Interview with Emma Jane Hogbin

Amber Graner: Today we talk to Emma Jane Hogbin, Technical Author, HiCKTech creator, Drupal Guru, Ubuntu Member and the list goes on. Before I want to say thank you for taking the time to tell us about your journey into the Ubuntu Project. Emma can you tell us a little about when and how you got involved in FOSS? Also, How and when did you get involved with the Ubuntu Project?

Emma Jane Hogbin: When I first graduated from university I chatted with various companies to find out what kind of work I wanted to do. (My degree is in Environmental Science, but I took a job as a project manager for a Web design company that specialized in web sites for environmental groups.) One of the companies that I met with had an entire shelf of Adobe software boxes. I made a comment about warez sites, and the owner of the company responded by saying that carpenters don't steal their hammers. My father is a wood worker, so this hit home in exactly the right way for me. From that point on I started looking into free and open source tools.

I spent a year using only FOSS software on Windows before making the final switch to the Linux desktop (Debian). I immediately had problems with my laptop and had to patch and recompile my kernel. The Debian mailing list encouraged me to write up the steps I'd taken to fix my problem. Werner Heuser (tuxmobil.org) encouraged me to publish them with the Linux Documentation Project. From that point on I have been at least peripherally involved in the desktop communities for the distro that I use.

AG: Emma you are involved in so many wonderful projects; you took part in Ubuntu Open Week (https://wiki.ubuntu.com/UbuntuOpenWeek) with a session on "Writing a Book" (https://wiki.ubuntu.com/MeetingLogs/openweekKarmic/WriteBook). Can you tell us about your Drupal Book and other technical writings you have done.

EJH: Front End Drupal, my first book with a Real Publisher, has been a fantastic journey. I love teaching. It isn't so much about being the authority though. I love it when my students leap beyond what I've said and make their own predictions about how things work. Front End Drupal isn't your typical computer book. It has lots of little bits to keep the reader interested. From ponies, kittens, and ducks to pirates, orks and hobbits, Front End Drupal is actually a "readable" book.

I don't always inject my sense of humour into my technical writing though. When I'm contributing to a collected work (such as a documentation project) I tend to be more "straight" in my writing style. This makes it easier for other contributors, and also for the reader who may be jumping in and out of the documentation at various points. To date I've contributed documentation to a number of open source projects including Bazaar, Drupal, The Linux Documentation Project, and Ubuntu.

AG: Your HiCK Tech site is full of amazing classes? First what is HiCK Tech the conference? What is HiCK Tech the Company? How did you come up with the idea behind it? And What Classes are offered there.

EJH: HICK Tech the conference is a one-day rural technology forum that addresses How the Internet Connects Knowledge. The goal is to highlight the amazing achievements in rural technology (including bovine breeding, and linking remote hospitals to track disease); but also to share some of the innovative "high tech" things that happen in the big city. I live in a rural community and felt isolated from all of the conferences that were happening in big cities. Instead of being upset about what I didn't have, I decided to throw myself a conference that had all the elements that were important to me.

From the one-day conference an entire consulting company has emerged (HICK Tech the company). The things that I deal with as a small business in rural Canada are not unique. Open source software can solve nearly all of the problems that are presented to me by my clients. HICK Tech tries to figure out how to pool resources to make technology even more affordable. I've given several talks on my 100 Mile Client Roster and have started to collect this information at www.100mileclientroster.com in an attempt to help other small businesses earn a living in their communities.

The classes that HICK Tech offers all help small businesses get more from technology. The students are small business owners who need to learn specific skills to keep their own Web presence up-to-date. I've also had interest from designers who want to learn open source tools; and entrepreneurs who want to learn how to launch their own Web design business.

AG: The first time I spoke with you was in the Ubuntu Women IRC Channel on Freenode, so I know you are involved in this Project, can you tell us about your involvement with this Project and also are there any other teams/groups/projects that focus on Women in Open Source you are involved in or could recommend.

EJH: My initial involvements with the UW project were focused on moving beyond a gendered social space. While I think these spaces are incredibly important, we are at risk of never moving beyond them to participation in the broader community. Within the UW project I have mostly worked on community advocacy. I encourage other women to step up to their passions and take part in the larger FOSS community. I have actively encouraged women to present at conferences, and to apply for sponsorship to events. I help squash the "I'm not good enough" bug and empower women to feel confident about their abilities, and to ask questions when they need help.

