Many Hats, Part One: Catalyst

I resolved to do a five part series on the Many Hats of, and, having received encouragement from Dana, I thought I’d get started. Last Thursday’s post wasn’t one of the five parts, naturally, because it was an introduction… which means that I still have all five left to go. So in consideration of the harsh reality that Thursday’s post didn’t count, I’m going to take it easy on the first part and select the role we’re possibly best known for, the one Dana attributed to us. This role is, of course, as an open source development catalyst.

The FOSS community is diverse, culturally and geographically. Some FOSS developers work the midnight shift, coding quietly as their loved ones sleep. Others are doing it as their day job, and the more precocious are doing it after school before mom and dad get home, or after college classes finish but before the drinking starts. Also, it’s probably not news to anyone that that no single country generates more than 20% of our total site traffic. Needless to say, open source projects deal with a lot of coordination problems that have traditionally been more rare elsewhere.

Our purpose in this role is to provide a “connection point” for developers trying to work together. In a community as geographically diverse as the FOSS community, this is essential — and the community’s ability to use tools to overcome various challenges is what makes it more prolific than any other. So, first and foremost, we’re a provider of tools that allow developers to get things done.

In 1999, when the site was built, the set of tools needed for projects to conduct themselves with efficiency, transparency, and traceability included:

  • a tool for managing source code
  • a system to manage defects
  • a way for developers to communicate with each other
  • somewhere to define and track upcoming work
  • a place to store builds

The site had all of those things when it launched. Even if they weren’t best of breed at the time (and still aren’t now, in some cases), a lot of the technology we consume today was built using them. We’ve been incrementally improving these original tools, and they remain very heavily used. Between September 19 and September 26, 2007, the project with the most Tracker usage had 640 operations. During that same time period, our heaviest user of SCM had 29,406 commits. And we process over two hundred thousand hojillian* mailing list messages each and every day!

Naturally, things have changed a bit since the site was built. Modern open source development requires modern tools, and our project wiki offering provides another good mechanism for collaboration. We’ve also improved the SCM service by supporting Subversion and we added a Community Hub to enable discussion amongst our entire user population. However, innovation in the open source community doesn’t stop…so we can’t either.

Systems to support continuous integration are becoming a critical part of every open source developer’s tool bag, along with automated build and test suites, distributed source control, and a slew of other stuff – not to mention APIs that can be used to integrate everything together. We’ve been watching these trends very closely and looking for additional ways we can help developers connect, and the potential is high. I suppose that what I found most interesting about Dana’s first post was that this is what we seem to be best known for, yet we have so much more we could provide. To be fair, though, we wear a lot of other hats.

So, now that the easy one’s out of the way, we can focus on the rest. Stay tuned for the next hat: incubator.


* Note: two hundred thousand hojillian is not a number.

[ Continue reading: Part two: Incubator ]

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