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An interview with Douglas Cerna, Archivematica Maintainer

Over the next few weeks we are going to introduce you in more depth to the members of our Maintainers Team. As these developers continue to familiarise themselves with our code bases we want to make them more familiar to you by sharing interviews conducted with them in early April this year.

Here they all are in a team meeting today (top left to right: Dhwani, Douglas, Anvit, TJ). Like all Artefactual staff, they work remotely from their homes and as a team they are spread across 4 North American time zones, from the East Coast to the West! Sarah Romkey is also part of this team but as the non-developer among the group we will share her thoughts on their work as a postscript to this series of blog posts.

Starting with the most experienced Artefactualite, Douglas has been with the company since 2019. He’s been a GNU/Linux and free software activist since the early 2000’s, when he got a copy of Redhat 6. His interests are worker-owned cooperatives, mentoring young professionals in the IT field, and the digital preservation world. Douglas lives in El Salvador.

What drew you to the Maintainers position?

It was mostly going back to Python – we’ve been working recently [on secret projects!] with Go. The technologies there are really cool and modern, but I missed it. So when the position came up – well, Archivematica has a special place in my heart. I know that the software has its problems but I really like working with it (even if I hate it sometimes).

What are the biggest challenges you foresee for the team?

I think getting in both codebases is a really complicated task. Archivematica specifically is not easy to grasp, there are so many moving parts. There are so many repositories that you need to be aware of. Understanding the information requires a lot of context. Sometimes getting into a new project with the difficulties that both projects have, like having a really outdated framework – I’m not sure, for instance, if the PHP developers were familiar with Symfony. Symfony is not a very popular framework anymore, there are alternatives. We are using very complex architecture in Archivematica, even if you think “Yeah, it’s Python, I know Python,” not many developers are aware of the difficulties of working with a custom workflow engine like Archivematica has. So I foresee that as the most difficult part.

What excites you about the future for Archivematica/AtoM?

We as a company are taking care of both projects again. We had switched our focus to some higher priorities over the last couple of years, but the hope that we have is that we release [new versions of Archivematica and AtoM] often, even if we are not thinking of big features for the projects. It may not change drastically but at least we will bring them up to a modern version of things. Ubuntu 18 being our default platform, it’s not good for the reputation of the project. AtoM is a little bit forward in some aspects, and behind in others – it’s a catch-up game. As a team we want to have [both projects] on the same versions, using the same approaches for filing issues. I’m hopeful for that. Hopefully a year down the road, if things go well, we will have some streamlined processes for both projects and we can integrate as a team. Right now we’ve been working separately but hopefully the AtoM developers can contribute to Archivematica. Dhwani right now has been working on DIP upload, and that involves having AtoM available to you, so she asked Anvit to help her set it up – and that collaboration is really cool to see.

In the past it has always been two teams – AtoM team and Archivematica team, completely separate, very little crossover, so it’s nice to see that collaboration is starting now that you are one team.

Exactly. That’s the hope, that we can become one unit working together.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Like I said in Slack, I’m not fun at all!

You’re very fun! Well, the fun fact question that I have asked others was what they wanted to be when they were little kids.

I wanted to be so many things! My neighbour next door when I was a kid, they had a group for support of alcoholic people. In my hometown, that was a very organized movement.

Right, we have the same thing in Canada.

I wanted to be like them.


And you know why? The reason was because [in the support groups] they were allowed to smoke. And it was not that I wanted to smoke but to me, smoking meant independence, it meant that you were an adult and you were on your own.

That’s amazing. I don’t know how I’m going to write this in a way that’s not going to sound awful.

You can say “Douglas wanted to be many things.” I wanted to be a pilot after that. My sister started having friends in military circles, and flying got my attention. I started looking at programs and encyclopaedias about airplanes and things like that. I really liked that as a teenager. But then I found out what you needed to do to get to military school and no thank you, I am not that disciplined. Around 12 or 13 I got familiar with computers and that’s that.

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