed before the launch of Ubuntu and did it change in any fundamental way? How does Canonical function?

The company structure has not changed significantly. The number of people has changed, and the responsibilities of some individuals has evolved, but the overall structure is the same. We are now in the process of strengthening some of the teams, and you will see us recruiting for specific skills in the coming months.

How much work is done remotly at Canonical? Is it a barrier to communication between the employees?

Most Canonical employees work from home. We have about 45 people in 15 different countries. Fortunately, most of our people have years of experience in the open source world, are used to working with people they rarely see, and we have adopted some of the best practices available from those distributed environments. And while the distributed nature of Canonical certainly does cause problems at times, I also think that it helps Ubuntu. For one thing, it ensures that we keep our development process and communication as open as possible. When everyone is sitting in the same office, it is natural that informal communication enabled by proximity takes over and anyone who isn't there loses out. The fact that we are distributed means that there is very little difference between Canonical employees and community members with respect to knowing what's happening in Ubuntu.

Is Canonical attractive for new employees? How many answers did you receive to your job offers (the ones published late January)?

As with any company, it is a great place for some people and perhaps not as great for others. I love it, and I think most of our staff do it. But it isn't for everyone. We offer the opportunity to work with an amazing team, to do challenging and rewarding work, and to be a part of something that is definitely changing the Linux landscape. However, we also are operating in a fast­paced environment where change is constant and the work often feels unrelenting. Some people thrive in that environment; other equally smart and talented people don't.

You have recently published an offer for a Ubuntu Quality Engineer. Why? Does that mean community is not enough?

The community quality assurance work in terms of bug triage and bug fixing is absolutely critical to us. We rely on it and will continue to rely on it. But in this case we felt that we needed additional firepower and decided we needed to invest in a full­time dedicated quality engineer.

How do Canonical and the community interact together? Where can Canonical help the community and how can the community help Canonical?

The community is vast and strong, and can have a much greater impact in some areas than Canonical can. In order to leverage that multiplier effect, we try to keep the relationship between Canonical and the community as transparent and as synergistic as possible. For example, we simply can't be at all the important Linux and open source conferences around the world. The only way Ubuntu can be represented at those conferences is with the help of the community and LoCo Teams. Canonical in turn helps facilitate that by providing resources for LoCo teams such as web hosting, free CDs, conference packs, etc.

Additional ways in which the community can get involved are listed at http://www.ubuntu.com/community/participate

Why will companies switch to Ubuntu?

I think companies (and Governments, schools, and other organisations) will use Ubuntu for a number of reasons. We believe that we have the right technical solution (depth and breadth of Debian, combined with regular releases and free security support), the right community solution (transparency, full participation, Code of Conduct), the right economic solution (always free, pay for the support/services if you want), and the right partner solution (certification of major ISVs/IHVs, a healthy marketplace). Each organisation will place different priorities on those areas, but I believe we rank near the top regardless of how those factors are ordered.

Contenders like Novell and Red Hat are already well positioned in business. What does Canonical's services portfolio provide, and what does Canonical focus on in business?

Canonical's services portfolio includes world-class technical support, as well as customisation services based on Ubuntu. Our support model differs from some of our competitors in that we are pleased to see the ecosystem develop around Ubuntu. We encourage other companies to provide support for Ubuntu in their local areas, and we can strengthen those offerings by providing escalation support. That way end users and customers benefit from local service in the local economy, as well as access to the core team responsible for Ubuntu when faced with difficult issues.

Mark Shuttleworth's position on the relationship between Ubuntu and Debian is rather clear. But what about the relationship with other distributions (Red Hat, Novell's SUSE, Mandriva, Linspire, etc.)?

We have generally good relationships and are in regular contact with our counterparts at other distributions. Like most businesses, we cooperate in some areas and compete in others. I expect you saw the recent announcement of Mepis using Ubuntu that's a good example where we both cooperate and compete.

What do you think about the similitude with the Ubuntu logo found in various products (msn space, for example)? Did Canonical make any move with regard to potential logo infringement?

We keep a close eye on the use of the Ubuntu logo, have taken action in some cases of clear logo infringement, and will continue to do so.

Most people associate Canonical with Ubuntu but there are other supported projects like Bazaar, the Go Open Source Campaign or the OpenCD. What are your personal views on these projects?

Don't forget Software Freedom Day (scheduled for 16 September this year)! We support projects that we believe are important to the free and open source world, that can have a significant global impact in terms of open source adoption, and which can in some way relate to Ubuntu. There are a lot of other good projects out there, but unfortunately we simply can't support them all.

This interview is also available in : French and German