Friday, August 15, 2008

Three years in Europe with Trolltech

After three years at Trolltech today was a sad day as it was my last day. When my wife and I originally decided to move to Norway we wanted to stay for three years and it is satisfying that we were able to reach that goal. The time here has been wonderful, sometimes stressful, but something I will always remember. I thought it would be worth going back and putting together a journal entry of projects I was involved in and photos I took.

In January 2005 My wife and I visited Oslo for an interview at Trolltech. The day before my interview my wife and I walked to the address to make sure I could find the building. There we discovered that Trolltech was located in a somewhat rundown building, but the next day when I went inside I found it to be much nicer and more importantly filled with interesting people working on captivating projects. I took the job and six months later we moved to Oslo. It turned out we arrived in Oslo on the day of the big Qt 4.0.0 party, unfortunately I didn't know about this and we stayed at the hotel. There was around thirty developers and Trolltech was still small enough that the computer at your desk had an actual internet IP.Being new to Trolltech and Qt4 I figured I would have been assigned a minor task to some rarely used bit of code, but after getting setup I was asked to add a feature to QWidget and my first commit was adding support for startup notifications. After using Qt for eight years the idea of adding code, a feature nonless to QWidget was amazing.

The first three months we stayed at the Trolltech Markvien apartment which is just a ten minute walk from the office. When we flew to Norway we came with just four suitcases. There was no internet at the apartment and as my blogs from back then can attest to I took advantage of the Trolltech library and read through a number of the books. Every weekend for the first two months Jen and I went to one of the tourist attractions around Oslo because we knew that if we didn't do them then we wouldn't at all. We went to the ski jump, the art museum, viking museum, the fjord, the statue park, and many more places. Moving to Oslo we sold both our cars and were now walking everywhere. Along with visiting attractions we frequently would just go off walking around Oslo to see what we could find. There is a path next to a river that flows through Oslo with waterfalls that we would walk down to get to the center of town. It was a very different experience then we were used to back in the states, but the biggest shocker has to be women on bikes. It is sociably acceptable for every day adults to ride bikes, even a women in a skirt which was something you would never see in the states.

On the first day of work I asked Marius (another developer at Trolltech) where the grocery store was and he told me it was across the street on the way to the apartment. I was very skeptical of this as I had walked to work that morning and hadn't seen any grocery store. That evening on the way home I went into the place where he said it was to discover a store about the size of a seven eleven. This I was very quickly about to discover was the average size of a grocery store in Oslo. It has most everything you need, just not fifty choices of everything. Rather then one massive store per town there are many little stores all over that are within walking distance. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it, but coming from Super Stop-n-Shop's it was a bit of a culture shock. Of course everything tastes different too, but no doubt after living here for so long when I return I will fondly miss food that I could only get here.

A month after arriving I went to my first aKademy in Spain. We went for the full ten days and in typical American fashion Jen and I both brought a suitcase, while everyone else from Trolltech only had backpacks. A good lesson to learn for all of our future trips in Europe. As it was my first aKademy I finally got to meet everyone who I had interacted with online and on the mailing lists. I had a blast going to all of the presentations, discussing endless ideas and possibilities and even getting in a bit of hacking. And after many years I finally got a stuffed Konqi which has sat happily in my office. We made grand plans thinking KDE4 could be out in less then a year, but little did we realize how wrong we would be. For me post aKademy I spent a bunch of time cleaning up kdelibs and in particular reducing KApplication to the point where I was able to run a KDE application that used QApplication.

Just a few months later on December 19th, Qt 4.1.0 was released. The biggest addition for me was qtestlib. The super cool little test framework that had been part of Qt-addons was now part of Qt. During aKademy that year it was decided that including it in Qt would add a lot of value and reduce the duplicated effort that had begun within KDE to make their own test framework. I am very big on testing and ended up writing a tool to generate autotests stubs for you. All you had to do is pass in your class header and out comes a file just waiting for you to flesh out that tests your entire class. And when you think you are done writing tests you run it through valgrind and feed the callgrind file into the new code coverage tool I wrote to discover just how much of your class you didn't test. And for anyone making a custom QAbstractItemModel I wrote the Modeltest to help you make your model better and more bug free. One thing I always wanted to see was releasing the Qt autotests with Qt which might (unless it doesn't) happen later this year.

