Archive for November, 2008

Signs you may not be dealing with a straight shooter

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

A play in two scenes.


  • X – a senior manager
  • X’s admin – keeper of X’s schedule
  • Y – a hard-working developer


setting: X’s admin’s desk

X’s admin: Hi, Y.

Y: Hi.  I’d like to get some time with X when there’s an opening.

X’s admin: How about next Tuesday at 1?

Y: Perfect.  Please put me on the schedule then.


setting: X’s office, next Tuesday at 1

X: Hi, Y.

Y: Hi, good to see you.

X: Thanks for coming by.  We haven’t talked for a while and I just wanted to touch base.

Y: …

On over-engineering

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

I’ve been trying to get a udev rule added to Ubuntu so that /dev/infiniband/rdma_cm is owned by group “rdma” instead of by root, so that unprivileged user applications can be given permission to use it by adding the user to the group rdma.  This matches the practice in the Debian udev rules and is a simple way to allow unprivileged use of RDMA while still giving the administrator some control over who exactly uses it.

I created a patch to the Ubuntu librdmacm package containing the appropriate rule and opened a Launchpad bug report requesting that it be applied.  After two months of waiting, I got a response that basically said, “no, we don’t want to do that.”  After another month of asking, I finally found out what solution Ubuntu would rather have:

Access to system devices is provided through the HAL or DeviceKit interface. Permission to access is managed through the PolicyKit layer, where the D-Bus system bus service providing the device access negotiates privilege with the application requesting it.

Because of course, rather than having an application simply open a special device node, mediated by standard Unix permissions, we’d rather have to run a daemon (bonus points for using DBus activation, I guess) and have applications ask that daemon to open the node for them.  More work to implement, harder to administer, less reliable for users — everyone wins!


Free Software Syndrome

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

While thinking about the discussion that my recent series of posts about the career benefits of contributing to the open source community, I started wondering about whether this could actually have some effect on how software gets designed.  We’ve all heard of “Not Invented Here Syndrome,” where developers decide to reimplement something, even when the technically better way to go would be to reuse some existing code.

I think there is also a small but growing tendency towards a “Free Software Syndrome,” where developers push management to release something as open source, not necessarily to get the benefits of community testing and review, more developers, or anything like that, but simply so that the developers can be open source developers.

The enemy within

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

I saw several interesting responses to my last post.  I liked Val‘s succint way of putting the career impact of free software work:

If you are even moderately successful in open source, you will probably end up “employed for life.”

I’m not sure I would go that far, since someone early in their career now might be working for 30, 40 or 50 more years, and it’s hard to say how much the artilects will care about open source after they’ve converted the entire mass of the solar system into computronium.  But certainly as long as the software industry looks the way it does now, developers who are able, both technically and socially, to work in the open source community are going to be in high demand.  (By the way, Val: two ‘e’s in “Dreier” 😛 — the native English-speaking brain seems hard-wired to misspell my last name)

There were also a few comments to my blog post from people who would like to do more in the open source community, but who are prevented by their current employer.  I understand that no job is ideal, and that people often can’t or won’t change jobs for many reasons — having a great commute, a gazillion dollars in stock still to vest, gambling debts to pay or any of a million other things might be reasons to stay in a particular position.

However, I think it’s important for people in those less than ideal positions to view this for what it is — these employers are taking money out of your pockets and limiting your future earnings just as surely as if they forbid you from other professional development such as learning a new programming language.  I’ve also found that many (although surely not all) software developers are too passive about accepting issues like this.

You need to keep in mind that you are responsible for getting the best for yourself — your interests are not your employers interests, and your employer is surely not going to put your interests first, so you better put your own interests first!  Of course this means that when negotiating things (and you are negotiating from your first job interview to the end of your exit interview), you need to explain why what you want is really in your employer’s interest.

There are many ways you can explain why contribution to open source is in an employer’s interest too, from the direct benefits: “This code has no real relevance to our business, but if we release it and get it upstream, other people will help us maintain it, which saves us money and time in the long term,” to slightly less concrete: “Contributing to free software is good marketing, and it’s going to help us sell as well as recruit and retain good developers,” to the personal: “I know we were told bonuses will be down this year, but something that you can do for me that doesn’t cost anything in your budget is let me contribute this code, which we already agreed the company has no interest in.”