Posts Tagged ‘communication’
I just posted a video and write-up on how to recruit open-source contributors over on my RedMonk blog. It’s based on my years of experience as admin for Gentoo’s involvement in the Google Summer of Code, where I’ve greatly increased our ability to recruit students as long-term developers. Check it out.
I gave an introductory talk on Gentoo at a local BarCamp called MinneBar a couple of months back, and the videos were just posted online. The sound isn’t perfect but it’s perfectly understandable. Oddly, this is the first time I’ve ever given a formal talk on Gentoo in nearly 10 years of working on it.
The slides are pretty tough to read from the video, so I also uploaded them to Slideshare. I updated and heavily customized the same “Intro to Gentoo” slide deck that’s been floating around for years. It still could stand to lose a whole lot more text, and hopefully I can optimize it further if I give it again.
I’m running for the Gentoo council this year, and I wanted to post my “platform” here: who I am, why I’m running, how I see the council, and how I see Gentoo.
For anyone newer, I’d like to first introduce myself and my history with Gentoo. Over the past 8 years, I’ve spent time doing pretty much everything in Gentoo, from maintaining ebuilds to writing documentation and leading teams and projects. I’ve been a recruiter in devrel, served as desktop manager (back when we had top-level project managers, before GLEP 39), and later chaired the council. I also started the clustering team, led X11 maintenance for about 5 years (when I designed the modular X eclass and wrote all 400+ new modular packages as we transitioned from the old XFree86), spent a term as a foundation trustee, and acted as project manager for our ever-controversial GUI installer.
One of my primary roles at the moment is running our participation in the Google Summer of Code, one of our major sources of both income and new developers. Since I took over 3 years ago, we’ve more than doubled the size of our program (we have 15 students this year!) and greatly increased the proportion of students who eventually become Gentoo devs to roughly 67%.
At this point, I’m convinced I can make the biggest difference to Gentoo in two ways: focusing on specific projects like the git transition and improved eclass testing rather than ebuild maintenance (which we have tons of people doing), and leading Gentoo to greatness as a council member, where I’m in the best position to accomplish that goal.
On my last two terms as a council member, I was extremely active in council-related issues both on mailing lists and at meetings, rather than just showing up at meetings to vote and then disappearing into the sunset. I strongly believe that through preparation and accountability, we can have a more productive council, but this requires a true commitment on the part of every member.
Creating a great community
I see this as an area where the council can set direction for all of Gentoo, both through the positive examples of its members and by taking a stand against anything we won’t stand for in our community. The council should be providing guidance to devrel and userrel on what kinds of behaviors should be encouraged and what kinds shouldn’t be tolerated.
Additionally, we should begin collecting metrics on our community so we know where we’re going. Many other projects (and even distributions) do this already, to give them clues of when things are going wrong, what things are going right, etc.
Making progress now instead of waiting years for perfection
There’s a lot of ongoing projects and GLEPs that have been dragging on for years because people want a “perfect” solution. One personal example is the git transition, where I’ve already made this mistake in spending quite a bit of time trying to get a perfect repository layout working when we could have just done a simple conversion of the whole tree and put it in one repo (the current plan, with some changes).
GLEP 55 is another one. There are some times when any decision is better than no decision.
Removing bureaucracy in favor of more agile development & meritocracy
We all know that GLEP 39 needs some changes. I think that most devs just want to Get Stuff Done without fighting with policies, waiting around forever for votes, not getting majorities without any clear direction, and so forth. I believe that our devs vote in the council because they want those people in charge and trust the council members to do what they think is right, including deciding on changes to GLEP 39 to improve how we run things.
I favor a switch to a smaller group more along the lines of the Linux kernel, with a very small leadership core and more of a hierarchy than a huge committee.
Along the same lines, I favor a switch to a more meritocratic approach such as the lead appointments we’ve been discussing recently. Gentoo isn’t a country government that needs to provide for every sick and needy person in its geography; it’s a nonprofit with specific goals it needs to accomplish and should be run as such. In general, companies, including nonprofits, don’t have checks and balances or long, drawn-out votes. What they do have is a board of trustees at the top, which can replace the leadership when it deems necessary.
