Posts Tagged ‘community’
Students, this Friday at 1900 UTC is the deadline to apply for this year’s GSoC. It’s an awesome program that pays you to work on open-source projects for a summer (where you == a university/college student).
It’s by no means too late, but start your application today. You can find more information on Gentoo’s projects here (click on the Ideas page to get started; also see our application guidelines) and on the broader GSoC program here.
To my European readers: if you care about the impact of social technologies like Git (and GitHub) & how they’re transforming software development, or the impact of social technology on communities, and you enjoy good beer, you need to be at Monki Gras. I just posted over at my RedMonk blog about how the previous conference in the series, Monktoberfest, was the best conference of my life. And I’ve been to many.
Monki Gras is Feb. 1–2 in London. The timing’s perfect to stop by just before FOSDEM (and that’s exactly what I’m doing). Registration is dirt-cheap, speakers are universally top-notch, and you’ll also get some world-class beers in the package.
I just published an article over at LWN called “The state of Gentoo.” In it, I talk about Gentoo’s progress over the past few years as well as its current problems, how they’re affecting Gentoo’s user and developer communities, and how to begin fixing them.
I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from our developers on the article so I’m confident that it’s generally a fair representation of where things stand today. However, Alex Legler (a3li) kindly told me our security team does much more behind the scenes to report vulnerabilities and get updated packages stabilized, even if we don’t see the results in the form of GLSAs.
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.|
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.
Similarly, you need to quickly build the same level of trust with our community. Do you have the tools it takes to hack into the code? and do you know how to use them? When a contributor uploads a patch to our mailing list or to our tracker (preferred, but to make sure you get noticed please post a link on the mailing list too) he builds instantaneously the same level of trust that the unknown cab driver builds with every new customer: he implicitly shows that he has the tools (hardware, operating system, internet connection, coding environment, repository access) and that he can use them for basic operations.
I think you should fire this person immediately. Okay, maybe give him exactly one warning.
You’ll find someone else who really knows this stuff. No doubt about it. And firing one intransigent bully is a lot less painful than shutting down an entire division next year because he paralyzed your decision-making.
Deep technical competency is overrated compared with the ability to make excellent decisions and to create a culture where forward motion is valued and personal initiative is rewarded.
The good news is that the bully knows this, and the only reason he gets away with being a bully is that he thinks he’s got you bluffed. Call his bluff and odds are you’ll have a much more cooperative team, top to bottom.
I wrote an LWN article called “Google’s Summer of Code: Past and Future.” In it, you’ll learn:
- Why your project should apply to the program
- How big the program is likely to be this year
- A major change for the 2009 session, and
- A pointer to a valuable resource for mentors.
LWN is my favorite source for the best Linux and open-source news. They write original articles and also spend a lot of time searching all over the Internet for all the latest news so that all I have to do is read it. The reader community is fantastic, too. Subscribe to LWN today!
Invariably, groups that had the bad apple would perform worse. And this despite the fact that were people in some groups that were very talented, very smart, very likeable. Felps found that the bad apple’s behavior had a profound effect — groups with bad apples performed 30 to 40 percent worse than other groups. On teams with the bad apple, people would argue and fight, they didn’t share relevant information, they communicated less.
Even worse, other team members began to take on the bad apple’s characteristics. When the bad apple was a jerk, other team members would begin acting like a jerk. When he was a slacker, they began to slack, too. And they wouldn’t act this way just in response to the bad apple. They’d act this way to each other, in sort of a spillover effect.