During this time Trolltech was growing and in December 2005 we moved to a brand new building with plenty of empty space for us to grow. Me and Marius traded a view of a waterfall for a view of a hill, both better then any office view I have had in the states. Over the next year the development team at Trolltech doubled as we expanded. The new office was big and much more in line with Trolltech becoming a company rather then a group of hackers, but that didn't stop us from having a paper airplane contest off our 6th floor walkway.

In June of 2006 Trolltech sponsered a cabin trip for the KDE Developers to hack on KDE4. Developers from all over the world came to a little town in Norway and spend a week hacking in a very big cabin. Since the last aKademy KDE4 had deteriorated and was in need of some work. The first two days were spent fixing up KDE left and right and finally It was there for the first time that I was able to see and run KDE4. It was also there that QtWebKit was born. It was amazing to watch as the guys discussed the future of KHTML, grabbed the WebKit source and hacked on it until at 2am on Zack's screen there was the Google homepage. One of those moments you can't plan for or buy tickets to. Meanwhile I was fixing something in the KDE about dialog, depressed at the comparison I went to bed. While there the world cup was going on, Trolltech IPO'd, and the various outdoor meetings we had were just fantastic. For me personally this cabin trip ranks at the top of my entire time in Europe.

A few short months later Qt 4.2.0 was released on October 10th 2006. That date had been set in stone in time for dev days and after the fact everyone agrees that it was pushed out too early, a mistake we tried not to repeat since, pushing back releases by a few weeks when we knew that the quality would be significantly better. Unsurprisingly Qt 4.2.1 followed very shortly after. At some point after 4.1.0 (I don't recall when exactly) Mathias gave one of his fantastic speeches which determined one of the big directions of 4.2 which was better integration with the desktops. For my part I wrote QDesktopServices, but there were many more such as QCleanlooksStyle, QNetworkInterface, QSystemTrayIcon, QKeySequence's standard shortcuts, integration with Glib, and more. Another new class I got involved with (and wrote a few older versions of) was QTimeLine, something I have had lots of fun using ever since it was created. 4.2 also saw that introduction of the eye candy changelog.

Around this time I got involved with the netflix prize and ended up making a framework that used Qt and included a little app that you could use the view the entire database. While making the tool I improved Qt so that QTableView could display all 101 million rows of data. I didn't win the prize, but I had a lot of fun, learned a lot and if I ever get access to a farm of computers know exactly what I am going to mess around with. And to top it off every few months in the mail I get a thank you book or dvd from my amazon wishlist which is very cool.

For the first time since moving to Oslo Jen and I returned to the states for Christmas. After living in Norway for a year and a half we could both speak very bad Norwegian. With no real Norwegians around we happily talked to each other using our horrible pronunciations and bad sentences structure. We could understand each other and we were happy. While in the states I got a MacBook and have had it automatically take two or three photos every day for the past two years. Looking through the photos there are many photos of people, books, and other images of every day life that I would normally not have taken a photos of. It is nice to have captures the memories that would have been lost.

Returning to Oslo I formed a group and wrote up a proposal to get a Wii for Trolltech. A month or so later a box arrived with a Wii and extra controllers which was promptly setup (The Wii being somewhat easier to obtain in Europe we only had to wait a month). We have had tennis tournaments and many after lunch Bomberman93 (an absolutely fantastic five person, ten minute, easy to learn, multiplayer game) sessions ever since.

