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!

Here are a fellow director’s FAQs about the day to day experience of volunteering as a director at the ASF, and my replies.

Which areas were a lot of fun for you?

Getting to work with other directors and all the other committed volunteers doing the behind-the-scenes work of the Foundation. There’s a lot of work ensuring that the legal framework behind all of our projects keeps running smoothly, and working with the great ASF Members who do this work is fun.

Which parts were particularly educational for you?

Learning about non-profit tax law. No, really – I found the details of IRS form 990 fascinating.
OK, more practically: following the community mentoring work that other directors did. The board provides community oversight to all 200+ Apache projects; watching how directors handled tricky community situations and helped our projects work collaboratively was amazingly educational.

Are there any parts of being a board member that you could imagine helping with even after stepping down?

Yes – automating repetitive tasks with Whimsy. While much of the time spent as a director is using your judgment deciding how to help projects, getting those messages to projects in a consistent and easy-to-read format can be improved with our board agenda tool.

Which areas were particularly time costly for you?

Keeping up with the many mailing lists I follow. The board is where the buck stops in terms of corporate operations, so I feel a responsibility to know what’s happening. I personally follow over a dozen active lists with great interest, and try to help out where I can. Sometimes I end up spending too much time trying to keep track of everything, even when I know I won’t be able to add to a conversation.

Which areas were energy costly for you – didn’t necessarily take a lot of time but were definitely not fun to deal with?

Dealing with personnel or personality issues. In most cases, the President and officers (for operations tasks and staff) or our PMCs (for project matters) can course-correct themselves and deal with serious issues by drawing on our many Member volunteers.

But when those self-correction efforts don’t lead to a timely solution, the board will step in, even if merely to remind a team or project of what the core expectations are within the ASF (and that they should really fix the issue themselves, please!) Very rarely, when there are serious structural issues or when there are intractable individual personalities blocking progress, the board will reluctantly step in to make organizational changes. These are never fun situations, either for the project affected or for any of the directors who end up being the face of the board making the changes.

What are the tasks and time commitment of being on the board at the ASF?

It depends. The required tasks of fulfilling the duties of a Director don’t take that much time, although the week before our monthly teleconferences does have hard deadlines. So just doing the minimum might only take a handful of hours that one week, plus occasional time reading important topics on the board mailing list the rest of the time.

On the other hand, reading every project’s quarterly reports and reviewing the operations teams’ monthly reports gives you an amazing perspective across all of the ASF. There will be plenty of new ideas and areas that you’ll want to help out or provide ideas for. That can take up as much time as you’re willing to volunteer.

Any advice for new board members – where to look first, what legal implications to keep in mind, what PR implications to keep in mind etc.?

It’s obvious, but the main advice is to take it seriously. I know all the candidates already do; but once you have that Director title, you need to understand that it colors how many (most?) other people see you and consider your written words.

“I wish I had known this before joining the board”

The best place to have each kind of discussion. The board has access to every list at the ASF; using the right list keeps the discussions focused on the specific community that’s doing the actual work.

What are the strengths of the ASF board?

The people. Every director candidate for every election since our founding has been amazingly strong, passionate, and helpful Apache Members. The community of open source talent our candidates come from is breathtaking. Also: as directors, we all leave our corporate affiliations at the door. Decisions of the ASF Board are always made in the best interests of the ASF and our Apache projects.

What are areas for potential improvement for the ASF board?

Consistency. We’re all passionate about our ideas – but when it comes to managing operations or providing feedback to large project communities, we need to ensure the Board gives a consistent message about the ASF’s expectations. WE need to make it easier for the Board to come to a clear consensus, and keep our messages to projects and the world consistent about our core goals

What changes should be made to the way the ASF board operates, interacts with communities, interacts with the wider ASF ecosystem, interacts with the public?

That depends on each year’s set of directors. My hopes for the next year’s board is to work on making all our internal discussions more cordial and focused. We have a limited amount of volunteer energy, and keeping discussions focused can make the most of it. Also: keeping the oversight and mentoring we provide to our projects clear, polite, and positive.

Thanks to Isabel for coming up with a thought-provoking set of questions about the Apache board. These questions are doubly important given that all policy-setting positions at the ASF are held by unpaid volunteers. Also, unlike some other open source organizations, the ASF board is privately elected by an independent vote of the entire Apache Membership – no corporate affiliations or campaigns, just the Members coming together to choose the best board for the ASF itself.

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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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