An Interview with Andrew Eddie
Written by Ric Shreves   

This is the second in the series of interviews with key members of the Mambo Team. These interviews were conducted in the course of my research for the Everybody Mambo! article (published elsewhere on this site).

Last week I published on this site the interview with Brian Teeman, the leader of Mambo's PR efforts.
This week, I present the interview with Andrew Eddie, the Director of the Mambo Project Team.
Check back next week for an interview with Peter Lamont, the CEO of Miro.

Andrew was very open in this interview and provided a lot of great insight into what's happening with Mambo, Miro, and how the team works.

Thanks Andrew!

Background Your name, please (to make sure I get the spelling right!)

Andrew Eddie

For whom do you work?

Toowoomba City Council (Local Government in the state of Queensland, Australia)

What’s your involvement with Mambo?

Currently Project Director

Your responsibilities?

Overall management of the Mambo Teams (Development, Maintenance and Documentation teams but where day-to-day runnings of the Documentation and Maintenance teams are delegated to Dev Team members)

How did you get started with Mambo?

Was researching open source content management systems are getting completely frustrated with Lotus Notes. Invested time in a number of systems which didn't bear fruit and then rediscovered Mambo at version 4 (after initially rejecting it at version 3). I started playing with it for work and realised it had a lot of potential. I put my hand up to help out, Robert Castley accepted and it grew from there.

How long have you been on the team?

As near as I can tell, I join the team in April 2003.

Is this your day job?

One of my work duties is to support Council's content management systems. So, yes, it is sort of my day job from time to time.

How much time to a week do you devote to Mambo?

Probably better to ask what's left after I've finished with Mambo :) It can be up to 20 hours outside of work managing the project, or full time at work when working on in-house customisation.

Making any money at this?

Only a little at the moment.

How did you rise to this level on the team?

I assumed the role of Project Director after our previous Director resigned.

Why did the previous team leader resign?

It's best to ask him directly. But I will say that I would like to implement systems that ensure that we don't burn our leaders out.

Concerning Development Team Organization and Process…

Who works with you? (How many?)

The Development team consists of 10 people. The Maintenance team consists of a further 3. The Documentation only has one formal position (held by Michelle Bisson) and a number of informal team members. That can range from one to I think about 5 committed people. There are also many other people who help on the forums as moderators which are headed up by our Forum Administrator.

How is the team organized?

It's not formally broken up but we have a number of people with specialties in coding, public relations, documentation and graphics support.

How do you identify development priorities and address them?

For a long time it has been an adhoc process. However, over the last few months I have been trying to lift the level of decision making to involve more of the team, to allow people to be heard. This then helps to form our roadmaps and future policies.

How do you communicate with the team?

Mail lists, chat and sometimes voice methods.

What challenges do you face in a distributed development environment?

Two challenges stick out over the rest.

The first is time zone differences. This has advantages, for example, it means that Mambo is effectively 'awake' all the time. It also has disadvantages with communications. The worst offset is around 10 to 14 hours difference from your own. For me, I tend to get to talk to Europe and the UK only early in the morning or late at night.

The second is language differences. We communicate in english and I have a great respect for many of our non-western team members that do have english as a second language. However, we find on some issues that translation sometimes goes adrift and we can find that after many hours of mails back-and-forth that we had been arguing about the same thing. I tend to think in 'draft' a lot. For example, I will use the team as a sounding board for an idea, “What do you think about this...?. On other multi-lingual teams I have been involved with, to some cultures this seems to have been translated “Please provide a solution for ...? and they come back in a couple of days with fully developed code.

What tools do you use for specifications & project management? (e.g., UML, Version control, etc.) We don't use any formal project management tools for the project apart from the bug and task trackers on our mamboforge site.

Mambo & Miro

What’s the story behind Mambo now returning to the Miro fold? How did this decision come about?

The formal involvement of Miro was revisited when our previous Project Director resigned. Up to this time, Miro had merely played a back seat roll, providing Mambo with valuable infrastructure and sometime legal support. With the Furthermore debarcle, it emphasised that Mambo needed some strength behind it to be protected from frivolous harrasment.

It is a misconception that Miro actually “left the fold? as you put it. They have always been there but gave the project it's own free will to go as it please, for better or for worse. Peter Lamont's heart is and has always been devoted to Mambo. It's really quite wrong of people to think that there are motives other than what a parent has for a child.

I think Miro also saw that Mambo had reached a plateau. All through last year the popularity of Mambo was increasing, but it was still in a hobby or cottage industry framework. To give Mambo credibility as a serious open source solution for government or education markets, it needed commercial support and training facilities. I think this is were Miro saw to the opportunity to be able to actively give back to the project for the betterment of Mambo. It's really a win-win situation for all involved.

What exactly does this mean to the Mambo development team? To users?

For the Development team it means we have to slow down and have better planning. We can no longer change the look-and-feel as we feel like it, nor make constant changes to the API. Whether Miro can back into the picture or not makes no difference to this aspect. Developers need to have a level of confidence in Mambo that it wasn't going to change from version to version so that it was worth the investment of time to learn the ropes.

