Martin Owens

Martin makes FOSS and takes our Twitter mic from May 19 to 26. Thank you, Martin!

Please tell us about yourself

I’m a programmer from the River Mersey and I’ve always been a strong proponent of Free and Open Source politics.

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on Inkscape.

What is most interesting about that?

It’s the combination of technical complexity, user focused design and capacity to transform user’s working lives with access to tools.

How did you first discover FOSS?

I installed Red Hat 6.2 back in 1999 at home and moved from there to SuSE, as soon as I learned about the licensing and politics I never looked back.

What prompted you to start contributing to FOSS?

Passion and politics.

Why should others get involved with FOSS?

If you want control over your technology, if you want to have options, to not be limited by the greed and corruption of the fated few technical giants then you need to invest the time into learning the tools which can allow you to own your own technological destiny.

How should they get started?

I would start as a user, Firefox, LibreOffice, Inkscape. I would first learn how to contribute to those projects with bug reports or just helping other users in forums. Become a part of the community of contributors. See what value you could add to the project and how your voice and concerns can be elevated in a the community. Often users get discouraged by a lack of control and how much effort it can take to get involved, but don’t be disheartened! Keep turning up and you can contribute to the greater future of software for everyone, including yourself.

What difficulties and limitations do you see with FOSS?

Freedom dispels authoritarianism and so Free Software projects require a lot more community management, a lot more consensus building and a mountain load of kindness and gentleness to navigate. The dificulty is that many projects are firstly run by programmers who do not understand the social necessities of growing a project beyond a single contributor and it’s hard to encourage users to be involved when they are not programmers themselves.

How can they be solved?

Patterns. One thing we nerds are good at is learning patterns and behavioural patterns can be a great way of standardising on some of the most successful community and social strategies. Learning from each other is key to this.

Where do you see difficulties in contributing?

Overly technical tools. User interfaces that focus far too much on usability and not nearly enough on creativity, and deviation. We have a culture of setting the bar way too high to be a programmer and forget that setting the bar so low to be a user throws away the idea of a contributing user completely.

What does a perfect day off look like?

A good breakfast, a walk in the mountains in the snow to a place where we watch nature over a lake, return to a fire in the evening with friends and family telling stories and finish in a warm bed with a book or podcast.

Do you want to tell us something else we didn’t ask?

Inkscape has so many keyboard shortcuts that we’ve run out of every combination of every modifier. Every key does something somewhere.