As promised, I’ve been working on a “Year in Review” blog post to review some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year as the Fedora Project Leader. Unfortunately, the size of the post has grown a big larger than I would have liked, so I’ve decided to split it into few pieces. This is part one.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since I started as the Fedora Project Leader. There are a number of areas that I’d like to highlight in this retrospective, but the first I’d like to talk about is communications. Why communications? I truly believe that we will owe much of our future success and failure (both in the world of FLOSS generally and more specifically within Fedora) to communication. For something as critical as communication, I think we often do ourselves a disservice in the way that we communicate, and that causes me heartburn.
Before I dive too much into communication, let me first get something off my chest. I’m not the most communicative person in the world. For those of you who know me personally, that shouldn’t come as a big surprise. By nature, I’m a fairly quiet person. Most of the time, I’d much rather be in the trenches solving problems than standing in the spotlight. The last thing I want anyone to think is that Fedora is somehow being directed by my ego. That being said, I’ve done a lot of reflecting, and I’ve come to realize that Fedora needs a leader that is more communicative, that spends more time in public helping to market Fedora (for lack of a better term), that spends less time in the trenches. If I’m going to blog about communication and how we can improve, let me be the first to apologize for being a bit quiet in the past, and let me also be the first to pledge to each of you my renewed determination to open my mouth more and to be better about the ways I communicate.
Now, looking at the Fedora Project has a whole over the past year, I think we’ve done an OK job of communication. Not a great job, but an OK job. There are a few particular areas I’d like to highlight — not to come off as sounding preachy, but to point out some things that will make us stronger. First, the obvious item — flamewars. We’ve certainly had a number of them over the past year, with some worse than others. In general, however, I’d say we’re getting better about keeping the overall numbers of flamewars down, at least compared to years past. I’m still concerned, however, about the levels of sniping and snarky comments that I see within our community, and the lack of civility that is displayed from time to time.
If I may, let me offer a few reminders about communications that I believe will help us to strengthen our communities. While many of these focus on the mechanics of email, I think they probably apply equally well for IRC and other communication formats.
- Focus on what is right and not who is right. The greatest asset we have within Fedora is the people who contribute their time and energy and passion to make it better. If we come to realize that, it only makes logical sense that no matter how much we may disagree with a technical proposal or the actions of another person, let’s stay focused on the technical details and try not to turn the discussion into personal attacks. In religious circles, there’s a concept of “loving the sinner but hating the sin”. Even if you’re not a religious person, that concept should hopefully help illustrate the point I’m trying to make.
- Don’t question other people’s motives. This one ties in somewhat with my first point, but I think it deserves to be mentioned as well. We all contribute to FLOSS for our own particular reasons, and who are we to judge that one reason is better than another? One of the quickest ways to lose someone else’s trust and respect is to question their motives. Let’s try to judge each contribution solely based on its technical merit.
- Taste your words before they leave your mouth. When I was in school, I had an English teacher that always told the class to “Taste your words before they leave your mouth.” For better or worse, many of the people in our community are only known by what they write (and how the write it). How do your messages reflect upon you, and upon the community in general? Is your content precise and specific? Does the formatting of your message reflect common email etiquette? (I promise I won’t go into a long rant about top posting versus bottom posting, but I will encourage everyone to trim their replies to show which parts of a conversation they’re replying to.) Does the tone of your email reflect a willingness to work toward a common solution? Is you message productive, or simply meant to evoke an emotional response?
- Repetition. Not all repetition is harmful, but if you’ve made the same point repeatedly (either in the same thread, or keep making the same point every time you get the chance), you’re probably not doing yourself any favors. It’s natural for the human brain to look for patterns, and I think we’ve all probably participated in communities where certain members exhibit a pattern of repetition, to the point where our brain says “Oh, it’s another post on that same point by so-and-so… I’ll tune it out.” Now, as the FPL, I don’t want to get to where I’m tuning people out, so please use repetition sparingly. Chances are, we heard you the first time or two.
- Be willing to be part of the solution. It has been my experience that people are much more likely to get a positive response to communication when they can show that they’re willing to be part of a solution to a perceived problem. If you’re the one pointing out the problem, show that you’ve done your homework and that you’ve tried to understand the problem to the best of your ability. Be humble enough to point out the things you don’t understand. If you’re responding to a problem report, communicate clearly whether you too are willing to be part of the solution.
In addition to suggestions above, I’d also like to point out that we need more than just a lack of bad communication — we need more healthy communication as well. I’m going to do my part to work on this over the coming year, and I invite you to join me. If you’re doing something constructive in Fedora or other areas of FLOSS, talk about it!
