Vote for the Gentoo council!

Devs, listen up–voting closes for the Gentoo council at 23:59 UTC today (Friday). Here I’m going to tell you my surprise underdog picks. By underdog, I mean people who I didn’t realize I was going to rank fairly highly for before doing research. I dig through all my mailing-list archives of -dev, -project and -core, looking at all the recent posts by each candidate. Then I decided whether they expressed enough opinion on global directions, whether they were active enough on-list, and whether I agreed with their ideas about where Gentoo should go. Based on that, here’s my underdogs:

  • jer (HPPA arch team)
  • leio (wxWidgets, GNOME maintainer)
  • ulm (emacs maintainer)
  • dev-zero (cpp, postgresql, samba, python maintainer)

Other than them, I strongly endorse our QA lead, Halcy0n (also on GCC porting, toolchain, and C++ teams). I’m not listing anyone who’s been on the council before, because that isn’t as interesting. There are other candidates who I think have the technical qualifications–I’m not voting for some of them because I think having a strong community that follows and enforces its own Code of Conduct is not just important but vital for Gentoo to move down the path of greatness.

How to win friends and influence people

Recently I mentioned Paul Graham’s essay on how to disagree, which described types of disagreement. This post will instead really tell you how to disagree without making enemies, and more generally how to get along well with people.

Here’s a summary of Dale Carnegie’s outstanding book (with the same title as this post), which has been a top-selling communications book for the past 70 years. These techniques don’t sound terribly original or mind-blowing. Instead, they are elegant and straightforward, which makes them easy to remember. I’ll also tell you which principles I think are the most important.

Fundamental techniques in handling people

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

These ideas lay the groundwork for everything else. The overall focuses of the entire book are:

  • Encourage the positive things people do, instead of disparaging the negative.
  • Talk about what other people want, instead of what you want.

6 ways to make people like you

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important–and do it sincerely.

The most important points from this group are 1 (be interested in others) and 5 (talk in terms of their interests).

12 ways to win people to your way of thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

Important points here are 3 (admit your mistakes), 4 (begin friendly), and 8 (step in their shoes).

9 ways to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to other’s mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

The first 5 points here are the most important, although all of these ones are important.


Best of luck to you in applying these principles to your own life!

Redux: Gentoo’s top 3 issues

People were so busy complaining about my pie chart that most of them apparently didn’t have a chance to think about the meaning of the actual data. To try helping people look at the information rather than its presentation, here’s a bar chart of the same information:

I don’t recommend looking at it because you may go blind, but I’ve made available the (extremely ugly) script that created this.

What are the top 3 issues facing Gentoo?

I ran a quick, informal poll on the internal Gentoo developers’ list last week, and tonight I began analyzing the results. 50 developers responded to my 9-question survey, and I’m going to post the results of 1 question at a time.

First question: What are the top 3 issues facing Gentoo?

Pie chart

Technical issues are way down on the list. Developers’ top 5 issues are manpower, publicity, goals, developer friction, and leadership. It’s good to see that we’ve been addressing at least a couple of them with the newly energized public relations project and work on the Code of Conduct. Other issues that have been ongoing for quite a while now are the lack of distro-wide vision and goals. The Council could provide those by increased activity and taking stronger stands in particular directions, and that’s part of the reason I did this survey—to figure out which directions our developers care about. I think part of the problem is that nobody sits around pondering directions and ideas. Everybody’s busy working in their own little areas and not thinking about the big picture. Manpower, or lack of it, is another issue I’m indirectly addressing in my push for greatness, which I’m going to post more about at some point (I promise!).

To create this chart, I used Google’s excellent chart API. The neat part about the API is that it’s simply a URL, so you can construct it with any language. I used a shell script since I was already fiddling around with awk. Any answer with less than 4 respondants was grouped into Other to make the rest of the chart readable.

HOWTO make Gentoo great

Gentoo is good. How do we make it great?

Over the past year or so, I’ve read a few books, and I want to use those ideas to build a better Gentoo. The books:

I plan to write a short series of posts discussing the lessons in these books and how to apply them to Gentoo. In this post, I’m going to summarize the concepts of “Good to Great.” I’ll discuss how we can apply them to Gentoo in a later post. The book explains what it takes to transform a good company into a great one. It’s a comparison of companies that made a transition from good to great (thus the title) with companies that remained merely good. Jim Collins and his group reduced the differences to a remarkably small set:

  • Level 5 leadership: The leaders of great companies aren’t charismatic, big-name CEOs. They’re humble, and their ambition is for the company, not for themselves.
  • First, get the right people: Before you decide what to do and where to go, get the right people in the right spots. Otherwise, you’ve got the wrong people creating the wrong vision, strategy, etc., which the right people are then forced to implement. Concrete implementations:
    • “When in doubt, don’t hire—keep looking. (Corollary: A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.)”
    • “When you know you need to make a people change, act. (Corollary: First be sure you don’t simply have someone in the wrong seat.)”
    • “Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems. (Corollary: If you sell off your problems, don’t sell off your best people.)”

