People behind Debian: Margarita Manterola, Debian Women member

Photograph taken by Julia Palandri

When I think about Margarita, I always remember her as a friendly and welcoming person. Like most of the Debian Women members by the way. But she likes to spread some love and organized a Debian Appreciation Day for example.

I think I met her in real life for the first time at Debconf 6 in Oaxtepec (Mexico). She deeply cares about Debian in general. She has proven it multiple times with her DPL candidacy and by giving talks like Making Debian rule again.

One last thing, Debconf11 is just over and you will see that Debconf4 has had a big influence on Marga. My advice is simple: next time there’s a Debconf on your continent, make sure to take a few days off and come to meet us! It really gives another picture of the Debian community. Now let’s proceed with the interview.

Raphael: Who are you?

Margarita: I’m Margarita Manterola, a Software Developer from Argentina. I work developing software in Python in a Debian-friendly company during the day, and teach programming at a local university during the evenings.

I’m married to Maximiliano Curia who is also a Debian Developer, most of our Free Software work has been done together.

I only maintain a handful of packages in Debian, I’m more interested in fixing bugs than in packaging new software.

I’ve also been a part of the organizing team of many of the previous Debian Conferences. One of the biggest commitments and the biggest success of my participation in Debian was being part of the organizing team of DebConf8, in Argentina.

Raphael: How did you start contributing to Debian?

Margarita: I started using Debian around 2000. Soon after we had learned the grips of general GNU/Linux usage, Maxy and I started giving an introductory course at our local university, and became quite involved with the local LUG.

At some point in 2002/2003 I became a “Debian Bug Reporter”: most of my friends would report bugs to me, and I would then write them in the proper form to the BTS. I would also be very attentive about reporting any bugs that I might encounter myself trying to create good bug reports.

The turning point in my participation in Debian was DebConf4 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Being so close to Argentina meant that we felt specially invited to be there, and Maxy and I decided to go to DebConf for our honeymoon. We didn’t really know much about DebConf dynamics, but we were really eager to learn more about Debian and become more involved.

What happened was that meeting with DDs from all over the world transformed our lives, we became part of the “Debian family” and wanted to be more and more involved. Soon after that we both started maintaining packages and not long after that, applied to become Developers.

The Debian Women project also meant a lot to me. I felt encouraged all along the way, encouraged to learn, to ask questions and to lose the fear of making mistakes.

I became a Debian Developer on November 2005. Since then, Debian has always been one of the most important things I do in my life.

Raphael There was a Debian Women BoF during debconf. What are the plans for Debian Women in the upcoming months?

Margarita: I was not there in person, but thanks to the awesome work of the video team, and of Christian Perrier’s typing efforts when something failed, I was able to experience much of what was discussed. :)

One of the many points that came up during the BOF is that many people “Want to help” but don’t know where to start or how to go about it. It’s a challenge for the Debian Women project to find a way to allow these people to become involved in Debian through “Mini projects” or something like that.

Another of the subjects that was brought up was the Debian Women mentoring project, which has been going on for quite a while now, but lacks enough publicity. So, we need to reach more people about it, and maybe also improve it with some templates, similar to the New Maintainer templates, so that mentees that don’t know where to start have some sort of general path to follow.

Raphael: You created very useful diagrams documenting how package maintainer scripts are invoked by dpkg. How did you do it and was that a useful experience?

Margarita: I did those diagrams to be able to answer one of the questions in the NM templates, regarding the order of the maintainer script execution.

Answering the question in text was basically copying and pasting the part of the Debian Policy that explained it, which wasn’t really too clear for me, so I decided to go and make a diagram of it, so that I could really understand it.

I did it by the best of all debugging techniques: adding prints to each of the maintainer scripts, and testing them in all the different orders that I could think of.

It was a useful experience at the time, because I learned a lot of how maintainers scripts work. I didn’t expect the diagrams to become so famous, though, I only did them to answer one NM question, that I assumed most other people had already answered before :)

Raphael: You participated in a DPL election. This is a big commitment to make. What were your motivations?

Margarita: As I said, I was part of the organizing team of DebConf8, in Argentina. Which was quite a success, a lot of people enjoyed it and praised the good work that had been done by the local team.

During said DebConf8, I had a dream (it was almost a nightmare, actually): I woke up and just like that, I was the DPL. I spoke to some people about this dream and to my complete surprise many said that I should actually do it.

After giving that possibility a year and a half of thoughts, during the 2010 campaign I was talked into participating myself as a candidate, and it was a very interesting experience. However, I’m very glad that Zack got elected and not me, I think he makes a much better DPL that I would have made.

Raphael: What’s the biggest problem of Debian?

