Trust and confidence

2017-12-06 05:48
One of the main principles at Apache (as in The Apache Software Foundation) is "Community over Code" - having the goal to build projects that survive single community members loosing interest or time to contribute.

In his book "Producing Open Source Software" Karl Fogel describes this model of development as Consensus-based Democracy (in contrast to benevolent dictatorship): "Consensus simply means an agreement that everyone is willing to live with. It is not an ambiguous state: a group has reached consensus on a given question when someone proposes that consensus has been reached and no one contradicts the assertion. The person proposing consensus should, of course, state specifically what the consensus is, and what actions would be taken in consequence of it, if those are not obvious."

What that means is that not only one person can take decisions but pretty much anyone can declare a final decision was made. It also means decisions can be stopped by individuals on the project.

This model of development works well if what you want for your project is resilience to people, in particular those high up in the ranks, leaving at the cost of nobody having complete control. It means you are moving slower, at the benefit of getting more people on board and carrying on with your mission after you leave.

There are a couple implications to this goal: If for whatever reason one single entity needs to retain control over the project, you better not enter the incubator like suggested here. Balancing control and longevity is particularly tricky if you or your company believes they need to own the roadmap of the project. It's also tricky if your intuitive reaction to hiring a new engineer is to give them committership to the project on their first day - think again keeping in mind that Money can't buy love. If you're still convinced they should be made committer, Apache probably isn't the right place for your project.

Once you go through the process of giving up control with the help from your mentors you will learn to trust others - trust others to pick up tasks you leave open, trust others they are taking the right decision even if you would have done things otherwise, trust others to come up with solutions where you are lost. Essentially like Sharan Foga said to Trust the water.

Even coming to the project at a later stage as an individual contributor you'll go through the same learning experience: You'll learn to trust others with the patch you wrote. You'll have to learn to trust others to take your bug report seriously. If the project is well run, people will treat you as an equal peer, with respect and with appreciation. They'll likely treat you as part of the development team with as many decisions as possible - after all that's what these people want to recruit you for: For a position as volunteer in their project. Doing that means starting to Delegate like a Pro as Deb Nicholson once explained at ApacheCon. It also means training your capability for Empathy like Leslie Hawthorn explained at FOSDEM. It also means treating all contributions alike.

There's one pre-requesite to all of this working out though: Working in the open (as in "will be crawled, indexed and made visible by the major search engine of the day"), giving control to others over your baby project and potentially over what earns your daily living means you need a lot of trust not onnly in others but also in yourself. If you're in a position where you're afraid that missteps will have negative repercussions on your daily life you won't become comfortable with all of that. For projects coming to the incubator as well as companies paying contributors to become open source developers in their projects in my personal view that's an important lesson: Unless committers already feel self confident and independent enough of your organisation as well as the team they are part of to take decisions on their own, you will run into trouble walking towards at least Apache.