    The right people have the right innate abilities and character traits, not necessarily the specific knowledge and skills. For example, look for work ethic, dedication, and problem-solving ability, not ebuild-writing skills and knowledge of bash.

  • Confront the brutal facts: Don’t deny reality, or you can’t make the right decisions. To do this, create an environment where everyone can be heard, so the truth can come out. Don’t lose faith that you will win eventually, but accept the reality of now.
  • The Hedgehog Concept: Only do things that overlap in the three circles:
    • You’re passionate about it
    • You can be the best in the world at it
    • It drives your resource engine

    The resource engine is a combination of time (how well we attract contributors), money and brand (how well we create a community), drawn from an accompanying monograph for the social sectors.

  • Build a culture of discipline: Create a culture of self-disciplined people who are “fanatically consistent with the three circles.” Bureaucracy arises to compensate for incompetence and poor discipline due to having the wrong people. If you’ve got the right people, you don’t need the bureaucracy.
  • Technology accelerators: If a new technology fits into your Hedgehog Concept, become a pioneer. If not, settle for decent, or drop it altogether if you can.
  • The flywheel and the doom loop: Transforming from good to great is not quick. It’s a flywheel, slowly building momentum. From outside, all people see is the breakthrough, but from inside there’s a prior buildup. Merely good companies couldn’t build momentum—they jumped around from focus to focus, never getting anywhere with any of them. You don’t need to spend effort getting people behind your idea. Show them the results, and they’ll follow you.

Improving Gentoo as a tool

Gentoo is a metadistribution, meaning you’re supposed to built whatever you want with it. And we provide some of the tools to make that a reality, but we stop short. We still make it too hard to do what you want with Gentoo. Here’s some of the ideas I want to explore over the next year:

  • Increased binary package support: We already have an experimental tinderbox setup to build packages for a variety of architectures. I want to investigate increasing our collection of binary packages to make a fairly complete installation possible using only binaries.
  • Repositories for user-created distributions: We have tools like Catalyst to create basic installations with stage3 or stage4 tarballs, but it’s still hard to get what you want with them. We should make a repository of Catalyst spec files for a variety of purposes, and we should also add an accompanying mirror of the created tarballs so anyone can use them. We could also revive the Seeds project to create not just vanilla stage4 tarballs but fully fledged, preconfigured installations customized for specific purposes like LAMP servers, development machines, various cluster nodes, GNOME/KDE/Xfce desktops, etc. We already have the possibilities; we need to share our tools.
  • Creating the Gentoo metacommunity: In addition to letting you create your own distribution from Gentoo, I want Gentoo’s community to be what you want it to be. We’re in the middle of adding a few new mailing lists because our primary development list is drowning in noise. We made gentoo-project for non-technical general talk and gentoo-dev-announce for development-related information so developers don’t need to slog through gentoo-dev. I want to take that a step further by forming stronger Gentoo microcommunities around specific areas and moving discussion about those areas to their IRC channels and mailing lists. Our development community has grown too big to keep everything on a general development list. Everyone tries to chip into every discussion, even if they have no relation to it or are unaffected by it.
  • Excellence: Gentoo’s QA is not the greatest. What can we do to improve this? Some automated tools exist for pre-commit checking; can we add anything server-side? Can we add some build servers for critical system packages, so they don’t make it to users before building in a predefined set of common configurations? Can we improve our developer recruitment or add new training for existing developers? How can we renew and strengthen our commitment to excellence? You can’t create a tool with Gentoo if it’s broken.
  • New tools for new places: This is more of an exploratory idea. I’d like a team of contributors to research all the places people use Gentoo, and put together a collection of tools we’re missing. Further, we need to do more extensive research on other distributions to see what sorts of tools they have that we lack. I have no symptoms of NIH syndrome, so I’m happy to pull in working tools written for other distributions; I already did this for many of Fedora’s system-config-* tools last year.
  • Resolving the meta vs. specificity conflict: Gentoo’s status as a metadistribution sometimes produces conflicts between the goals of various projects and teams within Gentoo. Sometimes a person simply needs to make a decision of how to deal with it: pick one, or find a way to do both? Many people remarked over the past couple of years that we’re lacking strong leadership and overarching goals, which would give us some consistent way to decide which projects will “win.” As Seemant has said, Gentoo is a framework, a metadistribution, not a place that forces people to go a certain way. We should strive to enable contributors to follow whichever path beckons to them. But where is Gentoo going, and where should it go? You decide. The innovators and leaders can only suggest places for it to go, so the rest of the community has to follow them to our destination.