Our desire to work with our upstream counterparts to bring new goodness to Ubuntu is often tempered by the sheer volume of change we are trying to bring to Ubuntu in a particular cycle. It is easy to focus on that work and forget that upstream is out there, and often better equiped to solve issues or provide advice. I have recently managed, indeed in places been forced by circumstance, to interact with upstream very directly on a couple of projects close to my heart, Kernel Mode Setting (KMS) and VFS union-mount.
At the recent UDS we had the opportunity to mix with a number of upstream developers, some involved in Ubuntu others simply invited for their insight into various subsystems. For me this was particularly relevant as the nominated KMS 'expert' on the Ubuntu kernel team! I was able to spend a number of hours discussing plans with these guys and getting to know them. Out of those discussions came plans to produce bleeding edge kernels containing updated Intel, ATI Radeon, and even Nouveau drivers for those brave enough to give them a spin. This has been hugly beneficial for us, getting testing on these code bases and allowing the userspace guys to get work out the kinks before we release KMS enabled kernels, so that when we do the general experience should be much better much earlier in the cycle. Win all round.
Elsewhere I have been involved in investigations into what we are planning to use as our union mount solution for Karmic. Upstream seems to be leaning towards a VFS based approach, VFS union-mount. We have been trialing these patches putting together test kernels to allow stress testing. Again providing vital early testing feedback to the maintainers and helping to improve the quality and increase confidence in the code. Again win.
Moving my work closer to the developers, often into their lap, is working well for me at least. No I am more involved with them I find them in their turn easier to deal with and generally more friendly. My advice, get out there and meet your upstream find out where their lap is and make yourself comfy.