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Luciana Fujii Pontello: The GNU/Linux Girl Who Says Cheese!

Daniel G Seigel, creator of Cheese, recently announced the new version of Cheese. He mentioned that the new version was driven by ‘three lovely ladies’. Out of these three Charlie’s Angels one was Luciana Fuji Pontello, who was responsible for the camerabin port and gobject introspection support. It couldn’t have been timed better as this week we celebrated the International Women Day. So, we reached out to Luciana Fuji Pontello to understand the role of women in the FOSS world.

Swapnil: Could you please tell more about yourself, who you are and your technical background?
Fujii:
I’m from Belo Horizonte – Brazil, the city with most bars per people in Brazil.

I’m 26 years old and I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Right now I’m in the end of my participation in the GNOME Outreach Program for Women, which is a 3 month internship program. It is similar to Google Summer of Code, designed as incentive for more women to participate in GNOME.

Swapnil: When did you start using computers?
Fujii:
I think I was 11 years old, 15 years ago, when my mother brought home an used Macintosh. She is a designer and got the computer as part of payment for some job. I wasn’t really much of a hacker back then, I mostly used the computer to play, do school work and, after we got internet, to chat and download music.

Swapnil: When was the first time you came across Free Software and GNU/Linux?
Fujii:
I don’t remember exactly when was the first time I came across a GNU/Linux distribution, probably 2001. I do remember it was a Connectiva distribution, which was very popular in Brazil at the time. The computer that I shared with my mother, our first PC, was a dual boot machine. I used Windows almost exclusively because dial-up internet didn’t work on Connectiva.
 
In 2002, I took this computer to an Install Fest and someone installed Debian on it for me. It actually broke the Windows installation and it was a little hard to fix, but in that time I became more aware of what Free Software was. In 2003, I got into College, which mostly had GNU/Linux desktops in its labs, and I bought my first desktop and installed Debian GNU/Linux on it. I consider that as my real start using GNU/Linux.

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Swapnil: There is a myth that GNU/Linux is for geeks, what do you say? Is GNU/Linux cool for girls?
Fujii:
I think there was a time when making a computer work with GNU/Linux required a lot of technical skills, so it was mostly a geeky thing. I had a hard time in the beginning. I didn’t start that early but I got a lot of help. Even at that time, after everything was configured, I had a more pleasant time using GNOME than using Windows. I guess I never got used to Windows after switching from Mac.
 
Nowadays almost everything works out of the box. There are plenty of distributions suited for many user types, including non-geek ones. If you’re not used to windows and you’re the regular user that uses the computer for e-mail, browsing the internet, music and video, I would say using some GNU/Linux distributions is much easier than starting on Windows. Change is always difficult, though, and some users have very specific needs. So, I don’t think GNU/Linux is only for geeks, but I recognize it might not be ideal for everyone yet.
 
As for it being cool for girls, I would say it is just as cool as it is for boys. I don’t see much difference in that matter.
 
Swapnil: Which distribution do you use and why? (Which Desktop Environment do you use?)  
Fujii:
I use Debian and GNOME.
 
Swapnil: I use Free Software for freedom and not essentially price. That doesn’t mean GNU/Linux guys are cheap, our hardware is usually top-notch ;-) Why do you use GNU/Linux — for freedom or for price?
Fujii:
For freedom.
 
Swapnil: What is the percentage of girls working as FOSS developers, are you well connected with them? Is there any platform where we can bring together the girl power behind FOSS (GNU/Linux, BSD)?
Fujii:
I don’t know the exact percentage of women working as FOSS developers. I have observed and read that the percentage is very low, even lower than the percentage of women in IT.

I don’t think I’m well connected with them, but I think the GNOME Outreach program gave me the opportunity to know a little more about them, which is great. I think we can bring girl power to FOSS in general and there are good initiatives that are discussing how that can be done.
 
Swapnil: Can you name some leading FOSS developers who are women?
Fujii:
I can think of Valerie Aurora and Amaya Rodrigo, who are also engaged in bringing more women to FLOSS. We have Stormy Peters, who is more of a free software advocate than developer. Off course there are many more developers, this list could be a great resource:
http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_women_in_FLOSS. I’m sure many of them are leading developers, I just don’t know much about their work.

Swapnil: How friendly is the FOSS world towards girls?
Fujii:
Well, I think being minority is always a little unpleasant. It is a little intimidating to be the only women in a room or in the whole conference, for instance. Besides, there are some people who are not friendly to people in general, not just to women. And there is some sexism sometimes even from people that are well meaning in the spirit “you code well for a girl”.
 
I know some women have had really bad experiences in FOSS environments, and that’s scary. Fortunately, I haven’t had any such experience except for random displays of bias towards men as more competent, which I think is a general tendency towards women. So, it may not be specific to FOSS.

I think being part of GNOME Outreach Program actually made the FOSS world be more friendly for me than it is to newcomers in general and that is awesome. It is a great opportunity to have a mentor  who can help you through the rough spots and an incredible opportunity to be able to spend three months working on free software with a stipend.

One funny thing is that most of the people who I communicate with only through IRC think I am a man because I use fujii as a nick. I tried to correct the same person twice this week. Even though I told him that I’m a woman he forgot and kept the idea that ‘everybody is male in the FOSS world’.

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Swapnil: Is software development your full-time job or part-time hobby? If it is a full time job, can one live a decent life by being a FOSS developer?
Fujii:
FOSS development is my full-time job. Even before GNOME Outreach Program I was working on FOSS development full-time. Sure, you can live a decent life by being a FOSS developer.

I’m no market expert, but there are many companies hiring FOSS developers and/or requiring consultancy in that area. To highlight just a few, in the mobile and tablet market you can work with Symbian, Android, Meego and even HP’s WebOS and there will be a lot of free software involved. Companies that work with web usually have a lot of opportunities for free software developers. There is a huge market of “Enterprise Linux” and embedded systems. I would say most big companies work are involvement with free software at some level. Of course some are more friendly to the community and some are not.

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Luciana Fujii PontelloSwapnil: How and when did you get involved with Cheese?
Fujii:
I got involved with Cheese because of the GNOME Outreach Program. I decided to apply for Cheese because while I was working on the development of a streaming software I used Cheese’s code as an example of how to do some things work using GStreamer, so I felt more comfortable with working on it.
 
Swapnil: What is your involvement with Cheese and how do you manage development? How do you coordinate with other team members?
Fujii:
To apply for GNOME Outreach Program I made a list of things I intended to work on. Some of them were suggested by Daniel Siegel – Cheese maintainer, some I proposed because of my earlier experience with GStreamer. I haven’t followed all of it for various reasons such as change of priorities, or lack of agreement in the way things should be done, but that was my guide to follow.
 
I don’t know if I can say much about the way Cheese is coordinated. I check most of the things I do with Daniel Siegel and Thiago Santos, my mentor for GNOME Outreach Program. I also discuss most of the things in the #cheese channel in IRC.
 
Swapnil: Are there other FOSS projects you are working on?
Fujii:
Not right now. I have sent small contributions to GStreamer, but as part of my work on Cheese.
 
Swapnil: The hardware support for GNU/Linux is improving (in true terms is far better than any other platform), however when we go out to buy things like webcams, we always run risk of it being not supported on GNU/Linux (vendor’s fault), so what is your suggestion for users who is going out to buy a webcam?
Fujii:
I have been lucky with the webcams I got, they have always worked well out-of-the-box without me paying attention to it. But if you’re buying a webcam right now I would say search about it to make sure if it is supported under Linux.

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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