One of the topics I’ve been pondering lately is the dual-edged nature of change. As a long-time systems administrator, I dislike change at a basic level. I want systems to stay static, to work tomorrow the exact same way they worked yesterday, and so on. On the other hand, as the Fedora Project Leader it’s my job to continue to drive innovation and progress (and therefore, change) through the Fedora release process. And, as I look back at the past year, most of the conflict and friction inside of Fedora can be boiled down to a debate about what is an acceptable rate of change, whether that be in desktop environments, initialization systems, or translation infrastructure. I’ve got a larger, more in-depth blog post in the works about the lessons I’ve learned over my first year as the FPL, so I won’t bore you with the details now, but I’d like the readers of my blog to think about where they lie on the spectrum between “totally static” and “completely flexible to change”. (And, at least for me, my location on that continuum is distinct for different parts of my life.)
As you may have already read this morning, my good friend and mentor (and former FPL) Max Spevack has decided to make some changes in his career. I’m a bit sad to see Max go and I’ll miss the opportunity to interact with him on a regular basis, but I’m also happy for Max and his new opportunity and wish him the best as he pursues his dreams. (Max, don’t be a stranger. Even if you move across the country, you can still hang out in Fedora. We won’t razz you too much!) I know in my heart that changes in leadership can be a healthy thing for a community, even if it is a bit chaotic in the short term. I want to publicly express my support for Harish Pillay as he takes over Max’s responsibilities inside of the Community Architecture and Leadership team within Red Hat. I’ve known Harish for a while, and I have absolute confidence in his abilities. The CommArch team is of the Red Hat teams that has the most interaction with our Fedora community, and I’ll work with Harish to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible and that Fedora continues to receive the support and encouragement it deserves.
If you have any questions or concerns about the transition, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You know where to find me.
Please forgive me if I wax a little patriotic this morning… I woke up early this morning (while the rest of my family is still asleep) because I wanted to write something about how thankful I am for the freedoms I enjoy. Here in the United States where I live, today is our Independence Day. For some, it’s a time to enjoy a holiday from work, cook hamburgers on the grill, spend time with family, and watch fireworks. For me, the Fourth of July has always been a bit more reflective — I time to ponder the sacrifices given by so many to ensure the freedoms I enjoy today. Not just the founders of my country, but all those throughout the world who have sacrificed their all to make the world a better place.
As I read the accounts of those throughout the years who have given their all, I can’t help but sit in awe, and wonder. Would I be willing to sacrifice so much for so great a cause? I certainly know that I wouldn’t be able to have the best job in the world and do my part to help the cause of free software if it weren’t for the freedom and agency that I enjoy. So, to all who help make freedom a reality and to those defenders of freedom throughout the world, I salute you. Thank you for your hard work and dedication!
The first day of SELF was busy and productive. I started the day by attending David Nalley’s presentation as part of “Build your own Open Source cloud day” here at SELF. I had to leave after the first hour, however, as we had a FAD (FADs are Fedora Activity Days — small group meetings where we try to focus on one or two particular problems and come up with better solutions) focused on improving FUDCons. In particular, we wanted to focus on:
- Clarifying the process for FUDCon finances and the purchase of tickets for travel subsidies
- Clarifying the bid selection process, and brainstorming ideas to make it better
- Improve the FUDCon planning process, and ensure that there is an overabundance of transparency and detail-oriented organization
We had some fairly good discussions on each of the three topics, and I’ll be writing follow-up blog posts to address these items over the next couple of weeks. It is imperative that we make the FUDCon process as transparent and smooth as possible, as we’ll essentially have three FUDCons in four months (FUDCon EMEA in September/October, FUDCon APAC in November/December, and FUDCon North America in January).
As the Fedora crew was winding down the discussion in the FAD, I had to run give my presentation (the first stand-alone presentation of the day) entitled “Swimming Against the Current”, which was a fairly high-level overview of the software development model, the river of functionality that starts with upstream software developers and flows downstream to end users, the unique role that software distributions such as Fedora play, and why it’s vital both to build strong relationships of trust with upstream software communities, as well as improve the communications within the distribution itself. The talk seemed to be very well received, and we had a great Q and A session afterword where we discussed strategies for improving the mentoring process within communities.
After wolfing down a sandwich for lunch, I spent some time talking with former Docs Project lead Eric Christensen (Sparks on IRC) discussing some of the ins and outs of the documentation team in Fedora. We worked on fleshing out a quick outline for new guide that Eric is writing, and then dove into brainstorming ideas for improving the docs process workflow. In the middle of that discussion, Eric and I went to Paul Frields’ talk, which was an introduction to PyGObject programming (Python + GUI + the new GObject hotness). After wrapping up the Docs discussion, it was time to head to the speaker’s dinner, and then retire to my room, make a few phone calls, and crash.
