South African tech expert re-elected as Debian Project Lead

South African tech expert re-elected as Debian Project Lead

Developers of the Debian Linux distribution have re-elected Jonathan Carter as the leader of the free operating system project.

Carter is a South African based in Cape Town who works part-time for the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, where he does system administration work on the institutional network that it uses in its centres across Africa.

He has served as the Debian Project Lead since April 2020 and was re-elected for another year. Carter is the first South African elected to the post.

Debian is an important player in the global free software and open-source ecosystems.

Besides being a popular operating system on servers and desktop computers in its own right, Debian is also used as the foundation of several other widely used Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu (founded by Mark Shuttleworth, also a South African) and its many derivatives.

Debian was also a pioneer in providing users with central software repositories, releasing its Advanced Packaging Tool in 1999.

Programming languages and software development frameworks adopted the concept, and you can find package management systems in Python, Ruby, Node.js, and Rust.

The idea of software repositories also evolved into the app stores we have on smartphones, Windows, and MacOS today.

Jonathan Carter - Debian Project Lead
Jonathan Carter – Debian Project Lead (right)

Carter ran for re-election on a platform of addressing administrative weak spots in the Debian project, and continuing his goals for community-building from his previous term.

He highlighted the need to improve accounting, implement an expenditure policy, and working on formalising their relationships with certain partners.

There is also a need to investigate the controversial issue of formally registering the Debian organisation, Carter said.

“I believe that we should spend some money on consulting to find out what might be the best [type of organisation] for the project and collectively decide on how we want to proceed. It will likely result in a general resolution ballot,” he said.

Carter said that based on his own reading, a fully-fledged foundation may be overkill for the Debian project, and a simple non-profit organisation may be more appropriate.

On the topic of community building, Carter said that he would like to continue to make it easier for new contributors to join the Debian project.

“Debian can sometimes be a really difficult project to get involved with. It’s almost like starting a new job,” Carter said.

“We use so many different systems and have many processes within the project. Of course, this is necessary for any project of this size.”

What makes it more difficult to get involved in Debian than joining a new company is that there is no manager that will tell you what to do or how to get going.

“It can be overwhelming for some people. I think a good guide that contains some checklists and how-tos for new contributors could go a long way in making the project more accessible for new contributors,” said Carter.

For his upcoming term, Carter said he thinks they can do even better and have some introductory videos and documents on the tools they use and how they work.

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