Where Is The ASF Going? Director Q&A

With Apache board elections coming up soon, an ASF Member came up with a great set of questions for all director candidates. With permission, I’m sharing those questions here, and providing my answers as well.

I’ve also posted my own Director Position Statement for this year (and past years!).

Questions For Board Candidates

Missions, Visions…and Decisions

The ASF exists with a primary goal of “providing open source software to the public, at no charge”. What do you consider to be the foundation’s most important secondary (implicit) goal?

Fostering independent and collaborative communities; in particular by mentoring and encouraging our contributors and members to step up and become mentors and exemplars of the Apache Way so they can help others.

Looking ahead, 5 years, 10 years…what do you hope the biggest change (that you can conceivably contribute to) to the Foundation will be, if any? What are your greatest concerns?

That all Board < -> PMC communications are simple, concise, and friendly.

Think about the phrase “the board is a big hammer” – is that really how we want to operate? I’d rather have us conceptually expand the IPMC Mentor < -> Podling PPMC relationship, where the board (and the Membership at large) serve as regular and helpful mentors to Apache projects throughout their lifetime. In the very rare cases where a PMC does go off the rails, we need the board as a whole to cleanly engage as a kind but firm mentor, making it a friendly learning process, not a mixed message of a hammer from multiple people.

My greatest concern is our entirely flat hierarchy: we can’t change that, but we must learn how to focus it and keep it polite. Flat works on a project scale, because everyone the PMC has one codebase they all use. Flat at the Foundation level means we have 600+ Members who can each jump in to try to fix a problem in a single PMC.

Which aspect(s) (if any) of the way the ASF operates today are you least satisfied with? What would you do to change it?

Discussion behavior on private mailing lists. Our projects have pretty good behavior – because they’re smaller active communities, and because they are focused on software, where there tend to be obvious answers to technical questions.

At the Member level, we need to deal with corporate operations and policy making. Budget, legal, brand, press, – these are areas that 1) many of us don’t have deep expertise in, and 2) don’t have as obvious or simple answers as software problems do.

Ensuring that the Membership, the board, and all our officers keep conversations here focused, polite, and productive is our biggest challenge. Since we rely on volunteers for all policy making, making this process more welcoming is the first step to improving the actual operations and work we do to provide support to all our projects.

Budget and Operations

Which roles do you envision moving towards paid roles. Is this the right move, and if not, what can we do to prevent/delay this?

Infra, obviously: keeping our infra team fully staffed – anytime we can provide more services safely with our own staff to our projects helps ensure their independence from corporate donors.

The other area is editorial help: while we have many, many useful emails, web pages, and presentations explaining the Apache Way, we need to organize them all and provide well-written materials that everyone can find and understand easily, even newcomers. Even a short-term information architect or editor to organize the apache.org developer portal and Community Development website, and give a focus and structure to the great volunteer-created content we have would be incredibly valuable. Volunteers do a great job on the parts; having a coherent whole would mean we can succeed in reaching our communities easily.

What, if anything, would you do to ensure that budgets are approved on time? does it even matter?

It absolutely matters – both to our suppliers (like Virtual and our contractors!) and to our volunteer officers who manage expenses. The first step is to clearly document the process – it’s all explained in emails on the Operations list each year, but we don’t have a comprehensive budget calendar and process documented on the website at a stable URL. That is simple to fix – modulo volunteers to actually write, edit, and check the work in.

80%+ of budgets should be super-simple and obvious – we need cloud servers and infra peeps. The rest of budget should be clear proposals by volunteer officers stating a need, a plan to meet that need, and a cost for the board’s consideration.

If you had to pick a keyword for budget planning and execution, which would it be? Things like “transparency”, “timeliness”, “cost-effective”

Transparency, clearly documented process.

Membership and Governance

Should the membership play a more prominent role in decision-making at the ASF? If so, where do you propose this be?

Yes – on the same lines as merit within our project communities. That means providing alternatives or documented reasons for -1s; it also means showing up to help do the work for +1s.

Membership brings access to all areas of Foundation operations, but we need to remember that each operational area has its own merit that should be earned independently. Being a Member means you can show up on any list but doesn’t mean you get a binding vote there yet.

What would be your take on the cohesion of the ASF, the PMCs, the membership and the communities. Are we one big happy family, or just a bunch of silos? Where do you see it heading, and where do we need to take action, if anywhere?

We’re a bunch of big happy families. Happy is good, but different families means we often have different views of what being an Apache project means.

We need two things: better document what the “Apache Way” means, and what the board expects projects to do (or not), and more organized and cohesive mentoring and culture sharing across all of our projects – and across Foundation operations too.

If you were in charge of overall community development, what would you focus on as your primary and secondary goal? How would you implement what you think is needed to achieve this?

The real need for the ComDev PMC is to focus and empower our many volunteers to improve our overall documentation, education, and social message as a cohesive whole that helps our communities do their work.

The key tasks are to put forth some clear goals, and mentor/help/encourage all committers that show up on how to build effective and lasting materials that we can use and re-use across all our communities – and outside our communities as well. We have lots of individual volunteers and separate bits of content – what we need now is tying them together, and ensuring we have better writing and editing so the information is easy to approach and understand.

Show and Tell

What is, in your view, your proudest accomplishment in your time at the ASF? How’d that make you feel?

Creating our comprehensive set of trademark and branding policies, including explanations of how to deal with issues suited to our communities, both in terms of content and expertise level. Bonus achievement: other organizations have copied parts of those policies and procedures, and I’ve been asked by FOSS leaders and lawyers at other organizations for help as well. That makes me feel great, for achieving something important enough that others want to use it.

Which abilities/skills do you think you’ll bring to the board, that would improve or strengthen the foundation?

Clear and polite communication and organization skills, to help us be efficient at making decisions, and ensure that our discussions, records, and any policy or best practices we decide on are easy for the world to understand – both the how, and the why.

Who do you admire the most at the foundation (past/present), and may we know why?

Brian Behlendorf, one of the ASF’s founders, wrote lots of cool code, ran servers, all sorts of amazeballs useful stuff, etc. But I admire him for his humility, kindness, and helpfulness to everyone who asks.

Very early committers remember when they first got their Apache accounts, Brian would personally send friendly and welcoming root@ emails with their new account details – since some of the original ASF servers were in his house. That friendliness and willingness to help is my goal.

Ponies or gnomes? (yes/no?)

Ponies, of course! Trick question – gnomes muck up all the works.

Thanks for the great questions!

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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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