Wow! I can’t tell you how pleased I am with the response I’ve seen from the Fedora 15 release. Once again, Fedora has shown that it can continue lead in features and freedom and still make a very functional distribution in a six-month time frame. Kudos to everyone in Fedora for your hard work and dedication. From the packagers to the designers, documentation team, translation team, QA, release engineering, marketing, spins, and everything in between, we’ve built something we should be proud of. Of course, not all of the response to Fedora 15 has been positive (and I’ll address that below), but I feel very good about the impact of this release on the future of Linux distributions.
This week I’m in Panama City for the annual Latin American version of our FUDCon conference, and since Fedora 15 was released yesterday, we decided to throw a little impromptu release party last night. It was quite entertaining to watch the planning happen, and to see how the little microcosm of the release party reflected the Fedora way:
A plan was made, packages (of food) were obtained, a “build system” was acquired (and yes, there’s a story about how many contributors it takes to put together a BBQ grill — but that’s a story for another day), an “alpha” was put out there for test consumption, and so on. We even had a couple of unfortunate schedule slips, too. Along the way, the people involved crossed political, social, and language barriers to unite for a common cause. And at the end of the party, everyone left not only satisfied with the food, but happier because of the interactions along the way. In short, it was the open source way at work on a very small scale.
Now that Fedora 15 is out the door, you might think it’s time to relax a bit — but no, it’s time to get back to work. Our six-month release cycle doesn’t really give us time to stop. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll working with Robyn Bergeron (the Fedora Program Manager) to set the schedule for the Fedora 16 release cycle — but in short, the feature freeze is going to be approximately July 26th. I’ll also be working with the Fedora Board to do a Fedora 15 retrospective. If you have items you’d like to add to the retrospective, please check it out on the wiki. As always, I value your feedback in helping us make each Fedora release better than the previous ones.
One of the most light-hearted parts of the Fedora release process (and the one that often gets complaints) is picking the release name for the next version of Fedora. For example, Fedora 14 had a release name of “Laughlin” and Fedora 15 has a release name of “Lovelock”. I need your help coming up with plenty of suggestions so that we have an adequate pool to vote from after the names have been vetted.
You have until the end of the day tomorrow (March 10th) to submit your most creative entries for the release name. Please follow the instructions at https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Name_suggestions_for_Fedora_16 to ensure that you follow the naming guidelines. The name cannot be picked at random, but must follow a simple set of rules.
For example, Laughlin is the name of a city in Nevada, USA, and so is Lovelock. Lovelock is also a [new link here], and <your name suggestion here> is also a [new link here]. The new link should be original, and not something already used (cities in Nevada, physicists, kings, names of ships, etc.). You can find the entire set of rules on the wiki page linked above, and the history of Fedora release names at http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Releases/Names.
Please take a moment and post your most creative suggestion on the wiki at https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Name_suggestions_for_Fedora_16. We’ll open up voting on the release names from March 23th through March 29th.
I updated the links to actually work — sorry about the links not working last time.
I’m hoping to find time over the next few days to do a more complete blog post relating all my recent travels, but for now I wanted to give a quick shout out to everyone who was able to attend FUDCon Tempe and make it the best North American FUDCon I’ve seen. I was impressed by so many things but here are a few that stick out in my mind today:
- I was impressed with the number of people who were at FUDCon for the first time. I tried to talk to as many people as I could, and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. If I didn’t stop and introduce myself and say hi, I’m sorry
- I was impressed with the conference venue. Everything was within walking distance, and the facilities at Arizona State University were top-notch. And, believe it or not, we had no major problems with internet access! Thanks to Robyn Bergeron and all the folks at ASU that put time and effort into the logistics behind the conference.
- I was impressed with the number of people who pitched talks in the BarCamp session. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge and talent in our community, and the BarCamp sessions really highlighted that. I also felt that going to fewer tracks (only four simultaneous sessions) made the scheduling easier.
- I continue to be impressed by how much easier it is to communicate when you’re face to face with a person, especially when the people communicating don’t speak the same native language. Several of us had a great conversation about that over dinner last night (as we had native English, Spanish, Dutch, German, and French-Canadian speakers in the group). Sometimes it’s even just cultural differences — one participant mentioned that in his cultural, having walking into a store and having someone ask “How are you today?” would be considered a little bit confrontational, while I wouldn’t think anything of it. For me, that highlighted the need to get people face to face from time to time.
