Meeting Developers

Dmitri Popov

Productivity Sauce

Oct 27, 2008 GMT
Dmitri Popov

Although is an open source project with its own community, the core team that does the bulk of the actual coding and quality assurance is based in Hamburg, Germany. Recently, I had a chance to visit the developers behind this key open source project. The Sun offices in Hamburg occupy three floors of a rather large business complex in an industrial area not far from downtown Hamburg. It's a surprisingly quiet and green area with a couple of decent restaurants around, which local businesses, including Sun, use for lunch breaks. The atmosphere in Sun's offices was relaxed, and I, in my shirt and shiny shoes, was definitely overdressed for the occasion. I was greeted by Ocke Janssen, one of three guys responsible for developing the Base application and the sole developer of the Sun Report Builder extension. He was later joined by Christoph Lukasiak, who manages the QA community.

The main purpose of my visit was to talk with Ocke about the Sun Report Builder extension, but, as it often happens, we ended up discussing all possible topics. Eventually, the name Michael Meeks came up. If you know the background story, you might imagine that not many developers subscribe to his views. Michael Meeks has been one of the most vocal critics of the way Sun manages the project, accusing the company of having a tight grip on the project and making it virtually impossible for other developers to contribute to the project. According to Ocke and Chris, none of this could be farther from the truth. Although the team is part of Sun Microsystems, the suite's developers don't benefit from this fact in terms of raw developer manpower. The developers are paid by Sun and use the company's pretty impressive hardware, but that is pretty much all that Sun contributes to the project. So if you think that there are hundreds of Sun engineers writing code every single day, you'd be dead wrong. The core of the project comprises about 150 people who take care of everything, from on-line documentation and quality assurance to actual development and bug fixing. And Ocke's to-do list was concrete proof of his hefty workload.

But what about submitting the upstream patches by third-party developers? "Everybody is more than welcome to contribute to the project," said Chris, "even Michael Meeks. But if you want to do that, you have to adhere to some rules designed to ensure the overall quality and stability of the productivity suite. "You can't just say 'Hey, I have a great idea!' and throw some code at us," Chris continued, "you have to take care of other things, which some contributors either don't care about or find boring." Moreover, all developers seemed genuinely interested in the users' feedback. Ocke said that even if you don't have time to submit a bug when you find one, you can always send a report when the suite crashes. The report doesn't contain any personal information, but it does help to identify and fix the issue.

Later, Ocke showed me around and introduced me to the other guys working on the project, and it was really great to meet all of them in person. During lunch, Chris kindly offered to show me the city -- an offer you can't refuse. It turned out that Chris knew a lot about Hamburg and he showed me a few interesting places that I would never have discovered on my own. All in all, it was a fantastic visit that helped me to better understand how the developers work. And I'm very grateful to Ocke and Chris for taking almost an entire day out of their busy schedules to be my hosts. Thanks guys!

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