We recently interviewed Ben Cotton on how he uses Fedora. This is part of a series on the Fedora Magazine. The series profiles Fedora users and how they use Fedora to get things done. Contact us on the feedback form to express your interest in becoming an interviewee.

Who is Ben Cotton?

If you follow the Fedora’ Community Blog, there’s a good chance you already know who Ben is. 

Ben’s Linux journey started around late 2002. Frustrated with some issues on using Windows XP, and starting a new application administrator role at his university where some services were being run on FreeBSD. A friend introduced him to Red Hat Linux, when Ben decided it made sense to get more practice with Unix-like operating systems. He switched to Fedora full-time in 2006, after he landed a job as a Linux system administrator.

Since then, his career has included system administration, people management, support engineering, development, and marketing. Several years ago, he even earned a Master’s degree in IT Project Management. The variety of experience has helped Ben learn how to work with different groups of people. “A lot of what I’ve learned has come from making mistakes. When you mess up communication, you hopefully do a better job the next time.”

Besides tech, Ben also has a range of well-rounded interests. “I used to do a lot of short fiction writing, but these days I mostly write my opinions about whatever is on my mind.” As for favorite foods, he claims “All of it. Feed me.”

Additionally, Ben has taste that spans genres. His childhood hero was a character from the science fiction series “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. “As a young lad, I wanted very much to be Wesley Crusher.” His favorite movies are a parody film and a spy thriller: “‘Airplane!’ and ‘The Hunt for Red October’” respectively. 

When asked for the five greatest qualities he thinks someone can possess, Ben responded cleverly: “Kindness. Empathy. Curiosity. Resilience. Red hair.”

Ben wearing the official “#action bcotton” shirt

His Fedora Story

As a talented writer who described himself as “not much of a programmer”, he selected the Fedora Docs team in 2009 as an entry point into the community. What he found was that “the Friends foundation was evident.” At the time, he wasn’t familiar with tools such as Git, DocBook XML, or Publican (docs toolchain at the time). The community of experienced doc writers helped him get on his feet and freely gave their time. To this day, Ben considers many of them to be his friends and feels really lucky to work with them. Notably “jjmcd, stickster, sparks, and jsmith were a big part of the warm welcome I received.”

Today, as a senior program manager, he describes his job as “Chief Cat Herding Officer”- as his job is largely composed of seeing what different parts of the project are doing and making sure they’re all heading in the same general direction. 

Despite having a huge responsibility, Ben also helps a lot in his free time with tasks outside of his job duties, like website work, CommBlog and Magazine editing, packaging, etc… none of which are his core job responsibilities. He tries to find ways to contribute that match his skills and interests. Building credibility, paying attention, developing relationships with other contributors, and showing folks that he’s able to help, is much more important to him than what his “official” title is. 

When thinking towards the future, Ben feels hopeful watching the Change proposals come in. “Sometimes they get rejected, but that’s to be expected when you’re trying to advance the state of the art. Fedora contributors are working hard to push the project forward.“

The Fedora Community 

As a longtime member of the community, Ben has various notions about the Fedora Project that have been developed over the years. For starters, he wants to make it easier to bring new contributors on board. He believes the Join SIG has “done tremendous work in this area”, but new contributors will keep the community vibrant. 

If Ben had to pick a best moment, he’d choose Flock 2018 in Dresden. “That was my first Fedora event and it was great to meet so many of the people who I’ve only known online for a decade.” 

As for bad moments, Ben hasn’t had many. Once he accidentally messed up a Bugzilla query resulting in accidental closure of hundreds of bugs and has dealt with some frustrating mailing list threads, but remains positive, affirming that “frustration is okay.”

To those interested in becoming involved in the Fedora Project, Ben says “Come join us!” There’s something to appeal to almost anyone. “Take the time to develop relationships with the people you meet as you join, because without the Friends foundation, the rest falls apart.”

Pet Peeves

One issue he finds challenging is a lack of documentation. “I’ve learned enough over the years that I can sort of bumble through making code changes to things, but a lot of times it’s not clear how the code ties together.” Ben sees how sparse or nonexistent documentation can be frustrating to newcomers who might not have the knowledge that is assumed.

Another concern Ben has is that the “interesting” parts of technology are changing. “Operating systems aren’t as important to end users as they used to be thanks to the rise of mobile computing and Software-as-a-Service. Will this cause our pool of potential new contributors to decrease?”

Likewise, Ben believes that it’s not always easy to get people to understand why they should care about open source software. “The reasons are often abstract and people don’t see that they’re directly impacted, especially when the alternatives provide more immediate convenience.”

What Hardware?

For work, Ben has a ThinkPad X1 Carbon running Fedora 33 KDE. His personal server/desktop is a machine he put together from parts that runs Fedora 33 KDE. He uses it as a file server, print server, Plex media server, and general-purpose desktop. If he has some spare time to get it started, Ben also has an extra laptop that he wants to start using to test Beta releases and “maybe end up running rawhide on it”.

What Software?

Ben has been a KDE user for a decade. A lot of his work is done in a web browser (Firefox for work stuff, Chrome for personal). He does most of his scripting in Python these days, with some inherited scripts in Perl.

Notable applications that Ben uses include:

  • Cherrytree for note-taking
  • Element for IRC
  • Inkscape and Kdenlive when he needs to edit videos.
  • Vim on the command line and Kate when he wants a GUI

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