Francisco Franco: An interview with a kernel superstar extraordinaire
Just a little intro before we get to the beef. Android is a fork of Linux. Many many developers write kernels, the base operating code, for the many different android devices. Each of these coders is unique. Along with their ROM creating counterparts, they make the aftermarket yumminess all of us rooters love.
Now my latest device purchase was my Verizon Galaxy Nexus (code-named toro). Like many users, I played with it stock for a few days, but was eager to unlock it’s true potential. I quickly unlocked, rooted, backed up and was off flashing. But there was still something missing. Each ROM I flashed came with a kernel that was, for the most part, stock. That meant no overclocking or undervolting. So my search began to find a kernel provider that could meet my needs. What I found was so much more.
Francisco Franco (make sure to add him to your circles) had turned his kernel developing efforts into more than just a few donations. He made an app that would download the latest kernel and flash it for you. Very handy, if you don’t mind me saying.
Now, I was impressed by his efforts and sought out some contact info, dropped him a line and he agreed to let me pose a few questions. Here, in no certain order, are those questions and his responses.
Me: Can you please describe the things in your childhood and young adult life that led you here? Examples might be: a certain tv series or books you read, places you went, people who were influential, any feelings that dominated your mind, anything you think or feel was responsible for helping you make the choice to become a computer science student and developer.
Francisco: I’ve had my first computer since when I was 3 years old. I still remember booting it for the first time with the old Windows 3.1 and the very ugly UI.
Most of the games that I liked to play were run from the command line (DOS) which was also very interesting for me. I remember the first time I did some kind of optimization I crashed Windows and it wouldn’t boot anymore. I think I needed more disk space to install some game and I decided to delete System32 (which was an obvious choice since it was a very large directory).
Needless to say, I had to woke up my father to fix it for me. I think that was the first time I had contact with any kind of tuning on a computing system.
I’ve always been that kind of guy that never runs anything by the defaults. Before I start a game, I always check the settings panel first. The first time I start a new app, I always change the preferences/settings to accommodate my needs. If there are ways to improve the overall usage experience why not make use of them?
When I grew older (13 or 14 years old I believe) I learned PHP and MySQL and I was very into browser-based games. One actually caught my interest, but it had bugs and flaws in the weaponry calculations, so I managed to enter the team and help with the game development for a while. It was lots of fun optimizing a game with thousands of users.
Then, a few years later I went to a university, where I took my first steps using Linux and went from there. After I got into the university, there was a time where I got uncertain of what I wanted to do with my future. I wasn’t enjoying the classes at all. When I first met Android in a proper date, that’s how the party started for me.
Me: What made you focus on mobile devices? Why, given the multitude of choices, did you choose Android to specialize in? What was it about the kernel, specifically, that interested you?
Francisco: I bought my first Android on December 2010. I chose it because I couldn’t afford an iPhone and because Android offered more choice in the end. I didn’t know about root for Android by the time I bought it. The only thing that I knew about it is that it was built on top of a Linux kernel, and that I could use shell scripts/commands. That was a BIG plus.
I really didn’t think about getting specifically into mobile devices, it just…happened.
I started with simple shell scripts to tune some kernel specific parameters because my LG Optimus One was kinda slow for my liking. It got popular, so I went into ROM repacking, which started to give me some visibility and I actually started to receive some donations.
By that time, I thought “Wow, I’m receiving money from people I don’t know to support and encourage my work”. That was a major confidence boost.
After a few weeks in the ROM business, I started to feel that it was a dull form of entertainment, so I decided I wanted to learn how to mess with the kernel. I had some experience recompiling my Linux machine kernel so it wasn’t a totally blank spot for me.
Me and my best friend Christian Gollner spent quite some time figuring out this Linux kernel business as a “side project” from the university, where we actually learned a lot. After the first baby steps were taken, I was getting more and more downloads every day, which was pretty satisfying.
Then, I began to realize that this kernel business was lots of fun. I knew a bit of C, so I understood most of the kernel code and I knew what I was doing. The possibility of customization is what gives me more pleasure while messing with a device’s kernel.
Me: What inspired the app and how has it affected your life?
Francisco: I was starting to take Android pretty seriously, so I had to know how apps were created in the first place. I knew very tiny bits of Java, but I had to learn almost everything from scratch, so it was quite challenging.
I had a lot of options on my Galaxy Nexus kernel and by the rate I was delivering updates on XDA I thought it would be much easier for the users to actually have an app to do that job for them. That’s how the application was born.
I hit my head against the walls a lot of times, but it was so worth it. It has affected my life in many ways. It gave me more programming logic that ultimately helped in the kernel business, it taught me how to program in Java, enriched my CV, and it helped me financially — making it easier to spread my work to other devices.
Me: What advice would you give to others looking to do what you do?
Francisco: 1. Don’t sleep. While you sleep others are working and getting ahead of you. 2. Be persistent. Nothing happens without work. The more you work the more you’ll be rewarded.
Me: What do you see or imagine for the future of android?
Francisco: I imagine we will see Android everywhere. Android + full ipv6 implementation and we’ll be having Android installed in every device: a fridge, a toaster, a watch, my security camera, my router etc.
With the latest design choices from Google, I see Android to become a reference for creating beautiful UI’s. I also want Android to become more and more a developers heaven with more and better API’s. Of course, in the end Android will conquer the world.
A big thanks to Francisco for stopping by to share his thoughts and tell us a little bit about what he does for the Android community. If you haven’t already checked out his work, make sure to stop by pretty much any major Android forum, and you’ll surely find a discussion about his awesome kernel jobs. Also, pick up his app on Google Play for only $3.07 — well worth it in our book.