What Apache Also Needs In A Board

Some great recent discussions around the upcoming member’s meeting in 2017 have got me to thinking about the larger question: how can the ASF as an organization function better, and how does the board effect that? I think there is one more important concept in a board that the ASF needs to have, along with oversight and vision.

We need a board that can foster and support environments where our many volunteers can be productive in groups in performing the work of the Foundation. Our projects run many of these environments, and do a great job for their parts. But there’s a lot more work that happens at the ASF than just the code you’ve been working on today.

What Kinds Of Work Happen At Apache?

The code. The most obvious kind of work at the ASF is the simplest: all the Apache projects writing code and creating software releases for the public good. This work is all handled inside of each Apache project by the volunteer committers there. The board can help by creating or encouraging the creation of clear documentation from the various ASF services offered to projects, and by balancing a few specific technical needs from some projects (think: big data projects need big test environments!) with the capacity and smooth running of our crack Apache Infra team’s provided services to all projects.

The communities. The most important work at the ASF is the independent governance that Apache projects provide to their communities. PMCs manage their own communities independently and have many different styles, but all share some common behaviors. On-list discussion, [VOTE]s, release management: these are all required behaviors, as is independence from commercial influence. These behaviors are to some degree separate from the technical maintenance of the code and may sometimes not be part of some committers’ typical skill sets.

Here, the board has two roles: oversight of quarterly reports and mentoring PMCs when needed. The board needs to help all the support groups at Apache – Incubator, infra, press, brand, ComDev – to provide the best services to the projects. If PMCs do have community problems, it’s up to the board to nudge a community to fix itself before taking more official action. The board needs to make sure guidance is clear and respectful of the PMC’s volunteers – and explains why changes might be needed.

The Foundation. Keeping the corporation that provides the legal and infrastructure home for all our communities is a complex task, run by volunteers, that is often underappreciated. We need a board that makes the roles and responsibilities clear and consistently documented. This respects the current volunteers doing the work, and ensures that Members looking to help know where and how to start volunteering. Just as projects want to attract new committers, the Foundation needs to attract Members who will step up to help with the work behind the scenes.

The Common Thread – Volunteers

In each of these cases, the ASF relies on volunteers [1] to keep our organization running. In many cases, these volunteers are doing these Apache tasks outside of their primary day-to-day job, meaning they have limited cycles. In most cases (besides writing code), these volunteers are doing Apache tasks that are probably not their primary skillset – meaning education and documentation are important.

We need a board that will create the documentation, foster the culture, and will help promote the kinds of environments where these volunteer groups can succeed in both performing their Apache tasks, as well as drawing in new volunteers to help.

The ASF has proven ability at how to do this on the technical project level: we’ve defined many ways that open source projects can be successful long-term. We need to ensure we can consistently apply these techniques to our Foundation-level governance and operations as well. As our number of far-flung projects and committers increase, we need to make sure that our Membership can easily step up to volunteer for the corporate operations and services we provide to projects.


[1] While the ASF contracts some services – paid infra staff, accounting and tax support, etc. to paid positions, officers overseeing these positions are volunteers. We have been consistent in keeping governance decision making as volunteers, even where the day-to-day work may be staff (infra, EA) or contracted (press, accounting, legal). See also the graphical organization chart I created.

[2] Edited in March 2018 to update some grammatical errors a kind Twitter user pointed out.

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Briefly, Shane is: a father and husband, a friend, a geek, a Member and director of the ASF, a baker, an ex-Loti, a BMW driver, a punny guy, a gamer, and lifelong resident within the 495 belt. Oh, and we have cats.

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