Another major problem is the lack of continuity in our leadership, mainly because the whole group is re-elected en masse every year. At a minimum, even if we can’t do the above changes, we should switch to a 2-year term and have half the council up for election each year so new councils can start out quickly.
Promoting innovation from individual developers instead of expecting it to all come from the top
As I mentioned above, one of my focuses now is working on interesting standalone projects. I hope that every developer does the same; in addition, or besides whatever you do every day (maintain ebuilds, write/translate docs, etc.), consider starting a new project that has a clear end in sight and that will help Gentoo get better. It doesn’t have to be anything big; and the great thing about projects with a finite length is that you actually finish them at some point.
Getting rid of policies that were created for a single incident, because they should only exist for patterns of repeated problems
A common problem in Gentoo is feeling like a one-time problem can’t be fixed without making a big policy about it, why it can’t be done, what will happen if it’s done again, etc. If you’ve been around Gentoo for a while and start reading through our developer docs, you’ll be able to connect a specific name and instance with pretty much every line that says something like “Don’t do stupid thing X” and “Don’t do ridiculous thing Y.”
I think part of this is rooted in a fear, for lack of a better word, to take personal responsibility for an action; instead, people want a rulebook to point at and say “That’s wrong” so the rulebook is the bad guy.
But rulebooks should only be for the common cases, the patterns, the problems that keep coming up over and over. One-time problems only deserve one-time solutions.
I’d like to point any potential Google Summer of Code applicants to a post on DOs and DON’Ts for students over on the Google Open Source blog that I wrote with Lydia Pintscher and Kevin Smith. They’re fellow admins from two other long-time GSoC participants, KDE and the XMPP Standards Foundation. Here’s a quick summary of the points; you’ll have to read the original post for details:
|Be on your best behavior.||Make a bad first impression: SMS speech, extremely poor English, rudeness/hostility, etc.|
|Read all the documentation, so you submit a useful application.||Submit a useless application.|
|Be transparent about other commitments.||Disappear.|
|Make Google Summer of Code your top priority.||Hold another major commitment.|
|Be realistic about your skills.||Over- or under-rate your abilities.|
|Commit and publicize your code frequently.||Make last-minute (or later) code drops.|
|Submit code that’s ready to integrate.||Finish the summer with code that’s “almost ready” but will take forever to ship.|
|Complete your project design before writing a line of code.||Start coding before finalizing design.|
|Use your resources wisely.||Refuse to ask for help.|
|Remember that you’re part of a community.||Consider it a solo project, like it often is in college.|
Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is an amazing program for college students that enables them to spend their summers working with open-source projects. Google chips in the money, and FOSS projects provide the mentorship and expertise. In the end, we benefit by gaining both new code and (more importantly) new developers.
I’m very excited this year because both Gentoo and X.Org were accepted for their 6th years in GSoC! Last year, Gentoo had 19 students working on diverse projects including webapps, package management, NetworkManager, the Dracut initrd framework, and more. X.Org, a more specialized project, had 5 students working on various aspects of open-source graphics.
If you’re a college student, I’d like to encourage you to apply for GSoC, whether it’s to Gentoo, X.Org, or another project altogether. It’s great real-world experience where you can prove your expertise to future employers (since the code is freely available), and you can become the world’s expert in your topic. The money doesn’t hurt, either.
To get more info, go to the Gentoo or X.Org GSoC homepages and check out the project ideas. If none of them strike your fancy, propose your own! We love original ideas, but please discuss them with us first to ensure they’ll be realistic and high-priority.
The latest drama sweeping across the open-source world is Canonical’s decision to redirect affiliate profits from music bought in the Banshee music player from 100% GNOME to a 25%/75% split (with Canonical receiving the majority). Nearly everyone has come out against this, but I disagree with parts of their argument. Also, everything I’ve seen has involved verbal wrist-slapping instead of concrete action, so I’m going to propose some possibilities.