Looking back I was surprised to discover that I have been using Git for over a year and a half now. One of the first things I used it for was to port an annoyingly addictive Qt2.x game to Qt4.x called Anigma. The big thing in my life was that I cut my hair which had been very long. The first few weeks were very freaky and I kept reaching back to move it out of the way or to play with my phantom hair.

On my creative Fridays I had been hacking on a little class called QColumnView. A nice little class that I am proud of that got into Qt 4.3 which was released June 1st 2007. Also in 4.3 I wrote a new QFileDialog. The majority of the work was in the model, but I also tried out a new look a feel for the dialog that was a hybrid of OS X's and Vistas with animations and other 'improvements'. Which everyone completely hated and got torn to shreds online so I reverted the interface back to the 4.2 one. The biggest thing for me in the 4.3 release was QtScript. The kick ass, fast scripting engine that I had been messing around with for several months and used to play around with genetic algorithms. I even wrote a QScript profiling tool. Overall Qt 4.3 was a good solid release with more improvements then features I would say.

In the fall of 2007 I finally sat down and started to learn Lisp something I have always wanted to do, but just never made the time to. Unfortunately a much more exciting project was just around the corner that took my free time away...

Shortly before Christmas while at lunch one day I had a conversation with Simon and Lars about the QtWebKit module which had just been merged into Qt. I had been asking about if there was plans to make a little browser that could be used to help test the module. In WebKit there is the QtLauncher, but it was more for developers and not something that can be used for day to day browsing. They were also interested in such an application and I offered to help make one. All through Christmas I hacked and my last blog entry of 2007 gave a hint about what I was working on and what would become the demo browser. Starting with the cookie jar I took each feature one by one, fleshing them out and only integrating them when there was a manual test and matching autotests. I spent all of my free time hacking on the browser and then part of my time at work tracking down and fixing bugs in QtWebKit and the new networking code. I was ruthless with any segfault I found and by the time 4.4.0 was released QtWebKit was pretty stable. One of the very first QtWebKit bugs I fixed was adding support for tooltips so xkcd's tooltip would work. Unlike FireFox2 which would cut off long tooltips QtWebKit tooltips could wordwrap. Just like my first commit to QWidget in Qt the feeling of committing a patch to WebKit was really cool. In February Trolltech had its annual ski trip in the mountains. Before we left I printed out all of the code for the demo browser and with the help of other developers did a complete code review on the bus and in the cabins. This helped improve the code for the announcement of the little project. One day I was asked if I would be interested in writing a QtWebKit article for Linux Journal. Having never been published in a magazine before I jumped at the option and a few months later got three Linux Journal magazines in the mail which was really neat to see an article I wrote in print. Shortly before Qt 4.4.0 was released I forked the demo browser and created Arora. Although many people had been interested in seeing it forked much sooner I didn't want to do that until 4.4.0 was released to get as much feedback from everyone trying out the Qt 4.4.0 beta.

Around this time it was announced that Nokia was going to buy Trolltech. For me the biggest bummer had to be when I saw them taking down the Trolltech sign off the building the night before we became Nokia. Overall Nokia has not caused any major changes of doom as some feared and I expect Qt will continue to improve, grow and be even more open in the future. Trolltech has a lot of smart people in it and they wont let anything happen to Qt.

On May 2nd Qt 4.4.0 was released. This was while I was in Italy and as Qt got lots of press the demo browser also got mentioned various places (with lots of questions ending in my inbox), but I was unaware of all of this until I got back as I didn't think the 4.4.0 packages were going to be released until the end of the month. I had a few stress filled days catching up before things returned to normal. Other then the demo browser I had also gotten in QSystemSemaphore, QSharedMemory, QLocalServer & QLocalSocker, and the QFileSystemModel. But my favorite addition has to be QFile::map, something I have implemented several times on personal projects. Qt 4.4.0 also had a number of brand new features and I think that this release was the best .0 that Trolltech has had to date. One feature of Qt 4.4.0 that I think is a hidden gem is QtConcurrent. I have used QtConcurrent in some personal projects since it was first announced and the ease that it lets me use both of my cores to double my speed still amazes me. With the possibility of having six and eight cores very soon the speedup in performance will not be insignificant.