Women should feel welcome in any community they want to be a part of. The reality is that not every community welcomes newcomers with grace. Every contributor to open source projects needs to be able to feel their time and opinions are going to matter. Sometimes it can take a couple of attempts to find someone in a project who will be a good mentor. I encourage everyone to be persistent when they are passionate; but to move on when the fit doesn't feel good.

AG: Are there any other FOSS projects, such as your documentation work, that you are involved in that you would like to take the time to share with everyone?

EJH: I'm really excited about all of the great work that's been happening in the world of documentation. This year I hosted what I believe is the first ever open source documentation conference. We had contributors from many different open source projects and participants from four different countries. Usability is getting a lot of attention these days, and I think it's only a matter of time before people realize how important user help and documentation are to the user experience. The conference will be running again in 2010. People who are passionate about user help and documentation are encouraged to create an account at www.writingopensource.com.

AG: When I read about how you released the pattern for you one of your knitting projects a bell went off for me anyway: GPL can be used for many things only one of which is Operation Systems and Code. I have seen first hand the brilliant and complex knitting projects you work on, and I have seen pictures of the now famous Drupal Socks you have knitted as well. Any plans for some Ubuntu socks, other items? Can you tell us about the GPL license you released the pattern for the socks under?

EJH: Not all community contributions have to be made in front of a computer. It's true, I did knit the Drupal socks. A friend of mine had given me countless hours of free tech support to help me with some Drupal problems I was having. As thanks, I knit him a pair of Drupal socks.

Druplicon, the mascot, is licensed under the GPL. I felt it was only fair to release my "code" back into the commons under the same license that made it legally possible for me to knit the socks. The pattern is available from http://www.emmajane.net/craft/drupal. It has been featured at many DrupalCon conferences as well as in CRAFTzine (http://craftzine.com/). I don't have any plans to knit other logo items, and if I did it would only have to be an open source image that I was replicating. Crafters who are interested in creating logoed items may find knitPro (http://www.microrevolt.org/knitPro/) useful. This software was definitely part of my toolkit when I first created the sock pattern.

Crazy things like socks are a great way to show people that it's not just the code that matters, the part that really matters is the passion to volunteering in whatever way suits you best. Knitting the socks has given the Drupal project far more exposure than if I'd contributed the same amount of time in code patches. We need to embrace all positive contributions—no matter how wacky they seem.

AG: Also can you tell folks about the award you created and the process in creating the award.

EJH: This fall I created a tech award at my local high school. It was remarkably easy. This year's recipient, Sadie Hewgill, is now enrolled in Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. She was granted the award for demonstrating creative use of technology. I created the award because I wanted a simple way to make one girl feel proud of her technology-related accomplishments. The only way to affect real change is when each person you reach out to feels personally connected to the change you are seeking.

The award I created isn't about having the best marks or winning buckets of cash. It's about being excited about technology; creating award winning technologists; and about having an entire gymnasium of people clap because you did something special. On my blog I wrote up the steps I took to create the award (www.emmajane.net/howto/create-award). I hope it will inspire others to find creative ways to encourage even more girls to stay interested in the skilled trades and IT.

AG: FOSS contributor, Author, Conference Planner, Mentor, Savvy Businesswoman, to Community Contributor both in your hometown and the FOSS communities, is there anything I have left off of forgotten to mention that you would like to tell people about?

EJH: I think you've covered everything. As always, you've asked great questions. Thanks, Amber!

AG: Emma thank you so much for taking the time to wear yet another hat in the roll of interviewee and spend some time sharing a little about you and your adventures in, and around the Ubuntu and FOSS Communities. I always walk away having learned something from every conversation we have. It is my hope that others will be inspired by the things that you do and are involved in, just as I continue to be. Thank you for all you do and thank you again for your time with this interview series.

[Discuss Emma Jane Hogbin’s Interview on the Forum]

Originally posted by Amber Graner in Full Circle Magazine Issue #32 on January 1, 2010

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