ApacheCon Wants Your Conference Talks!

Are you opnionated about Apache projects? Do you like great tech conferences with no commercial puff pieces, just focused technical and community content about real projects? Do YOU have great things to talk about your project at the ASF?

Submit your talks to the ApacheCon CFP now! CFP is ending in just two weeks, and the conference will be 7-10 October in beautiful Halifax, Canada.

Wait – did I say ApacheCon? Oh, sorry! ApacheCon is now called Community Over Code – The ASF Conference. To better reflect the emphasis ASF projects have on active communities, the ASF’s annual conferences have rebranded to the slogan for ASF processes overall: Community Over Code.

This year, Community Over Code will feature four days of sessions, with tracks focusing on Search, Big Data, Internet of Things, Community, Geospatial, Cassandra, Financial Tech, and many other topics. Each evening will also feature Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions, where communities will have an opportunity for free-form discussion and planning around our various projects.

I’ll be attending and hopefully speaking at Community Over Code this fall, and hope to see folks there – it’s been a long few years of travel limits due to the pandemic. I’m really looking forward to spending time with my larger ASF family again.

Just a reminder: this blog at a .com domain is Shane’s personal content. The ASF’s official conferences can now be found at https://communityovercode.org/. I’ve worked with the ASF’s VP, Brand Management to ensure that we can each continue to use the Community Over Code phrase in complimentary ways to each other.

I hope to see you in Halifax this October!

Where is sustainability for individuals?

I’ve been reading papers on “sustainability” frameworks of shared definitions, and was struck in many of the sections on Stakeholders. We think about the various FOSS projects, about the big industry players, about the rest of the user base commercial companies, and even about public policy. And yes, we do talk about “pay the maintainers”, and there are several organizations solidly devoted to that problem.

But what about volunteer individual coders as a class?

Much of open source contribution is done in small chunks by individuals “scratching their own itch” to fix a bug or add a new feature they happen to need. While some of this is done in conjunction with a job or a college class, some of it still done just because the coder wanted to get it done, not necessarily to get paid or a better grade.

A poor definition of this class is “everyone who’s contributed to open source without directly getting paid for it”, which doesn’t help much, but does give perspective on the scale. And most people working in software are likely to go back and forth from paid work to some kind of volunteer work (either piecemeal fixes or as part of a larger effort) many times in their career.

How can we classify all these individuals?

  • Software industry career workers, who will likely have many different roles in a career. They may sometimes lead projects, and often will make significant investments over time. They may often have a holistic perspective on FOSS components in relation to their business, so often are very conscious of what they open source, and what is proprietary.
  • Software industry-adjacent workers, who will work on specific bugs or features their industry needs from time to time, but primarily focus their work on custom features internally (i.e. possibly not contributions).
  • Academic, scientific, and policy/government workers who build software. When they open source something – depending on institution policies – they are more likely to be careful to ensure an entire package is included, so that their work can be easily reproduced elsewhere.
  • College and high school students looking for learning opportunities or connections in industry. Only part of the driver here comes from curriculum; much of the drive likely comes from where the students first feel they can make contributions and get some feedback or recognition.
  • Hobbyist hackers who have a passion for their work. Yes, they still exist, although it’s certainly a rare individual here who truly drives an entire project these days. But where hobbyists show up, they can be an important part of maintenance and quality control. Hobbyists are likely software industry professionals who truly do open source at night, separately (in some cases deliberately) from their day jobs.
  • Who am I missing? I know there will be a handful of other sub-groupings that could be useful to consider tracking.

What messaging can we use to encourage individuals?

These groups are obviously quite diverse in other characteristics, and include millions of people, so it’s difficult (except perhaps in public policy spheres over years) to directly influence them. But we certainly need to include this concept in discussions about sustainability.

One potentially practical task is to find ways to promote messaging that can continue to inspire newcomers to open software (or science, or government!) that yes, it is important they contribute, even in a small way. Helping FOSS organizations, projects, and communities find even slightly shared ways to both be friendly, to explain how to do things in their world, and to provide the general encouragement to newcomers seems like a useful practice area to help nudge the actual FOSS world into better sustaining itself.

What’s sustainable in open source? Questions!

Reading about open source sustainability the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find some pithy and useful quotes to start building out my FOSS Sustainability website. I started with a listing of the obvious resources – key funding sources, some overviews about how governance and funding mesh (or don’t), and the like. But between reading industry blogs and scratching the surface of research papers on sustainability, I haven’t found great answers yet. What have I found?

More questions.

Sustainability as a concept around open source projects and communities is such an overloaded idea that I’m having a hard time finding a specific place to start. So instead, let’s start with a list of some focus areas and questions to ponder, in terms of what perspective or audience we’re starting with. Thankfully, I’m also finding out many other folks are in the same boat, and are working on figuring out how to define this in broader, more useful ways.

Who is our primary focus?

The obvious group are “Pay the maintainers”, individual coders managing widely-used independent projects. The flip side are enterprises – who might pay for the projects they use, and various funding organizers: either grantmakers, collectives working on pooling and releasing funds, or even simple sponsorship buttons you can put on your repo.

