We sat down with Benedict to find out more about his background and what brought him to the Foundation. Please take a moment to see what he has to say and join us in welcoming him to the board!
Tell us a little about yourself, and how you got involved with FreeBSD?
During my undergraduate studies in computer science, I tried out many different Linux distributions. One day, I came across a FreeBSD Live-CD called FreeSBIE. I booted it and was intrigued by how quickly one could switch between terminals on the command line, whereas in all previous distros I saw, this had a noticeable delay. My thought was that if it is already faster on a Live-CD, how would it be when I actually install the system? So, I tried it on my desktop at home in a dual boot setup together with the Linux distro that I had been using. I learned more about FreeBSD by devouring the FreeBSD handbook, blog posts and lurking on mailing lists.
After a while, I realized that I had spent more time in the FreeBSD system than in my Linux partition. So, I decided one day to install FreeBSD as my only operating system and it has been with me ever since. Though I was a FreeBSD user now, I still was not interacting with the FreeBSD community.
That changed one day while being bored writing my master thesis. I read a blog post that the FreeBSD German Documentation team was looking for volunteers. I offered to help translate FreeBSD's documentation into german and was welcomed by the only person (and later mentor, jkois@) maintaining it at the time. I learned how to make changes to the documentation set, commit changes and sending emails back and forth to my mentor, who patiently explained everything. I spent a lot of time on it, which is not something I would recommend doing while writing your thesis (kids, don't try this yourselves). However, things worked out well. Not only did I finish my thesis on time and became a committer in the FreeBSD project, but luck would have it that EuroBSDcon was held in Karlsruhe, Germany that year. I took this opportunity to meet the people who I had only known by their postings on mailing lists. So I went to my first BSD conference and met a lot of nice BSD people there. That was a great experience and I became even more involved in the BSD community. It's been an exciting time and I look forward to what the future brings for FreeBSD. Helping to shape that future through my involvement in the FreeBSD Foundation is equally exciting.
Why are you passionate about serving on the FreeBSD Foundation Board?
The FreeBSD Foundation is a group of dedicated individuals with different backgrounds working together to serve the FreeBSD community. Their diverse set of skills and personalities are, in my opinion, a direct reflection of what the FreeBSD Project is as a whole. Everyone has something to contribute and the community is welcoming and helpful. The FreeBSD Foundation has enabled great things in the past and I hope my contributions as a board member will help continue and increase them further. The most exciting thing for me is that all members of the FreeBSD Foundation are friendly and open-minded people who listen to the problems in the community and look for ways to help. Standing on the shoulders of giants is a phrase that is often used in open source circles. There are a number of ways to get there, but in my opinion the most effective way is when the giant reaches down and helps you get up there. Enabling more people to contribute to the Project is one thing I'd like to help with in my role as member of the Board.
What excited you about our work?
During many conferences, I saw first hand how the Foundation has made it possible for people involved in FreeBSD to meet in person that would otherwise not have had that chance. For example, by providing travel grants to individuals who would not be able to afford going to BSD conferences. Although a lot of interaction is done via online mailing lists and IRC, nothing beats the face to face communication. Not only to discuss difficult problems that contributors and committers alike are working on, but also hanging out together as a group. I've seen many community members form real friendships. It's also nice to see when mentors and mentees meet for the first time. Once the right people are in the room, things start to happen and change, sometimes dramatically fast. Consensus is reached on finding the right solution to a problem, code is being written, activities are coordinated and new plans are made. This would not have happened if the FreeBSD Foundation had not sponsored that BSD conference financially or provided travel grants. Reading about all of the experiences that conference attendees have had in the trip reports that are published afterwards on the Foundation's blog is very satisfying for me.
The Foundation is also doing work that may seem tedious and boring, but needs doing anyway because they're important. Things like paperwork, financial planning and oversight, community management, legal issues, organizing meetings, and marketing and outreach are crucial to help for the Project to sustain and grow. The work that the Foundation does in dealing with that sort of bureaucracy is freeing developers from doing these tasks themselves and allows them to focus on their own work moving the Project forward.
Plus, the Foundation is spending money on infrastructure for the Project such as buying and setting up new build machines, as well as hiring people to support FreeBSD in areas like release engineering, marketing, and project development. Last, but certainly not least, I'm excited what kind of businesses are donating to the FreeBSD Foundation and what industry contacts they have formed over the years. The Foundation is a good bridge for companies and the Project by not directly influencing the Project's direction, but helping to steer it towards mutually beneficial goals.
What are you hoping to bring to the organization and the community through your new leadership role?
My skills include mentoring people into the project. I also have teaching experience in academia and giving talks at open source conferences. These skills tie into the activities of my fellow board members and will be expanded through me by covering more parts of Europe. Representing the Foundation at European conferences and events, telling people about FreeBSD, its features and community, is something I look forward to in my new role. Another thing I'm interested in is reaching out to new users, regardless of whether they via a company, academia, or individuals.
Many people think that it is difficult to contribute something to an open source project. In my opinion, having a will to learn and motivation are the best factors for anyone to bring something to the table. My mentoring experiences have shown me how easy it is for people to add value once they find something they like doing. I saw many of my mentees take on more responsibilities in the Project over time and learn new things I could not have taught them. By serving on the Board, I hope to enable more people to give something back to FreeBSD and experience the benefits it can have to contribute.
How do you see your background and experience complementing the current board?
My background with computer science and academia, as well as the work I’ve done with documentation is a good addition to the members of the Board who are already engaged in these areas. But these are not my only skills, and over time, new areas of interest will develop. I enjoy learning new things, but I also like teaching the things I know to others. In fact, this is one of the things I like about FreeBSD. With the regular influx of new features, constant learning is something that you want to do, rather than being forced to. Hence, I look forward to learning as much from my fellow Foundation members as I do to sharing with them my ideas, viewpoints and motivation.