I am leaving before 4.5 is released, but I have been able to squeeze in some stuff including the new QTabBar and QTabWidget improvements and implementing a cache for the http backend in QNetworkAccessManager. I am looking forward to the 4.5 release.

Around this time Jen and I knew that we would be returning to the states and so we made trips to Italy and the camping trip to Trolltunga. While living in Europe I got the opportunity to visit Spain, Germany, France, Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy, and Jen visited even more. Because they were spaced out we took the time in each place rather then rushing from one to the next during a month long Europe vacation. I have tried to limit my blog to technical related articles, while Jen's blog contains many more of our every day adventures from visiting cities to laughing about the food we would find.

While visiting Euope can be a lot of fun, the act of living here has open my eyes to all sorts of things. The idea that we could get by without a car is one we could not imagine three years ago and yet somehow it works out just fine. With so many people from work walking to get there is is no surprise that on an evening stroll or walk downtown that you will run into someone you know. The closeness of the community is very nice. Many of the guys are Trolltech have stories of when they were in Army, unlike in the states where you get to sign up, here they don't really have a choice and although I knew that some countries did that it didn't really hit me about what it means until talking to many of them.
Another difference was the banking system where in Norway it is far ahead of the states. No one has a checkbook and my bank didn't even accept checks, all your bills are paid online, and if you want to send money to a friend it is easy to do online. Even taxes are calculated for you by the government and if there are no errors you can send a SMS to confirm the form and you are done.
The metric system, 24 hour clocks, A4 paper, currencies, and other things you don't think about when visiting, but you have to deal with when moving were just a few other things we had to adjust to. At least with the 24 hour clock I plan on continuing to use that and getting a 24 hour alarm clock in the states so I will never set the alarm for 7pm when I meant 7am. Overall living in Europe has been a fantastic once in a lifetime experience and I am glad that I did it.

While at Trolltech they managed to put out consistent releases with new features and improvements. From the time I started to my last day they strive to be open, from making the Windows version of Qt GPL, the launch of, creative Friday's and involvement in many open source projects such as webkit, git and KDE, they have risen the bar about what a company can do. But none of this would have been possible without the people behind the scene. Above everything else coming to Europe and Trolltech has been about the people I have met and worked with. Trolltech is filled with some of the smartest and most interesting folks I have met who enjoy what they do and it shows. They are friendly, welcome you into your home and will help you out when you are completely confused.

Even though I am leaving Trolltech and returning to the U.S. I plan on continuing to use Qt, and probably submit a patch or two. Arora has really taken off and has an active set of users and developers and I am really looking forward to what it will become. Hopefully I will return to Europe to attend aKademy and get to see everyone again.

And to wrap it all up I thought it would be fitting to have the Qt4 dance.


Jesper T. said...

You're going to be missed for sure! Feel free to drop by anytime! If nothing else, see ya at akademy! :)

Denis Dzyubenko said...

yep, we'll definitely miss you. Who else will give me ideas how to improve demobrowser/arora or tabwidgets? :)
Have fun at your new-old place!

thiago said...

"once in a lifetime experience"? I'm still hoping you'll come back!

You're one of the most dedicated developers I've ever met. It's sad to see you leave, but I can only be happy for you finding new opportunities and challenges. And I know your new co-workers are just as amazing.

See you soon!

stuntmouse said...


I *really* want to read this post, having used Qt and been to Norway, but man, you've got to check your grammar. Sense != since.

I signed up for a freaking blogger account because this bothered me so much.

Otherwise, great reading.

Benjamin Meyer said...

@stuntmouse, yah there was a bunch of badly autospelled sense in there. Thanks for pointing it out.

Gary_W said...

After Watching hte video ,It's a lot of funing , Trolls ,interesting and smart guys

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