The other kinds of maintainers are in community-governed, foundation-based, or corporate-sponsored projects. Plenty of projects are written by a combination of paid employees by one or more leading corporations, plus a constellation of individual coders or smaller companies.

The enterprise perspective is an entire universe of it’s own: often the people who understand the value of software they use are disconnected from people who control funding or strategy in a company.

Governments, NGOs, standards bodies, and the like are another universe of people concered about sustainability. Their perspectives are starting to get broadened by the growning research about both FOSS software impacts, but also risks, security, supply chain issues, and all the other news we read about lately.

Oh, and of course end users.  Where do they fit in with sustainabilty? Does the average user even understand they’re using open source inside whenever they touch a smartphone or computer?

What kinds of sustainability do we mean?

How do we keep open source software secure? Heartbleed’s giant security scare eventually turned into Core Infrastructure Initiative, a foundation to help fund quality and development of OpenSSL. But what about security across the hundreds of other critical projects used everywhere?

Are we concerned with keeping certain kinds of projects alive and self-managing and making bugfixes? Or are we concerned with the core infrastructure bits that everyone uses, and keeping them as solid upstream projects – instead of one particular vendor simply making all the fixes to their version, which becomes the de facto one most folks use?

How about long-term sustainability of the code itself, physically? How long are archives guaranteed, will they be findable, include history and releases?

How about keeping tooling current to today’s versions of other software bits in the dependency chain? Is there anyone around who can even recompile Tool X that uses frequently updated Dependency Y to ensure the binaries work correctly?

Of course all these questions might be changed subtly depending on the programming languages, and how projects are architected – or documented. The kinds of long-term tweaks to a UNIX utility are very different than a bit of Java middleware.

Does money come into it?

It’s more difficult, but you can find ways to make some projects sustainable without throwing money at them. But in most cases, we need someone to make a financial investment. And while sharing code has zero cost across any sort of boundaries, sharing financing and legal relationships (of employees, contractors, service providers, or whatever!) have significant costs – and lots of asymmetry in terms of knowledge and capacity to manage transactions – or even know they could ask for transactions (or some funding).

Which organizations are we considering?

Software companies (who build something related here) behave differently than other companies. Enterprises have very different resources and constraints than midsize or smaller companies. What about nationality and local law factors in how companies use or maintain their software dependencies?

By now you can see my theme: each of these general topic areas has a whole host of sub-topics, many with very different concerns even when they might seem similar. And of course the real world is a matrix of matricies of relationships between the who, the what, the money, and the how.

Feeling a little overwhelmed? I’m right there with you. Thankfully, that’s one of the exact questions some smart folks are thinking about right now: how can we define “sustainability” with some concrete concepts and shared terms / categorizations that we can all understand and agree on?

We’ll see! But I’m meeting some people that are making this very, very interesting to work on!

Let me explain…

No, there is too much. Let me sum up what’s been happening in the past 1081 days of March since the pandemic started back in 2020. Meme image from Princess Bride, featuring Indigo Montoya saying: "Let me explain... no there is too much."

The pandemic brought it’s own special challenges here, since we have complicating health factors that meant we essentially stopped going out for several months until we better understood the issues our situation presented. Luckily, we all could do work and school remotely for a while, so it was a far easier time here than for many folks.

Besides all the obvious things – seeing friends, going shopping, eating out, and just plain socializing – the other rotten thing about the pandemic was missing all my friends in the open source world. My two must-attend conferences were both cancelled in person: ApacheCon and Monktoberfest. Since I have a 20+ year career in open source technology, many of my friends are scattered around the world, and I only get to see them at conferences, which I’ve really missed, travel hassles and all.

Twitter and other social media sites have been a kind of lifeline, both for keeping up with the FOSS world and just with friends. That makes it all the more devastating to see the current $44B trajectory of turning that flawed-but-great tweetstream into the world’s most expensive billboard for a cheezy techbro. It’s currently a testament to the skills of Twitter’s past engineering staff (mostly fired or laid off now) at their skill to build a robust enough system to survive this long after a… ‘hostile’ management takeover.

My Pandemic Projects

At various times during the past two years I’ve turned to doing volunteer work or building websites to get by. I’ve also gone through a handful of wicked awesome games (and a couple of new game consoles) along the way.

