Interview with Guilhem Moulin, TDF Infrastructure

Photo by Kévin Perrot, CC BY

Photo by Kévin Perrot, CC BY

A short interview to introduce Guilhem Moulin, the team member in charge of the development and the maintenance of The Document Foundation (TDF) infrastructure since October.

Q1. You have just started to take care of TDF infrastructure. Why did you apply for the role?

I finished my studies last spring and wanted to take a few months off to travel a bit and try to tie some loose ends on the many side projects I started earlier and never had time to finish. In particular, with the Debian 9 freeze approaching, I wanted to do some triaging on the BTS to help uploading some new upstream releases to the next Debian Stable. All in all, I was not really in a hurry to start with a new day job.

Of course, although I live rather cheaply, I had limited savings and I knew at some point I would have to find a job to pay the bills. I was looking for that day with apprehension, because I didn’t want to take a usual “9 to 5” job in an office, and was also afraid to have to make compromises and use proprietary software or closed formats to comply to an employer’s internal policy.

Although I never was a member, I knew TDF as a major actor of the Free Software ecosystem and as a strong supporter of open formats. So when one of my friends tipped me about the opening at TDF, I jumped on my keyboard to prepare an application. The mere fact of managing the infrastructure of one of the most popular Free Software projects out there was a unique enough opportunity to combine the practical and the enjoyable without renouncing my convictions. Furthermore, working from home with flexible working hours was particularly appealing to me.

Q2. Can you provide a short personal background, including both your education and work experiences?

I’ve been at school until very recently, actually I grew up in France and moved to Gothenburg (Sweden) in 2010 for my doctoral studies. I have graduated earlier this year with a PhD in theoretical Computer Science from Chalmers University of Technology [0].

In parallel to my studies, I did some volunteering work for various organizations. In particular, I’ve been a volunteer system administrator at Fripost [1], a Sweden-based association (ideell
förening) providing an email infrastructure for its members.

Q3. Which is your perception of the project, as seen from outside and then as a team member (even for a short time)?

As a mere user, I was aware that LibreOffice was one of the biggest Free Software project out there, and although I wasn’t familiar with TDF internals, I was very pleased it was managed by a non-profit organization.

My first contact with the community was in Brno earlier this year (at the LibreOffice Conference), and I was impressed by its cohesion. I also immediately felt very welcome! Moreover, I’m used to go to conferences where the audience is a lot less diverse, and I was pleased to see a better gender / ethnic / background balance at LibreOCon. Even if I know there is still a long, long way to go…

As a very fresh team member, I’m still trying to get up to speed on the infrastructure. But I’d say staff & team members reflect the atmosphere of the general community and so far have been very helpful and very welcoming.

Q4. Which are the objectives of your role within TDF, in the short and long term?

Aside from regular internal infrastructure maintenance, which is probably irrelevant for most members and contributors, my short term goal is to implement Single Sign On (starting with the most popular services, namely Gerrit, the wiki, and Bugzilla) so people don’t have to remember one set of credentials per service. I’m also eager to try out Jabber/XMPP [2] as a modern (and free!) alternative to our weekly phone calls.

A long term goal would be to lower the threshold to get oneself accustomed to the infrastructure. Getting fresh blood in the infra team is crucial for sustainability, especially in a non-profit where most of the contributors are volunteers.

Q5. How would you describe yourself?

I guess I’m an idealist, and rather binary: I’m absolutely passionate about the things I care about — and find it really hard to make compromises about these (so I guess it’s good I ended up in infra and not in marketing :-D) — and I tend to neglect the rest. As such, I live a relatively simple life and value principles over comfort or convenience.

Q6. Are you contributing to other open source projects? If yes, which is your role, and which are your expectations?

I’ve been a Debian GNU/Linux [3] user for over a decade, but only became a maintainer around 2 years ago, after a couple of months contributing to various packages. Debian is aiming at being the “the universal operating system”, and of course I expect its releases to become better and better.

Beside package maintenance and some minor contributions to my packages’ upstream I enjoy email-related protocols, and one of my long-term project is to write an email client to replace the venerable mutt [4] I’ve been using for around 10 years.

I also feel close to the GnuPG [5] and Tor [6] communities, although for the latter, I mostly contribute by only running relays these days.

Q7. Last, but not least, which is your personal hardware/software configuration? Do you have any preferred tool?

I still use the old Thinkpad X60s I bought second hand in 2010 (although I believe I changed every single part by now: screen, motherboard, case,…) the BIOS of which I replaced by a free one (libreboot [7]). By today’s standard a Core™2 Duo isn’t that fast anymore, but it doesn’t bother me much as I tend to use my laptop merely as a terminal: for builds or heavy computation I remotely access a workstation. I also recently bought an USB armory from Inverse Path [8] which I would like to use as an air gap for my GnuPG secret keyring.

Of course, I run Debian GNU/Linux [3] on all my machines (sid on my laptop & workstations, and the latest stable on servers) I don’t use a desktop environment like GNOME or KDE, but a minimalist tiling window manager (dwm [9]) instead. My editor of choice is Vim, and the current email client is mutt [4]. For web browsing I pretty much exclusively use the Tor Browser. In fact, I’d say Tor is my favorite tool.

[0], [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9]