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Rich0's Trustee Manifesto - 2011


1.  About Me

  • Gentoo Developer for ~3 years.
    • Amd64 Arch Dev
    • Maintain a few odd packages
    • Generally an advocate for a smooth stable user experience
  • Gentoo User for ~10 years.
  • Business Analyst in the Pharmaceutical Industry
  • Formal education in Biochemistry (MS)
  • First Linux experience was with Slackware in mid-90s on a 486SX with /usr symlinked to the CD on a UMSDOS filesystem.
  • Recent modest participation in local LUG (Phila Area Linux User Group - PLUG).

In the real world my job basically consists of making software work for the users who depend on it - using IT to solve real-world problems. Frequently this means working within both technical and legal constraints (for good reason Pharmaceutical manufacture is highly regulated - across multiple jurisdictions), and delivering complete solutions of which the technical component is often but a part. While I can enjoy being a “legal nerd” as much as a “computer nerd,” in the end it is getting things done that counts so I’m always a fan of simplicity.

I will not claim to be a laywer by any stretch of the word, but I do have a general understanding of US law and have some exposure to non-profits/etc. I do think I know enough to know when I don't know enough (and need to call for professional help), and that is half of due-diligence.

2.  My View of the Foundation / Trustees

It has been said that the Trustees are Gentoo’s “middle management.” While I do believe that the foundation and the formality of its operations are critical to the success of Gentoo, I think that we also need to recognize that Gentoo is first and foremost a volunteer community-driven effort. It is important, therefore, for us to strike an appropriate balance between the formality required for legal reasons and where the handling of funds/property is concerned, and the VITAL need to avoid stifling what should be a fun and participative process for the vast majority of the community that does not need to be as concerned with these matters.

I believe the Trustees also can play a strong role in the community as an advocate for professionalism and polish. In this role the Trustees should work alongside and within the community as leaders showing the way, and avoid whenever possible using legal or administrative authority to force change on the larger community. I believe that most developers can appreciate the value of quality, and they merely need somebody to speak out for it from time to time. The use of authority (whether by trustees, council, devrel, infra, etc) should be limited to the rare exceptions.

I viewed the recent FOSDEM presentation on the evolving relationship between the Trustees and Council and I support this model (I think I’ve posted on the lists a few posts to this effect myself). However, while legally the Trustees may wield a great deal of authority it is imperative that the Council and devs in general be given the greatest possible freedom in carrying out the mission of Gentoo. We aren’t handing out paychecks, and the foundation will always be just a fork away from obsolescence. When dealing with volunteers softer forms of persuasion must usually be used.

3.  My Role as a Trustee

If elected to the Trustees, my first priority will of course be to the status-quo operations of the Foundation. The Foundation is a legal entity, and mundane matters like meetings, minutes, and the odd renewal of the corporate charter are of course of paramount importance. That said, I will be an advocate for limiting the highest levels of formality for only those activities for which it is legally required. In my experience day-to-day working with government-regulated computer systems I’ve found that failing to distinguish between legally important and unimportant activities rarely leads to raising the bar on the latter - instead it tends to cause sloppiness on matters where we cannot afford it.

On the lists I’ll probably try to continue to be an advocate for giving users a more polished experience (more thoughtful use of news, commitment to quality, etc). One thing I’d like to try to do is bring more attention to areas of concern, and try to mobilize more of the community to deal with it (simply kicking overworked devs when they are down doesn’t do anything). I think that the Trustees can play an increased role in getting more community involvement for non-devs. Full devs will likely remain as quality gatekeepers for a while, but we should make it as easy as possible for users to contribute otherwise. As Roy and others suggested at FOSDEM - there might also be opportunities to better collaborate with downstream projects.

I have no illusions that I (or anybody else) can personally make all of this happen. I think what is important is to identify a couple of key community projects that the Trustees can push for, and try to make tangible progress on them. If we try to do everything at once we will just have a lot of mailing list discussion and not much action.

4.  On the Future of the Foundation

There has been speculation in the past about the Foundation, and whether it should be absorbed under some larger umbrella organization (SFC, SPI, etc). Such a decision is something I feel that should be made with great consultation with the Gentoo community as a whole, and of course will be a joint decision of the Trustees. My own feeling is that Gentoo’s needs are distinctive enough that we ought to maintain an independent Foundation indefinitely. However, I’m all for working with other FOSS organizations to try to find ways to gain efficiencies/etc. If being part of an umbrella means that Gentoo can pay a modest fee and get shared access to lawyers/CPAs/etc and other legal necessities I think it may be a good move. If being part of an umbrella means ceding control over the direction of Gentoo I don’t think this is wise.


Page updated February 14, 2011

Richard Freeman

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