Margarita: I think the main problem that we have is our communication, both inside the project and outside the project. Most of us are very technical people, our skills lay in the technical part of Debian (preparing packages, fixing bugs, writing software, administering systems) not in the social part. And thus, we lack a general empathy that is quite needed when interacting with people from all over the world.

Raphael: Do you have wishes for Debian Wheezy?

Margarita: Not particularly. I do want it to be a great release with good quality, stable software. I would also like to keep making Debian more and more “universal” with each release, making it more user friendly, more accessible, and more robust than any other previous release.

Raphael: Is there someone in Debian that you admire for their contributions?

Margarita: I admire a lot of people in Debian. There’s a lot of people that contribute a lot of time to Debian, amounts of time that I can’t begin to understand how they can afford.

I admire Stefano Zacchiroli, our current project leader. And Steve McIntyre, the project leader before him. Also Bdale Garbee, who’s also been a DPL in the past. Making this list I realize that Debian has been blessed by quite a number of great leaders in the past.

I admire Holger Levsen, for his contributions to the DebConf video team, that have made it possible year after year for the whole project to participate in DebConf remotely.

I admire Steve Langasek and Andreas Barth (etch is still my favourite release). I admire Christian Perrier for his work on internationalization. I admire Joerg Jaspert for the incredible amounts of time that he puts into Debian.

And actually, I could go on admiring people all night long. I admire so many people that this interview could become a very boring list of names. I guess it’s better to leave it at saying that Debian is lucky to have quite a lot of excellent hackers around.


Thank you to Marga for the time spent answering my questions. I hope you enjoyed reading her answers as I did. Subscribe to my newsletter to get my monthly summary of the Debian/Ubuntu news and to not miss further interviews. You can also follow along on Identi.ca, Twitter and Facebook.

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Comments

  1. Great interview :-) I admire Margarita for many reasons, the last that I really appreciate a lot is the “Debian Women Build It Event” [1], so THANKS A LOT FOR YOUR HARD WORK IN DEBIAN MARGARITA!!!.

    [1] http://wiki.debian.org/DebianWomen/BuildItEvent

  2. Thank you Raphaël and Marga.

    Marga, we have similar goals for Debian. I also share your idea about Debian’s biggest problem, although I’m not sure I would call it a simple lack of general empathy. In any case, I would be curious to know if you or anyone else has some evidence suggesting this problem is indeed more important than in other equally technical projects, and if so, if there’s any explanation.
    I imagine that large organizations are more prone to this problem. Could the lack of much hierarchy worsen this for Debian? Is Wikimedia comparable, and if so, is it truely better than Debian, or is Debian’s problem just a fatality? Could improved communication tools help?

    • Margarita Manterola says:

      I’m no expert, so this is just an opinion, not even an “informed opinion”, but I don’t think that having any tools will solve the communication problem, it’d be a technical solution to a social problem.
      From my point of view it’s an issue very much rooted in the way we Debian Developers generally are. We focus on the technical side of things and don’t give the social side that much importance. Other groups (as Wikimedia, for example) might be totally different because the members of the groups are different.

      I think that things have been improving over time, but they could still be better in the future. Ideas that come to mind: talks at DebConf about how to communicate better with each other, wikis about how to announce certain things, getting more people with social skills involved in Debian.

      • I’m curious whether you mean the Wikimedia movement as a whole, including Wikipedia content contributors, or the Wikimedia technical ecology, which includes work on the MediaWiki software. I work at the Wikimedia Foundation so maybe I could help explain the relevant community; just let me know which one. I’m more fluent talking about the latter.

        • Hi Sumana,
          If you mean me, I didn’t have anything precise in mind. I think both communities would be interesting to compare. Both must have their own features.

          The software community must be smaller than the Debian project, but is also a technical community.

          The editors community is less technical, but a lot larger than Debian, and uses different communication tools.

          Unfortunately I’m not involved enough in any to compare the quality of their internal communications with Debian’s.

      • Thank you.
        When you refer to a social problem, do you mean something more/different than a communication problem? A communication problem is not necessarily (only) a social problem IMO.

        I wouldn’t say education on communication addresses “social problems”, but I agree such education could help. Talking about communication education shows that the perhaps vague problem we have in mind is more than a lack of empathy.

        This is an interesting discussion, although not a great place to have it :-|

  3. What a great interview. Very inspiring. Thanks to both Margarita and Raphael.

  4. cristian says:

    Felicidades margarita!!!!!! Saludos y vamos Argentina a favor del Software libre!!!!!

  5. Marga, dejalo al Maxi ese y casate conmigo. Sos hermosa! Pablo.

  6. anonymous says:

    Margarita, eres una de mis DD favoritas. Éxitos.

  7. Thanks for this Raphael.

    Gracias Margarita por ayudar a Debian, es bueno ver gente de Latino America colaborando, Felicidades y continua con el buen y desinterzado trabajo.

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