Portrait: Luis Villa, from Bugzilla to bar association
In 10 years, Luis Villa
has seen his
career expand side by side with free and open source software (FOSS).Starting as bugmaster at Ximian, one of the companies that shaped GNOME as we know it today, he has been a mid-level manager at Novell, the coordinator of testing with the GNOME project, and a frequent member of the GNOME Foundation Board.More recently, Villa has been a student at Columbia Law School.
hopes to use his
knowledge of how FOSS and business interact to benefit both.
PortraitsIn many ways, the outline of Villa's career has been obvious from his
college days, when he
took a double major in political science and computing.At the time, he
had no idea that the two might be connected.
Before long, Villa
saw the community as a place where his
two interests could unite."I was very curious about the non-technical aspects from day one," he
says."It was obvious to me that the core notion that a bunch of people could get together on the Internet and produce something was really revolutionary.It was just obvious that there was something important that was going on socially and politically." Villa began doing quality assurance work for Mozilla.He
made this choice, he
says, largely because it enabled him to make small contributions without dedicating large blocks of time for any one project.By the time he
graduated and started looking for work in Fall 2000, he
had a modest reputation among friends for his
understanding of Bugzilla
, the well-known bug-tracking tool.
A couple of Villa's friends were among the early employees of Ximian
.At first, Villa
had little thought of joining them."I'm a good programmer, but I'm not a great programmer, and at that time Ximian
was only hiring great programmers."
says, "None of them could work Bugzilla
to save their lives."When he
was offered a position at Ximian
also considered a Silicon Valley position that seemed to offer a fast track to wealth, but he
offer because "I thought it would be a lot of fun."Four months later, the other company went bankrupt. Villa joined Ximian at the height of the dot-com bubble.
Referring to Ximian's
monkey trademark and jungle-theme trade fair booth, Villa
says, "We all had monkeys on our desks, and there was stuff like giving away massive piles of monkeys and that booth that were very dot-com.In some sense, we were a wild-eyed, kind of crazy startup, and I have some of the usual stories about living in the office for hours and hours and weeks."
At the same time, Ximian
was interacting regularly with established companies who were showing their first tentative interest in FOSS.Because of that interaction, Villa
thinks now, "We were pretty grounded.
was testing core tools, the step from his
daily job to volunteering at GNOME
was a small one, and he
was soon doing similar work as a volunteer in that community.
Villa's GNOME work, he
says, was "Almost completely in testing.Other than hacking on Bugzilla
itself, I think there's probably one line in GNOME
by me.Frankly, I hate C [the programming language].I have more fun with the social stuff anyway, like working with the volunteers."
The task at GNOME
says, was not getting people to file bugs, "but working to get them to file quality bugs.
At first, Villa
remembers, "We were all pretty excited.We thought there would be great synergy."However, after 18 months, Villa
, unlike many of his
fellow employees from Ximian
, decided to move on.
was used to a flat hierarchy, and being able to be involved with many aspects of a project at once.By contrast, he
says, "At Novell, extra levels of management came in, and you had to deal more with sales and marketing.
Just as importantly, Villa
was becoming increasingly interested in the legal aspects of FOSS."It was becoming increasingly clear that open source could not ignore the legal rules, because the legal rules were not going to ignore it.So I became more and more curious, and I was living right across the street from Harvard Law School
-- literally -- and that made the choice very easy for me." Villa
remembers talking with Eben Moglen at Linuxconf.au
growing legal interests."I cornered him after his
talk and said, 'Hey, should I go to law school?' And he
said, 'No, no, no, don't go to law school.You'll end up deep in debt, and you'll have to do horrible things.Keep doing the good things you're doing.'" Stalling, Villa became what he calls "geek in residence" at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, where he was in charge of organizing the various social projects that faculty developed from their research.His
says, was to find out "whether I could stand being around lawyers all the time."
chose to follow Moglen's example rather than his
advice, and enrolled as a law student.Currently in his second year, he recently became editor-in-chief of the Columbia Science and Technology Law Review.
Although the journal has always published all of its content online, "We're not as astute about these things as we would like to be," Villa
says."Whether or not law journals like it, they're going to be impacted by the Internet.So my goal as editor-in-chief is to see what I can do to help my journal and maybe all journals adopt." The GNOME
Foundation BoardMeanwhile, Villa continues to be serve on the GNOME Foundation Board, a position to which he has been elected four times.
Just as testing in Ximian
led to management, so it led to a leadership position in GNOME
says that working with the board usually involves daily interaction with other board members, varying from a few email exchanges to practically full-time work, depending on what he
is working on. As a long-time board member, Villa says that one of the ongoing problems with the board is that many members are torn between their personal preferences and the responsibility of directing GNOME's future.
...Unlike many in the FOSS community, Villa does not see the involvement of corporations in GNOME through the Foundation as a problem -- although he admits that, considering his past, he may not be the best judge of the situation.He
points out that some aspects promoted by corporate Foundation members, including accessibility and usability, are ones that the hackers of the GNOME community might not have tackled by themselves.
The result, according to Villa
, is that the divisions between community and corporate interests that many fear simply haven't materialized."I don't think there has ever been a significant one since I've been involved.I think our community is very pragmatic, and that means by and large that everybody understands that we're all on the same page."
Community and corporation
spoke with Linux.com
was looking forward to a summer associateship at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
in Silicon Valley, where he
also hopes to work after being called to the bar. Villa's
goal is to continue to act as the bridge between community and corporate cultures that he
has been in the past.
...Portrait: Luis Villa, from Bugzilla to bar association Apr 18, 2008
...Portrait: Luis Villa, from Bugzilla to bar association Apr 18, 2008
...on Portrait: Luis Villa, from Bugzilla to bar association
Note: Comments are owned by the poster.We are not responsible for their content. Portrait: Luis Villa, from Bugzilla to bar association Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 188.8.131.52] on April 18, 2008 09:33 PM
A couple of small edits:Caption mispells his
name - it's Luis
- not Louis
It's the Berkman Center
- not Beekman center
...Re: Portrait: Luis Villa, from Bugzilla to bar association