Behind The Scenes With Federico Mena Quintero

Paul Cutler asks Federico Mena Quintero about his extensive work, how he got into GNOME, and what GNOME is missing.

33, probably 34 by the time you publish this.

Located in:
Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. A coffee-growing region.

GNOME Hacker at Novell.

Nickname on IRC:

Homepage and blog:
Home page –
Blog –

In what ways do you contribute to GNOME?
I’ve done many things. In reverse chronological order, some things I remember:

  • Evolution for MeeGo.
  • Our RANDR tools for multi-monitor support.
  • Sabayon maintainership; stewarding of the Admin Tools project.
  • Lots of GTK+ work, and GtkFileChooser.
  • Lots of Nautilus work, mainly for SuSe Linux Enterprise.
  • Some Mozilla work to reduce memory consumption.
  • Performance/profiling work in GNOME in general.
  • Lots of around-the-desktop work in the earlier days.
  • Have been a Foundation Board member a few times.
  • Mentored in the Summer of Code a few times.
  • Co-maintained the Evolution Calendar.
  • Lots of early code in GNOME, the panel, and other grungy bits.

How and when did you get involved in GNOME?
Miguel, Elliot and I started GNOME way back in 1997. It’s a well-known story:

I was maintaining the GIMP back then. At some point I pulled out GTK+ as a stand-alone library, as it was shipped inside the GIMP originally. That let people write apps with GTK+ easily, including the original code for GNOME.
What motivates/keeps you motivated to work on GNOME?
GNOME is good infrastructure, and it needs to be maintained and improved.

Also, now that we are past the “build a free desktop” stage, I am very excited that people are actually researching the deep usability questions: how do you help everyday people with their workflow? Seeing things like Zeitgeist and Gnome-shell just happen makes me double-plus happy.

I am happy that GNOME continues to maintain a reliable piece of infrastructure that you need and that is just “out there”, like postfix or bash, for anyone to use.

What do you think is still badly missing in GNOME?
People who can discern horizontal problems, in the whole platform and desktop, and who can also get enough time to solve them. We do have such people, but most of them are already hired by companies which, sadly, eat all their time to work on more immediate things.

People who have enough energy and persistence to do a big/complex app and do it really well. We’ve been waiting like 15 years for a video editor. I am sure that it will happen, but it’s just not there yet, at least not like the GIMP and Inkscape are out there in people’s minds, by default, when thinking about photos and illustration.

How much time do you usually spend on GNOME?
I guess there is a distinction between “pure GNOME” and “GNOME-ish stuff for Novell”. I’d like to be able to say that I spend a good 40 hours a week among both of those, but in reality it is much less. I am an easily-distracted monkey.

Who are your favorite GNOME hackers? Why?
Oh, man, too many to list because there are people who are awesome all over GNOME.
Let me recall a few.


      • Owen Taylor – for matching 100% the definition of Being Smart and Getting Things Done.
      • Vincent Untz – he does everything, does it well, quietly, and peacefully.
      • Alex Graveley – GNOME hacker emeritus – for being so goddamn creative. I wish he’d stick around longer with his projects.
      • Behdad Esfahbod – what’s not to like about him?
      • Aaron Bockover – he really knows what it takes to write a good app, goes ahead and does it.

Which book is on your bedside table?

      On the easily-distracted monkey’s table? And they are not together; more like lying around the house in various states of unfinishedness.



      • “A vision of a living world”, by Christopher Alexander. Volume 3 of “The Nature of Order”. It’s about designing neighborhoods, buildings, and gardens using Alexander’s method.
      • “Midnight’s Children”, by Salman Rushdie. India’s history since in its independence in a very funny family novel.
      • “Permaculture designer’s manual”, by Bill Mollison. How to create sustainable human+animal+plant habitats.
      • “Off the books: the underground economy of the urban poor”, by Sudhir Venkatesh. All the interesting interactions that let poor people get by.
      • “Diary of Virginia Woolf”. Hope to reach volume 6 at some point…

Who or what in your life would you say influenced you most?

      Probably my uncle Ricardo. He subtly nudged me in the direction of mathematics and computers. He is the Zen figure in my life. He gave me his old TRS-80, lent me tons of math and programming books, and has always been an inexhaustible source of wisdom.

How would you describe yourself?

      Handsome, intelligent, funny, and modest.

What do you get passionate about? Any hobbies outside of GNOME?

      • Traditional woodworking with hand tools. There was amazing stuff being done in the 18th century, and we have forgotten many techniques and tools.
      • Architecture that really works.
      • Photography, cooking, being an uxorious husband and proud father.
      • Gardening, especially vegetable gardening. Homesteading – building a self-sufficient house as far as possible.

If someone visits your country, which spot is a must-see?

      Too many to list. Mexico is a very interesting and varied country. The wikitravel page is very good, though, so go ahead and go crazy!

What’s your favorite:
Obsessive-compulsive, borderline neurotic.
Or did you mean an actual person with a name and ears?
“Don’t let the squirrels dress the cows as champignons” – my wife.
Again, too many to list.
Anything cooked at our home!
Our daughter’s bedroom’s play alcove.
Text editor?
Hesperion XXI or Rush.
Rush’s “Dreamline”, probably.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.


Posted on March 15, 2011, in March 2011. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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