  • Mutual Aid When times get tough, does your neighborhood have neighbors who help each other out? So many places in our modern (US East Coast suburban, which I admit is very first world problems) neighborhood didn’t really have that. So I worked on local social media and built Mutual Aid Arlington to try to connect people.
  • I ran for political office! Yes, it’s true, I ran for local town government during the pandemic – really bad timing for campaigning, I can tell you! In New England we have something called “Town Meeting” which is truly local democracy. To help people understand how hyper-local politics worked, I created Menotomy Matters.
  • I did NOT run for ASF Board. After getting elected again right in March 2020, I decided in 2021 (and 2022) to not run for the board again. Time with family and friends suddenly became so much more important – plus we had plenty of great new candidates for the board. It was a welcome time off, even as I continued to serve as the Vice Chair (since technically, the Vice Chair doesn’t need to be a director!)
  • I bought more domain names. It’s an occupational hazard, especially for anyone in tech who also has ADHD. Start with https://tldrfoss.com/
  • I got diagnosed with ADHD. Much to no-one’s surprise, I got an official diagnosis of ADHD, which explains a lot of my past history. If only this had happened… oh, 30 years ago, what might have I ended up becoming?
  • My remaining ancestor died. Mom deserves a separate post, but she was my last living ancestor. There was yet more paperwork.
  • We played video games. I mean, who didn’t? Along with a new Playstation, I played The Last Of Us (remaster, and 2), Horizon Zero Dawn, and Horizon Forbidden West. Each of them was an awesome experience, highly recommended.
  • I missed two years of conferences. Many of us did, as most conferences were cancelled. For those of us with open source friends, this was doubly hard, since that’s the only time we all gather together.

How Is This About Open Source?

It’s about community, which is the most important part of any open source project. Code is easy. People are hard. Especially groups of people from scattered backgrounds. Optimize your work for the people you interact with.

For those interested in more Shane, I use my real name on various social networks, find me out there!

Shane’s Director Position Statement 2020

As I do each year, here are my goals if I am re-elected to the Board at the ASF next year. Posting these statements each year (see 2019 and many past years) is an important way to communicate outside the membership how I think the ASF is doing (great!).

My objectives next year as a director are simple:

  • Continue to improve the services we offer our projects, especially around making services easier to find/use/consume, and provide better build, CI, and other infrastructure needs where practical for our organization.
  • Build a culture of positive encouragement so that newer Members feel comfortable speaking up; and make it easy for them to step up and volunteer for Foundation governance and operations.
  • Ensure the board takes a strategic view, and takes the time to think about the big picture and 5-year plan so we can keep the ASF vibrant and improving for the next 5, 10, and 50 years.

Continue reading Shane’s Director Position Statement 2020

Monktoberfest 2019 theme

Monktoberfest – the small but influential and highly curated single-track conference run by RedMonk and Steve O’Grady – always has a theme to the talks. I’ve been trying to quantify what I think the theme is all day, although there’s so much good content here it’s hard to quantify it clearly.

My default description of Monktoberfest talks is that it’s about how technology shapes society – and bring data. In the past, many of the speakers had done real research into their subjects and could provide rich and detailed source references behind the compelling and innovative narrative they spun. I have to say this year has been very light on the data side (so far; there are more talks tomorrow), but are the equal of any in the storytelling and concepts.

Continue reading Monktoberfest 2019 theme

Diversity & Inclusion programs in FOSS

A few volunteers at the ASF have been working on some new educational materials around diversity and inclusion (D&I) , so I was inspired to keep working on my FOSS foundations and major projects listing, to see what FOSS organizations have formal (or informal, but visible) programs in this area.

While there are plenty of research and resources for D&I programs in traditional corporate settings, most of us working in major FOSS foundations and projects live in a very different world. While the concepts and ideas for programs are a great inspiration, putting them in language and re-useable pieces that are practical to implement in a distributed, all-volunteer group is much harder.

Continue reading Diversity & Inclusion programs in FOSS

How Apache Runs Annual Member Meetings

As a Delaware non-stock membership corporation, the ASF’s bylaws specify that we hold an annual meeting of the membership. Since the ASF is also a distributed organization of volunteers, we hold our meetings a little differently than most companies – meeting on IRC over three days, and voting securely online.

Since we’re in the middle of our meeting this week, here are some answers to common questions. If these are valuable, we can add them to the ASF’s official member’s meeting process. I’ve also written a timeline of pre-meeting setup, as well as about the work after the meeting.

Continue reading How Apache Runs Annual Member Meetings

Shane’s Director Position Statement 2019

The ASF is holding its annual Member’s Meeting next week to elect a new board and new Members to the ASF. I’m honored to have been nominated to stand for the board election, and I’m continuing my tradition of publicly posting my vision for Apache each year.

I’ll keep this short(er); if you want to know more, please read my past thoughts on how Apache works and where we’re going (see end of this post).

After 20 years of growth, the ASF is a successful open-source community providing software to the world and a community framework to dedicated volunteers. At this time in our community development, we need to focus on efficiently scaling our organization to keep up with growth in project communities who need services and mentoring. We also need to make it easier for Members (whose numbers are rapidly increasing!) to participate in ways that provide consistent and positive guidance to our projects and podlings.

Continue reading Shane’s Director Position Statement 2019

The board member experience at Apache

With the Apache Annual Member’s Meeting coming up soon, thoughts turn to our board and new member elections, and where the ASF is heading as a Foundation. The weeks around our meeting are often filled with great new ideas, as well as the traditional statements from our many excellent director candidates about how we can work together to make Apache better for all of our projects.

This year a fellow director came up with a great new set of questions for current directors about how the board actually works. This is a great counterpoint to some of the questions members have asked in the past about where directors see the ASF going in the 5-10 year timescale. The perspective on day-to-day work of being a director is timely since we have several great new candidates for our election!

Continue reading The board member experience at Apache