“Open source” doesn’t mean “open source until someone makes a change you don’t like.” The whole premise of open source is that anyone can make any changes they want, they have the freedom to fork, and nothing restricts their actions besides copyright. Do we have a right to be angry at people who take advantage of the freedoms we’ve offered them? I don’t think so, but I see where people could disagree.
But what options does that leave anyone who wants to change the situation? Here’s a couple:
- Banshee has a trademark; enforce it. Make Ubuntu change the name of its music player to something else. This would involve talking to lawyers and definitely takes this confrontation to the next level. If Banshee doesn’t already have legal contacts, its developers might contact the GNOME Foundation and work through them, or get in touch with SFLC or another legal team of their choice. If you want your code used in Ubuntu, maybe the name change is enough. But you’ll obviously lose the name recognition.
- Banshee developers could treat Ubuntu as an unsupported configuration and refuse to work with affected users. For this to have any chance of working well for Banshee, it must require its developers to consistently place the blame on Canonical every time problems get reported, to preserve Banshee’s reputation. However, if you don’t support Ubuntu or its users, remember that most bugs aren’t specific to Ubuntu so you’re also hurting yourself. Furthermore, this could provoke Canonical to drop Banshee altogether and switch to a different player. I’d expect Canonical’s decisions to be based on a combination of usability, access to upstream support, and revenue, so its choices will likely try to find a balance of those factors.
- Banshee developers could use rational approaches to convince Canonical its existing terms are inconsistent with the broader software world. OpenSUSE community manager Jos Poortvliet made a great point: ”Even Apple doesn’t take more than a 30% cut from people who ship applications through their App Store.” However, this is the next level beyond that; Apple’s recent move to take a 30% cut of subscriptions, books, etc sold via App Store applications is far more equivalent. And this move, even by Apple, is seen as largely negative, but they’re staying the course much like Canonical. If I were Canonical, I’d ask myself how much my users love me compared to how much Apple users love Apple, and adjust my portion of the Banshee revenue accordingly.
I favor the third approach, but you should always keep in mind the best alternative to negotiation, so everyone on both sides of the conflict knows what will happen if negotiation fails.
“The Hype Cycle describes the way that new technologies and projects are perceived over time, if they do a good job of handling themselves, going from a technology trigger, inflated expectations, disillusionment, enlightenment, before arriving at “the plateau of productivity” – a state where there is no more hype and the new technology is simply a normal part of our lives.”
The perception over the past few years that Gentoo is dying is in reality Gentoo’s arrival at the plateau of productivity. Hype has gone away and remaining is a distribution with a true niche that fits into the broader Linux ecosystem.
“What many people don’t realize is that the bikeshed effect is, in fact, a form of procrastination. And it can suck in highly technical developers, along with everyone else.”
This year, let’s try something different! I posted a rough draft of our organization application on the Gentoo wiki, in hopes that we can all work together to improve it over the next week. Applications are due starting March 9, and earlier is better. Here’s a list of questions that you can help answer:
- Why is your group applying to participate? What do you hope to gain by participating?
- What criteria do you use to select the members of your group? Please be as specific as possible.
- Has your group participated previously? If so, please summarize your involvement and any past successes and failures.
- What questions/requests do we want in our application template for students, in addition to the GSoC application?
- What is your plan for dealing with disappearing students?
- What is your plan for dealing with disappearing mentors?
- What steps will you take to encourage contributors to interact with your community before, during, and after the program?
- What will you do to ensure that your accepted contributors stick with the project after the program concludes?
Go to the wiki, and help Gentoo’s application rock!
Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. These factors are:
D = Dissatisfaction with the status quo;
V = Vision of what is possible;
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision.
R = If any of these factors are missing or weak, then you’re going to get resistance.
It is important for leaders of organizations going through change to realize the ‘lag time’ between where they are in the process and where others in the organizations are in the process.
The higher a leader sits in an organization the more quickly he or she tends to move through the change process. Because they can see the intended destination before others even know the race has begun, senior managers can forget that others will take longer to make the transition: letting go of old ways, moving through the neutral zone, and, finally, making a new beginning.