What Apache Needs In Foundation Members

As the ASF’s Annual Member’s Meeting approaches this month, the Membership has an opportunity to vote in new individual Members to the Foundation. I’ve written about how member meetings work and have proposed some process improvements.

But the bigger question is: how can the membership better help the ASF succeed? What a Member can do at the ASF is documented, but what should Members consider doing? Where does the ASF need Members to help out, and how?

Reminder: these are just my opinions. There are over 600 active Members; there are probably 700 different opinions on the subject. But I hope these ideas help people better understand how the ASF works internally.

Help Multiple Apache Projects Work Together

Everyone elected as a Member has worked on one or more Apache projects – code, documentation, evangelism, community – the how doesn’t matter; what the ASF tends to recognize is positive contributions and an understanding of the Apache Way of collaborative development. Members have a unique ability to review all private records at the ASF, including all Apache PMC private lists. This insight – and experience with working with different projects – helps to give Members a broader perspective on how to help community-driven projects succeed.

This visibility means Members can have a great insight into how many of our projects work, and they often step up to help mentor other projects, even ones they don’t normally code on. Note that Membership does not grant any merit within individual projects; each Apache PMC votes in their own committers independently. But Membership is still a recognized merit, and the perspective on the larger ASF that members can bring is usually recognized positively by project communities. With over 190 independent project communities, cross-pollination of people and ideas is critical to keep us all functioning smoothly with volunteer-run projects.

Mentor Apache Incubator Podlings

I believe this is the biggest area I believe the ASF needs help: mentoring new prospective communities wishing to join the ASF. The Incubation process is designed to teach and mentor communities wishing to join the ASF on our processes: legal, brand, infrastructure, and especially community governance in the Apache Way. Since the ASF doesn’t have any paid staff in this area, we rely on the Membership to step up and serve as mentors to these communities.

It’s also the easiest thing to get involved with – any Member can simply ask to join the Incubator PMC (IPMC); approval is automatic. Members can then ask to become a mentor for any podlings or incoming project proposals. This is a great way that Members can both help train communities on the Apache Way, but also have a chance themselves to see new technologies and communities that want to join Apache.

We have an amazing set of people volunteering on the IPMC, helping the 50 or so podling communities the Incubator hosts at any one time. But the number of podlings, the varied community backgrounds, and the speed of new proposals arriving means we can always use more help in ensuring all podlings can learn how to become an Apache project.

Step Up To Help With Corporate Governance Work

While most people know something about how Apache’s collaborative projects work in building their code, many don’t know about all the work that goes on behind the scenes to provide the corporate services to all the communities at Apache. Members can join in and read all the lists where corporate operations happen: legal services, trademark management, infrastructure planning and maintenance, fundraising for the ASF, filing corporate taxes, and everything else a Delaware chartered corporation needs to do.

These are all areas of corporate governance, policy management, or financial paperwork and oversight that are very different from the tasks that our projects do creating software and building communities. And since the ASF has very few paid staff/contractors, we rely on Members volunteering to step up and perform these tasks – many of which have hard deadlines, legal consequences, and some of which require specialized experience and knowledge.

Many Members express curiosity, or ask questions or raise concerns about various areas of operations. But we have too few Members who can regularly put in the time and effort to productively help with the day-to-day tasks in some operational areas. This means that we all too often have to rely on a small pool of members who somehow find the time to keep up with these complex tasks. In some cases – for tasks that are clearly defined, and usually highly time-sensitive – we’ve hired or contracted the work. While that ensures tasks are done properly, it still requires oversight and management by our volunteer officers, and of course requires the budget to pay for those services.

If You Are An Apache Member

If you’re a Member interested in my advice, I’d say:

  • Be realistic about how much time and thought you can invest. Don’t get burned out, and don’t over-promise, unless you can also quickly and clearly let other volunteers know that you’ve over-promised. Especially around financial matters (which are HIGHLY time sensitive) we’ve had a number of Members burn out quite painfully, for the person and the organization both.
  • Do your research! All major operations lists are open to Members to review and subscribe. Review the org chart and click on the officer responsibilities, read the mailing list and see who’s there and how it works, and volunteer clearly for what you think you can do.
  • Help out, and be patient. Just like you gain merit in an individual project by showing up and being helpful for a while, help out on list for a while, and be sure to ask questions about how the operations work. Once you’ve shown some expertise and willingness to help with the work, the officer or committee there can help you take it to the next level.

I hope this helps explain how the ASF works better, and if you are a Member, please feel free to ask me or the officers in any operations area for more information, and volunteer your help!

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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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