Meet the newest member of the Design Team, project manager Davide Casa. He will be working with the Platform Team to keep us all in check and working towards our goals. I sat down with him to discuss his background, what he thinks makes a good project manager and what his first week was like at Canonical (spoiler alert – he survived it).

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You can read Davide’s blog here, and reach out to him on Github and Twitter with @davidedc.

Tell us a bit about your background?

My background is in Computer Science (I did a 5 year degree). I also studied for an MBA in London.

Computer science is a passion of mine. I like to keep up to date with latest trends and play with programming languages. However, I never got paid for it, so it’s more like a hobby now to scratch an artistic itch. I often get asked in interviews: “why aren’t you a coder then?” The simple answer is that it just didn’t happen. I got my first job as a business analyst, which then developed into project management.

What do you think makes a good project manager?

I think the soft skills are incredibly relevant and crucial to the role. For example: gathering what the team’s previous experience of project management was, and what they expect from you, and how deeply and quickly you can change things.

Is project management perceived as a service or is there a practise of ‘thought leadership’?

In tech companies it varies. I’ve worked in Vodafone as a PM and you felt there was a possibility to practice a “thought leadership”, because it is such a huge company and things have to be dealt with in large cycles. Components and designs have to be agreed on in batches, because you can’t hand-wave your way through 100s of changes across a dozen mission-critical modules, it would be too risky. In some other companies less so. We’ll see how it works here.

Apart from calendars, Kanban boards and post-it notes  – what else can be used to help teams collaborate smoothly?

Indeed one of the core values of Agile is “the team”. I think people underestimate the importance of cohesiveness in a team, e.g. how easy it is for people to step forward and make mistakes without fear. A cohesive team is something that is very precious and I think that’s a regularly underestimated. You can easily buy tools and licenses, which are “easy solutions” in a way. The PM should also help to improve the cohesiveness of a team, for example creating processes that people can rely on in order to avoid attrition, and resolve things. Also to avoid treating everything like a special case to help deal with things “proportionally”.

What brings you to the Open Source world?

I like coding, and to be good coder, one must read good code. With open source the first thing you do is look around to see what others are doing and then you start to tinker with it. It has almost never been relevant for me to release software without source.

Have you got any side projects you’re currently working on?

I dabble in livecoding, which is an exotic niche of people that do live visuals and sounds with code (see our post on Qtday 2016). I am also part of the Toplap collective which works a lot on those lines too.

I also dabble in creating an exotic desktop system that runs on the web. It’s inspired by the Squeak environment, where everything is an object and is modifiable and inspectable directly within the live system. Everything is draggable, droppable and composable. For example, for a menu pops up you can change any button, both the labelling or the function it performs, or take apart any button and put it anywhere else on the desktop or in any open window. It all happens via “direct manipulation”. Imagine a paint application where at any time while working you can “open” any button from the toolbar and change what the actual painting operation does (John Maeda made such a paint app actually).

The very first desktop systems all worked that way. There was no concept of a big app or “compile and run again”. Something like a text editor app would just be a text box providing functions. The functions are then embodied in buttons and stuck around the textbox, and voila, then you have your very own flavour of text editor brought to life. Also in these live systems most operations are orthogonal: you can assume you can rotate images, right? Hence by the same token you can rotate anything on the screen. A whole window for example, or text. Two rotating lines and a few labels become a clock. The user can combine simple widgets together to make their own apps on the fly!

What was the most interesting thing you’ve learned in your first week here?

I learned a lot and I suspect that will never stop. The bread and butter here is strategy and design, which in other companies is only just a small area of work. Here it is the core of everything! So it’ll be interesting to see how this ‘strategy’ works. And how the big thinking starts with the visuals or UX in mind, and from that how it steers the whole platform. An exciting example of this can be seen in the Ubuntu Convergence story.

That’s the essence of open source I guess…

Indeed. And the fact that anti-features such as DRM, banners, bloatware, compulsory registrations and basic compilers that need 4GB of installation never live long in it. It’s our desktop after all, is it not?