Welcome to the Skunk Works

A few weeks ago, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth announced a new project initiative dubbed “skunk works”, that would bring talented and trusted members of the Ubuntu community into what were previously Canonical-only development teams working on some of the most interesting and exciting new features in Ubuntu.

Since Mark’s announcement, I’ve been collecting the names and skill sets from people who were interested, as well as working with project managers within Canonical to identify which projects should be made part of the Skunk Works program.  If you want to be added to the list, please create a wiki page using the SkunkWorks/ParticipationTemplate template and send me the link in an email (mhall119@ubuntu.com).  If you’re not sure, continue reading to learn more about what this program is all about.

 What is Skunk Works?

Traditionally, skunk works programs have involved innovative or experimental projects lead by a small group of highly talented engineers.  The name originates from the Lockheed Martin division that produced such marvels as the U-2, SR-71 and F-117.  For us, it is going to focused on launching new projects or high-profile features for existing projects.  We will follow the same pattern of building small, informal, highly skilled teams that can work seamlessly together to produce the kinds of amazing results that provide those “tada” moments.

Why is it secret?

Canonical is, despite what some may say, an open source company.  Skunk Works projects will be no exception to this, the final results of the work will be released under an appropriate open license.  So why keep it secret?  One of the principle features of a traditional skunk works team is autonomy, they don’t need to seek approval for or justify their decisions, until they’ve had a chance to prove them.  Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to produce radically new designs or ideas, everything would either be watered down for consensus, or bogged down by argument.  By keeping initial development private, our skunk works teams will be able to experiment and innovate freely, without having their work questioned and criticized before it is ready.

Who can join?

Our Skunk Works is open to anybody who wants to apply, but not everybody who applies will get in on a project.  Because skunk works teams need to be very efficient and independent, all members need to be operating on the same page and at the same level in order to accomplish their goals.  Mark mentioned that we are looking for “trusted” members of our community.  There are two aspects to this trust.  First, we need to trust that you will respect the private nature of the work, which as I mentioned above is crucial to fostering the kind of independent thinking that skunk works are famous for.  Secondly, we need to trust in your ability to produce the desired results, and to work cooperatively with a small team towards a common goal.

What kind of work is involved?

We are still gathering candidate projects for the initial round of Skunk Works, but we already have a very wide variety.  Most of the work is going to involve some pretty intense development work, both on the front-end UI and back-end data analysis.  But there are also  projects that will require a significant amount of new design and artistic work.  It’s safe to say that the vast majority of the work will involve creation of some kind, since skunk works projects are by their nature more on the “proof” stage of development rather than “polish”.  Once you have had a chance to prove your work, it will leave the confines of Skunk Works and be made available for public consumption, contribution, and yes, criticism.

How to join

Still interested?  Great!  In order to match people up with projects they can contribute to, we’re asking everybody to fill out a short Wiki page detailing their skill sets and relevant experience.  You can use the SkunkWorks/ParticipationTemplate, just fill it in with your information.  Then send the link to the new page to my (mhall119@ubuntu.com) and I will add you to my growing list of candidates.  Then, when we have an internal project join the Skunk Works, I will give the project lead a list of people who’s skills and experience match the project’s need, and we will pick which ones to invite to join the team.  Not everybody will get assigned to a project, but you won’t be taken off the list.  If you revise your wiki page because you’ve acquired new skills or experience, just send me another email letting me know.

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4 Responses to Welcome to the Skunk Works

  1. Bruno Girin says:

    One thing that this post or the template doesn’t answer: how much time do you need to be able to dedicate to this? For instance can someone who is in full employment and would only have the time to participate in his spare time take part in this?

  2. Pingback: A sneak peak inside Ubuntu Skunkworks | Michael Hall

  3. Pingback: Faut-il « nettoyer » une Ubuntu/Canonical ? | Cyrille BORNE et Associés

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