Interview with a NetBSD developer: today, Amitai Schlair, aka schmonz@

December 08, 2010 posted by Guillaume Lasmayous

A few months after Thomas Klausner's interview, please welcome today Amitai, better known as schmonz@.
NetBSDfr: For those of our readers that don't know you, can you introduce
yourself briefly ?
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago. Both at school and at home, my childhood computing skewed Appleward. The exception was Texas Instruments graphing calculators. By the end of high school, I had a nearly complete set. NetBSDfr: How did you discover NetBSD ? How long have you been using it ?
Programming TI calculators led to involvement with, a volunteer project. The server was running Linux (a 1.x kernel). I couldn't contribute because I had no idea what was going on, so I asked my fellow staffers how I could learn Unix when the only semi-capable machine I owned was a Mac IIci. They suggested NetBSD (at the time, 1.1). It was good advice. But of course there are still Linux systems where I have no idea what's going on. ;-) NetBSDfr: How did you become a NetBSD developer ?
Several years later I'd learned a thing or two, had been using NetBSD in earnest on both desktop and server, and started sending problem reports and patches for pkgsrc. Apparently they were reasonable patches. I still remember where I was -- and how giddy I felt -- when I read the email inviting me to become a developer. It was quite an honor to be included in a group of smart people who work together to build something of significance, relevance, and quality. Still is. NetBSDfr: Do you have an idea of the time you spend working on the NetBSD project daily, weekly, monthly ?
Depends how many itches I need to scratch, and how badly -- and whether I instead ought to be having my broken arm set in a cast, or at least brushing my teeth, or whatever else I can do to overextend this metaphor. There's a lot of variance: days and weeks go by where I do little to nothing, while more than a handful of weekends have disappeared while working on NetBSD stuff. The average is probably no less than a few hours per week. NetBSDfr: Can you explain us the role of pkgsrc-pmc, and your role in this organisation ?
pkgsrc-pmc is a committee that oversees pkgsrc development, akin to NetBSD's core. Our main responsibilities are to set the technical direction for the project (insofar as that is meaningful for a volunteer project) and to adjudicate the rare technical dispute that can't be resolved by the disputants. We don't assign specific roles within the PMC. I occasionally have an idea or two about technical direction, as you saw at pkgsrcCon last month. NetBSDfr: As far as I know, you're responsible for the NetBSD wiki. Can you tell us where you are on the road with it ? How will the transition with be handled , now that we know it's gonna be shutdown at the end of month (Note: Interview was held a few weeks after pkgsrcCon 2010) ?
Yes, I've been leading the charge to roll out an official wiki for the NetBSD Project. Our environment has fairly particular requirements, which means it's not just a matter of installing $WIKISOFTWARE and calling it a day. In addition to choosing the wiki implementation carefully, we have to do a fair amount of work to tie it neatly into our setup. The big pieces are in place: CVS integration, appearance and styling, and web authentication (shared across several services). That would've been good enough to go into production, except that in the interim we grew some new requirements. Originally, the official wiki wasn't intended to replace the unofficial one. People who wanted to contribute to a NetBSD wiki had been doing just fine without us. That's no longer the case. We want these people to be able to keep contributing to NetBSD as they have, so we're adapting our wiki plans to make room for everyone. This entails some careful rethinking -- every other official Project resource is, by design, writable only by developers -- followed by a fresh batch of integration work. We'd hoped to have time to prepare for a smooth transition from; alas, it's not in the cards. Instead, we're working as quickly as we can to make it possible for everyone to participate in the official NetBSD wiki. A smooth transition would also, at minimum, involve moving worthwhile content to the new wiki and providing HTTP redirects at the old URLs for a while. Of course, these require a modicum of assistance from the administrators of For users' sake, I hope assistance will be forthcoming. NetBSDfr: In your professional environment, do you work with NetBSD ?
My workplace has a standardized computing environment that doesn't include NetBSD. But two of the people I work with most closely are NetBSD developers, and unprivileged pkgsrc makes me approximately a bajillion times better at doing what I need to do. NetBSDfr: As a conclusion, can you tell us how you do foresee NetBSD's future ?
We have a bunch of very smart people working productively on interesting problems. That's only a prerequisite for a bright future, not a guarantee thereof, but it's by far the most important prerequisite -- all the more so because we're so heavily dependent on the efforts of volunteers. Very smart developers are attracted to communities where other very smart developers can work on what they want and enjoy it. We're lucky to have that kind of community. We must defend it with everything we've got. I got involved with NetBSD because it appealed to my better nature. I've stayed involved because I find it seriously fun. If we can keep it that way, we'll keep attracting the right people. If we keep attracting the right people, we'll do fine.
Thanks for answering our questions.!
The french (translated) version can be found on website



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