- I was impressed by the number of people with nice Canon cameras. A number of cool people let me borrow their cameras and let me go with them to the camera store, and I have to admit the budding photo geek in me was seriously craving a camera upgrade. Hopefully we can get community members to share their photos online.
I’m exhausted beyond belief, but I’m very happy about the entire FUDCon experience, and am extremely grateful to play a part in such an awesome community.
An important (and rewarding, even if it is tiring) part of my job as the Fedora Project Leader is to help spread the word about Fedora in various parts of the world. The most visible part of this is speaking at conferences and meeting with our ambassadors and contributors. Over the next three weeks I’ll be on a jet-lag-inducing marathon of travel, and I thought it would be helpful to let people know where I’ll be over the next few weeks.
On Friday, I’ll be flying to Brisbane for the LCA conference. This is my first time to attend LCA, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting many of our contributors in the Asia-Pacific region while I’m there. I’m also glad that the flood waters are receding in Brisbane, and that the conference attendees can do their small part to help in the recovery by showing up for the conference, eating in restaurants, staying in hotels, and otherwise helping the local economy. I’ll be giving a presentation on Thursday the 27th explaining what Fedora is and the unique relationship between Fedora and Red Hat, and how to work effectively with upstream projects.
After LCA, I’ll be flying from Brisbane to Tempe, Arizona for the North American iteration of our annual Fedora Users and Developers conference, affectionately known as FUDCon. I always look forward to the FUDCon conferences around the world, as they’re the best opportunity to meet with and work with other Fedora enthusiasts in a fun atmosphere. I’ll be giving the traditional “State of Fedora” address on Saturday, leading the Board meeting on Monday, and generally doing my best to ensure that the conference runs smoothly. I’ll also pitch a BarCamp session or two. As always, FUDCon is a free event and we encourage all Linux enthusiasts to attend regardless of their experience level.
After FUDCon I’ll be traveling to Belgium for FOSDEM, which is one of the premier free/open source software conferences in Europe. In particular, I’ll be doing a couple of presentations in the Distributions room, talking about cross-distro collaboration, as well as the roles that distributions play in the free/open source ecosystem. In addition, I will also be helping out at the Fedora booth. I’m also hoping to pop over to the Open Telephony room to say hi to some of my telephone-loving friends there as well, if time permits.
If you’re at any of these three conferences, I encourage you to stop by and introduce yourself. I look forward to meeting with you!
I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase “Stop doodling and get to work!” when I was a child. My teachers were constantly telling me to stop drawing pictures and to focus on the class material. Now that I have two children who would rather doodle than do their homework, I get to see the perspective that my teachers had.
Today, however, I’m actually going to ask you to get out your favorite pen or pencil or tablet, and start doodling — all for a good cause! The Fedora Design team is looking for concept ideas for Fedora 15 artwork, and the submission deadline is quickly approaching. At this point in the Fedora 15 schedule, they’re just looking for basic concepts and ideas, not finished products. So get to work — you’re doodling might just be the foundation for the Fedora 15 artwork.
(Ok, I know what you may be thinking… you’re wondering about the “default wallpaper” decision that the Fedora Design team is discussing. Whether or not Fedora decides to use the Gnome wallpaper as the Fedora 15 default wallpaper for the Gnome desktop, Fedora 15 still needs artwork for other desktop environments, Anaconda splash screens, website banners, media sleeves, and things like that. Please help us come up with the best possible artwork ideas for Fedora 15!)
It’s getting closer to the end of the year, and that little voice in the back of my brain is telling me that I need to step away from the computer and try to fit in a little rest and relaxation. I’m not sure about the rest and relaxation part, but I’m am going to take a break from the computer by going on a vacation to Ireland and England with my family over the holidays. I’ll most likely be away from email and the internet most of the time from tomorrow until January 1st. If and when I do find internet access, I’m most likely to check a dedicated email address (vacation (at) jaredsmith (d0t) net) first.
I’ll also point out that the end of the year adds an interesting dynamic to open source communities. For some, the holiday season gives them extra time to work on their favorite projects and try new things, while for others the holidays mean taking a break from working on their projects. Please keep that in mind over the next couple of weeks. (As an example, almost all of Red Hat is off work the week of December 27th.)
If you need to contact me while I’m away, I’ve left a UK cell phone number with each member of the Fedora Board, which should be able to reach me while I’m on my adventure.
I wish each and every one of you a happy holiday season, however you choose to celebrate the season.