Similarly for users, they don't want to be re-learning how to use Mambo after each new version. We have found that users love new features, but hate it when you change existing ones. It's a delicate balance. I should state the the 'code' side of things is still very much under the control of the Mambo Project Teams. There is a misconception that Miro is taking over the project. This is simply not true. They are adding a layer to Mambo that is attractive to a particular area of the market. The code, the features, the release plans are still all in the Open Source camp. Having said that, there is obviously a responsibility for the Development Team to take into account that the writing of manuals and the preparation of training needs to have a good working life to be viable. But this is a good thing, as I've mentioned before, since it provides for a very stable development curve that users, developers and commercial interests alike can have confidence in.
The formation of the Mambo Steering Committee also ensures that the interests of the commercial and open source sectors are served equally. The committee is made up of equal represent ion from the Development Team and Miro plus one other impartial person who is prepared to tell either side to take a reality check, but more to act as a mentor and source of wisdom for both side.

It's not Mambo vs Miro or Miro vs Mambo. You need to think Mambo plus Miro equals a result. It's that result which is rather exciting.

I see threads discussing certification and training. Can you explain what is planned?

Not yet, a roadmap for what's involved and what we are aiming for is still being developed.

What’s the business logic behind this move?

Mambo popularity is increasing outside of your traditional geek visits to check out the latest PHP project. The community includes an ever increasing sector of people that like to use Mambo but don't know how to maintain it on a server, let alone install it. It's this group that is willing to pay people to keep their Mambo site running so that they don't have the headaches associated with system administration.

There are also those that might have Mambo available to many tens or hundreds of content providers in an intranet situation. The needs for training and support obviously balloon beyond the ability for the poor old web master to cope with.

It's in these areas where you can mount a good business case for buying support packages or ready made training materials.

How long had this been under discussion?

Since October last year.

Mambo & IP Issues

How well documented are the origins of the Mambo core?

It's not well documented but I'd like to put together a good history. I think it helps explain some of the legacy problems we have in either the core or culture of Mambo.

How are the origins of code traced / documented to avoid IP problems ?

This is one of the reasons that Miro has come back into the picture. They have incorporated some steps to ensure that the copyright for the Mambo source is clearly defined.

Any connection between the IP spat and the change in team leadership or the relationship with Miro?

The only connection is in relation to the stress it caused those who were battling on the front line. As I said before, we need to incorporate safeguards to protect our teams from burnout.

On the Future of Mambo

How would you compare Mambo to other Open Source CMS (particularly, PostNuke, Zope, Magnolia)?

I've not had much experience with these. Let me say that I respect people have opinions about things. Some people love Mambo, some people hate it. I had trouble even working out how to install PostNuke but I know others find it easy and find Mambo hard.

Two I have had a good look at are Drupal and Xaraya. I have a lot of respect for the development teams of these two projects. A lot of thought has gone into their respective code bases and I like to draw inspiration from them from time-to-time. There are things that I like and dislike about both projects. They do some things better than Mambo and I think Mambo does things better than them in others.

But look, it's really an individual decision. Of Drupal, Mambo, Xaraya or any other CMS, wear the one that fits for you.

What do you see as priorities going forward? What are the highlights of the recent changes to the roadmap?

Well, that's just it, the road map is the highlights. We've been deliberatly non-task oriented in drafting the road map. We tend to get too bogged down in the detail when we have done this in the past. Web technologies change so fast. But the priorities are simplifying some of our legacy shackles, those include the often criticised nature of the Sections and Category system (which, if you knew the history, would understand why it cam about). Three other big areas are access control improvements, better language support and the use of a templating system to separate presentation from logic.

What do we have to look forward to in the next version release (v.5, I mean)?

* Better access control and user group management.
* Multi-lingual support.
* More flexibility to high-end developers wanting to tweak templates to the n?th degree but still having a very simplistic level for those who aren't xhtml-css junkies.
* Provide multi-database support.
* Improved content organisation (eg, tree views for content categories)
* Improved workflow and version control facilities

When can we expect that?

Hopefully late this year.

Where will Mambo be a year from now?

2005 A year in review for Mambo (1 Jan 2006):

* Mambo+Miro beats the critics. Mambo is now one of the most recongised and well respected free open source CMS's in existence.
* Version 5.0 is running a bit late but beta's are stable and look extremely promising
* Version 4.5.6 declared best ever version of Mambo paving the way for upgrade to 5.0
* First Mambo book is published, two more on the way
* Official training workshops are under way and well attended
* Translation team is to be congratulated on organising and compiling over 40 translations of Mambo
* The first Mambo conference was a huge success.

And finally….

Anything else you’d like me to say, or any thoughts you feel it would be good to communicate to people?
Well, it's my goal this year to implement systems that allow Mambo to run in the event that anyone has to move on for whatever reason (or something unfortunate happens), to improve our internal structures and policies.

We also receive a lot of flack about being nontransparent. I think this comes as a product of us being too busy to effectively communicate our heart for Mambo. I hope to improve this part of our image.

For more articles by Ric, click here 


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