Tech meetup moves Wikimedia infrastructure forward

Earlier this month, about thirty MediaWiki developers and interested technologists gathered in New Orleans to learn and to work on Wikimedia’s technical infrastructure.  We made broad progress on the infrastructure of innovation at Wikimedia (notes).  Specifically:

NOLA Hackathon 16
Tim Starling and DJ Bauch driving towards greater media file storage system independence and robustness

  • We are now much closer to officially opening the doors to Wikimedia Labs and giving far more people the ability to contribute to MediaWiki without having to set up and maintain their own development environments at home.  Wikimedia Labs will provide hosted, virtualized test and development sandboxes for new and experienced programmers and systems administrators.  Many developers got beta Labs accounts, we tested at a larger scale, and we fixed several bugs.
  • Developers agreed to create a file backend abstraction layer to enable large-scale MediaWiki installations to use one of several storage systems to contain big collections of big media files.  (Wikimedia plans on using Swift, which is open source.) Microsoft’s Ben Lobaugh and SAIC’s DJ Bauch collaborated towards improving MediaWiki’s performance on Microsoft technologies as well.  Developers made architectural decisions, refactored some existing code, and improved documentation and tests for the SwiftMedia extension to MediaWiki.
  • Chad Horohoe teaching developers about unit testing
    Chad Horohoe teaching developers unit testing

    We now have a continuous integration server up and running.  This will continuously run tests checking on the latest new features and bugfixes that developers write, resulting in fewer bugs and faster development. Developers will need to write tests to reap the benefits, so Chad Horohoe taught a test-writing workshop.
  • Max Semenik finished and demonstrated the first version of his API Query Sandbox.  This allows software developers anywhere to experiment with ways to automatically get data from Wikipedia or other sites that run MediaWiki, thus enabling wider and deeper reuse of Wikimedia content.
  • Operations folks continued the Puppetization of our infrastructure: they completely reworked Varnish management in Puppet, and worked on Puppet configurations for SwiftMedia testing. This configuration management work will ensure that ops can move faster and more confidently in building and maintaining Wikimedia infrastructure. And Canonical’s Mark Mims and Kapil Thangavelu worked on improving methods for Wikimedia developers “to spin up stacks of services within the labs environment” using Juju (more details).
  • NOLA Hackathon 28
    Brion Vibber leading developers into the "glorious Git future"
    Since the engineering department is planning a switch from Subversion to Git in the next few months, Brion taught nearly everyone there how Git works (slides, audio), and how we’ll be using Git in the future. This change in our source code repository and workflow will, we hope, enable more speed and flexibility in development, both for WMF developers and community contributors.
  • We prioritized and addressed several open requests for the operations team and defect reports about the latest version of MediaWiki, 1.18, which had just been deployed across WMF sites.
  • Roan found and fixed an issue that was spouting symbolic link errors into our Apache logs, so now it’ll be easier for us to see more dangerous errors in those logs.
  • Google Summer of Code students Salvatore Ingala and Kevin Brown made progress on integrating their summers’ work into MediaWiki as used and deployed by others; Salvatore and WMF developer Roan Kattouw have a plan for getting his user scripts improvements reviewed and deployed, so they can benefit Wikimedia readers and editors.
  • A volunteer came in on Friday night knowing nothing about developing for MediaWiki, and by the end of the weekend had a working development environment on her laptop and had some ideas about how to contribute.
  • We had substantive conversations about the summer internship program and about third-party collaboration that will affect how we work in the future.

NOLA Hackathon 1
Launch Pad New Orleans, a great venue
We also ate dinner together, walked Bourbon Street, and generally got to know colleagues we’d never met before.  I expect these relationships will bear fruit for years to come.
Thanks to Ryan Lane and Dana Isokawa for organizing the event with me, and thanks to Launch Pad New Orleans for providing the venue!
Our next developers’ event is a hackathon in Mumbai November 18-20 concentrating on internationalization, localization, and mobile work.  To find out about other upcoming Wikimedia technical events, check the meetings wiki page, and follow @MediaWikiMeet on or Twitter.
Sumana Harihareswara
Volunteer Development Coordinator
Wikimedia Foundation

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