The Platform Sprint is something that is traditionally limited to Canonical employees, but in recent times there has also been attendance by certain upstreams. It’s held every six months, around the middle of the development cycle; shortly before Final Freeze. In normal Ubuntu style, a hotel is largely taken over for five days and this time it was held in Prague, Czech Republic. This event was also shared with Linaro, the non-profit organisation tasked with making an industry-wide ARM reference platform, with its roots stemming from Ubuntu.
I was asked to attend this recent Sprint which has now been renamed as Platform Rally. My interests are generally split between Server, Cloud and community. Not having been to one before, but being aware of their existence, I was somewhat excited and apprehensive about what to expect.
With every release, Canonical sets a certain amount of specifications it wants to deliver itself for the next Ubuntu release. These tasks are mainly created at UDS, within the public view. These blueprints are those that Canonical engineers are tasked to work on, and are generally maintained on Launchpad and the Ubuntu wiki. While Ubuntu and Canonical are well versed in the style of distributed development, it seems that occasional real-life collaboration helps to stimulate the development cycle: by collecting the right people, together focusing on the specifications they are tasked with.
However, essentially locking some of the core contributors to Ubuntu in rooms all week to work on specific problems also had the negative effect of normal bug work (triaging/uploads) not directly related to the blueprints seeming to get neglected for the week. In every other respect, it’s a normal work week for Canonical employees; it is certainly not a conference.
I feel it’s important to draw a distinction between what this Platform Sprint/Rally event is and the Ubuntu Developers Summit, which is also held every six months at the start of each development release.
The UDS is a planning event, where specifications and blueprints are discussed, ratified and specific goals are determined. These Sprints are different; they are held around the middle of development, with the task of giving Canonical’s platform developers a much-needed resource and development boost. For some teams, it also serves the purpose of reviewing what each of the engineers does and wants to focus on for the next term. This is quite well classified with team administration and in my opinion it’s an aspect not of great interest to the wide community.
Each team tends to have their own room for their day-long meetings and appeared to be self-controlling their timetable. The only mass-events were morning plenary sessions, and lunch. One of the key benefits of this event, was the ability to be able to drop into other rooms to speak with members of other teams. This is often referred to as cross-pollination, but I think I’ll avoid that terminology. Many Canonical employees work on their tasks from home; this event is not especially different from normal activity – the only key difference is the working location.
I feel that it’s important to raise that no decisions really get made during the week; it’s purely a ‘hacking’ time. Something that particularly struck me was the eagerness for people to help each other. I think the attendees would not dispute that they wanted to achieve a great deal during the week.
Canonical, being distributed by nature, could easily suffer from lack of team spirit and isolation. I observed team bonding, which seemed to be another major gain for Canonical’s teams being involved with this event.
There was also a social aspect to the week, was an official bowling and go-karting evening. It was proposed as being a team-building event, and it achieved this – if only to see fellow developers in a non-work setting and getting to know them better. Jonathan Riddell, of KDE/Kubuntu fame, also took me canoeing on moving water, which essentially meant I got very wet!
I didn’t quite know what to expect at this event, but I knew it would be hard work. What I didn’t expect was the level of hard . I came home quite exhausted, but a good sense of fulfilment with getting to know the team members better and making significant progress with some of the project I was working on. It was then everybody’s task to try and catch up on their normal tasks, outside of the blueprints and the mountain of email which I’m sure most neglected.
The next Ubuntu development related event will be the UDS for 11.04 (N release, codename not yet announced), being held this time in Orlando, Florida, USA. It will be held on the week commencing 25 October 2010; while this is open to everybody, it isn’t a traditional conference but a planning event with hard work involved. Further information on this event can be found here.
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