David Solbach

This week the interview is with one of the unknown powers behind the sysadmin team. It's David Solbach. Click on the image to see where David was during the "Fjällraven Classic".

He is the maintainer of He not only knows his way around reviewing code, but also knows how to design and develop diagnostic blood analyzers and was hit when the dot com bubble bursted. Enjoy an entertaining and interesting interview with David!

Can you give an introduction of yourself?

I'm David Solbach, 30 years old and I live in Frankfurt / Germany for quite some time now (since 2003). I was born in a small town called Marburg 100 km north of here.

Since I could walk, I was interested in everything that beeps, has buttons or even better, a monitor and a keyboard! So I spend a lot of time at my neighbors C64 when I was 5 or so. I can still remember Christmas 1986 when my parents tricked me into thinking that the only present would be a pair of socks. I tried to fake happiness as good as I could and was very happy when I found out, that they had hidden my very own (used) C64 behind the curtain! Not very nice of them, right? :)

After school, I studied computer science at a so called "Berufsakademie". It's a concept where you study for three years and spend half of the time at the company that finances your studies during that time. So it's a mixture of a practical and theoretical education.

My company was "Biodata", but that is another fun (and not so fun) story, which would be too long for this interview. (There is a Film (in German) about it: ). In short: The company crashed with a bang when the "dot com boom" was reaching it's end. Interesting times, I tell you :)

Recently, in April, my daughter Lisa-Johanna was born and keeps me pretty busy, in a sweet way, though :)

Can you tell us what you do for a living?

I work at Siemens Healthcare at a small site near Frankfurt where diagnostic blood analyzers are designed and developed. My part in that is the development of control software for those analyzers. That is the part of the software which is controlling the actors (mostly stepper motors) and sensors to produce results. It's written in C.

Can you tell us what you do for KDE?

I provide hosting for some websites (e.g. the plasma project site) and ReviewBoard. And of course I try to spread the word to promote KDE and free and open source software wherever I can.

You are maintaining ReviewBoard for ages now, why such dedication?

Actually I think you are overestimating the work I have with maintaining ReviewBoard. :) It's not really that much usually. But I think we should react quickly to user requests and server outages or other problems, when they happen. I try to do that.

What motivates me? Well, I love the idea of free and open source software. My diploma thesis was about knowledge management and knowledge sharing. I think Open Source is knowledge sharing in it's purest form. In my opinion it's the only feasible way to go, at least if you are thinking in long terms.

Doing this tiny bit of administrative work for KDE is a very much welcomed chance to give something back to the community. I don't have the time to do any development related in KDE but I have a deep respect for those of you that stuff in their spare time! (not to forget those who are payed to work on KDE)

Is code review an area which has your special interest? If so, why?

I guess you could say so, yes. Like most developers I like to code more that doing review, but at work we try to do code reviews whenever possible and often they are mandatory (FDA regulations and so on), especially if code changes affect a code base which is already used by customers in released products. The tag line of ReviewBoard is “Take the pain out of code review!”, which sounds like something that we could use as well. So I think we eventually might end up using ReviewBoard at our site as a tool to do our code reviews.

Is this the first time you "imported" stuff from the open source world to your work place?

No! KDE was one of the early (well, relatively early) adopters of Subversion. During that time I had already started to follow the KDE development and so I learned of the many advantages of svn compared to cvs based VCS (we used PVCS Version Manager, terrible stuff!).

That was something I could use very well in my daily work. So after 2 years of advertisement, a bit of luck and the support of my boss, we ended up using Subversion as our official VCS. I think a lot of my colleagues, including me of course, are very happy with that choice. It also showed the potential of open source software to a lot of people at the site who didn't have much contact with it. Nowadays even the non-software folks, e.g. in mechanical design are using it. Even data migration and support in trainings were no issues with the help of third party companies (Polarion, CollabNet). But I think I'm really preaching to the choir here :)
Ah, and I almost forgot, we also use CMake for one of our projects, also inspired by KDE. It fits our need and works really well so far!

The coming months stuff will change due to the transition to git. Can you explain the changes and your role in it?

Basically we will set up a new, shiny, instance of ReviewBoard and it will be integrated in a centralized user management (via LDAP). Additionally we will use git as the main repository. Fortunately it seems that ReviewBoard supports all this out-of-the-box, so my part will be mainly to set it up properly and ensure that it's running fine. I expect some minor bumps on the way but nothing serious, some small tests on git integration have already been done. LDAP authentication also works since a few days.

What are the areas where KDE and its software really shines in your opinion?

First of all I think the libraries and underlying framework are great. I think Qt is a rock solid (and a very well documented) foundation to build upon. Also, have the feeling, that its consensus in the developer community to do things in a smart and reusable way wherever possible. The plasma stuff, but also the other shared libraries seem really build on that principle, that's really nice.

Then it's the applications. Nowadays I have applications in KDE (and in Linux in general) that fit all my needs. Most notably I use KMail, Kdenlive, K3B, Amarok, KMyMoney to just name a few. Ah, and not so long ago I stumbled upon KRenamer which was a real live saver since my camera tends to use wrong dates in file names! :)

Then, last but not least: KDE looks very nice! :)

Do you have a vision, like where do you want KDE in general to be in 5 years and sysadmin in particular?

Hm. For the desktop I'd like KDE to continue with it's way into calmer waters after the rough ride since 4.0 and the early versions after that. I think it would be good to focus a little bit more towards stability, polish and optimization of the existing feature packed desktop that KDE SC 4.5 is. Additionally the integration between the two desktop worlds and the desktops and the distributions should continue to provide a better overall user experience. I know that might sound a bit negative, but I think those points are generally the hard ones for open source projects (everyone likes to program new features, right?). If KDE could improve there, that could really be a big plus compared to the competition.

I'm also keen to see what KDE can do on mobile devices in the future. The plasma team (notmart, aseigo & co) seem to do a lot in that direction.

For sysadmin? Nothing special really. Just continue the history of choosing the right tools for the right job. The sysadmin group (which I only recently joined) or KDE in general have a very good track record on that. Decisions for SVN (and now git) or CMake instead of autotools were done at the right time it seems! Also when I saw the document explaining the motivation and reasons for the decision for the new infrastructure around git, I was very astonished about the level of professionalism it showed! Very impressing.