Re: 11 Questions to answer

On Wed, Nov 06, 2002 at 07:02:42PM +0000, Ghee Seng Teo wrote:
> 1) Why are you running for Board of Directors?

Like many of the other candidates (judging from their nominations), I
like the benefits of a varied (both geographically and role) board
membership. I use GNOME every day. I work in a company where the
majority of the technical staff use it. I deal with other companies where
I can see the benefits that GNOME could bring. So, I think I have some
unique perspectives that I can bring to the board.

Further, at the time I nominated, it was in the spirit of "doing my
turn". There were not a large number of qualified candidates and I did
not want the board to whither after a couple of years of useful work.
Fortunately, a bunch of good, albeit last-minute, nominations
subsequently arrived, so that point is no longer valid.

> 2) Do you have leadership and committee experience? If so, please explain.

My day job as a software developer involves playing the project manager
role in some areas and working as a subordinate member of a team in

Outside of GNOME (and computers), I was very active in past years in the
local (state and national) chess organisations. I have also qualified to
be an International Arbiter in this field, part of which involved
organising and running large international events. Along with the
diplomacy required there (anybody who has seen Billy Connelly's sketch
about domino players has a good idea of what can happen), this involved
the necessary tasks of finding venues and sponsorship and answering
telephone calls and mail queries from the participants. I don't
particularly relish some of these tasks (seeking sponsorships is not
fun), but I have done them when necessary.

I have also spent time as a teacher -- helping to organise activities
for both "gifted and talented" and disadvantaged children. A lot of that
work was done via volunteer committees, incorporating people with a wide
variety of backgrounds, experiences and priorities.

> 3) How familiar are you with the day-to-day happenings of GNOME?  How much
> do you follow and participate in the main GNOME mailing lists?

I would say I am very familiar with the day-to-day happenings. Looking
at my recent mailboxes, I am on 23 active GNOME mailing lists, which I
follow each day and I post regularly to many of them. I think that on
any given day I have an excellent idea of the bigger picture and where
things are up to.

> 4) One of the primary tasks of the Board of Directors is to act as a
> liaison between the GNOME Foundation and other organizations and companies
> to find out how the two groups can work together to their mutual benefit.
> Do you feel you would be good at understanding other people and companies
> and finding ways that GNOME can collaborate with other companies and
> organizations to benefit both groups and their users?

Yes, I can do this. A large portion of my employment involves helping
plan and develop solutions that are, variously, small and large
variations of existing projects. That is similar to how GNOME finds its
way into an organisation: we take what we have already on both sides and
possibly polish a few corners to make the pieces interoperate more

I do not just feel this would be something nice to do, I look forward to
the opportunity. Seeing various components of different projects come
together in a useful way is very rewarding and is something I would like
to be involved in as much as possible.

> 5) One of the responsibilities and powers of the Board of Directors is to
> identify organizational weaknesses and needs of GNOME and to create
> committees, appoint coordinators of these committees, and act as liaisons
> with them.  What do you believe are the current weak points of GNOME as an
> organization, and if you were able to, how would you change the GNOME
> organization?

Much of the work in various areas of GNOME is done by only a few people.
Sometimes these same few people are wearing many hats and carrying a
large load in multiple areas. I do not believe this is solely because
these people are masochists. I am talking about something that is
prevalent right across GNOME: board level, system administration,
website, documentation (user and developer), writing code, designing
modules (the GEP process, etc) and so on.

I would like to see some effort put into spreading the load wherever
possible. This is in no way an easy task. It requires somebody (or more
than one 'body) to be prepared to coordinate groups. It requires passing
on the requisite knowledge, which can sometimes take longer than just
doing the job yourself (although the former repays itself over time). It
requires finding and evaluating the skillsets of available volunteers.
If people are finding that they have too much work,at any level, I would
like them to be able to get help easily.

This "spread the load" idea works from both ends -- the experienced
people need to pass on knowledge in all areas; new and less-experienced
people need to be able to find areas towards which to direct their

As to how to implement this idea... I think raising it in people's
awareness will be part of the game. Making sure that frequently asked
questions and common problems on the mailing lists are collected into a
more central location ("search the archives" is such a cop-out, since
it's hard to know what weight to attach to different replies when you
are just starting out and it can take a very long time).

Of course, this isn't an easy task, since so many GNOME contributors are
volunteers. So it's a gradual thing.

On the whole, I like the way the GNOME pieces come together. I don't
agree with all of the approaches, but I doubt that anybody does. It's a
volunteer community effort and generally we are all pushing and pulling
in the same direction. Tinkering with it just for the sake of something
to do would be stupid.

> 6) The board meets for one hour every two weeks to discuss a handful of
> issues.  Thus, it is very important that the board can very quickly and
> concisely discuss each topic and come to consensus on each item for
> discussion. Are you good at working with others, who sometimes have very
> differing opinions than you do, to reach consensus and agree on actions?

Having not been on the GNOME foundation board before, I am a bit unclear
as to how it works. However, providing that most issues are known prior
to meeting times, arriving at a consensus after very limited discussion
time is certainly possibly and something I prefer. My experience in both
participating in and running meetings is that nothing helps
unproductiveness like endless debate with no biting of the bullet after
a time and just making a decision. Where this model breaks down is when
too many items are introduced on the spot and then having restricted
discussion time. I would be strongly in favour of such items then being
put off until the next meeting to give people time to form an opinion.

Reading between the lines in the minutes for the past couple of years,
this seems to be the way things work anyway (lots of "postponed until
next meeting" and "Federico will report back next meeting"), so I can
definitely work within that structure.

> 7) Often Directors have to draft policies, form committees, find
> weaknesses or approaching problems of GNOME and work on solutions, and act
> as liaison with various groups (both within and outside GNOME) and
> companies.  Please name three or more areas which you feel are important
> for the Board to address over the next year and which you would enjoy
> contributing some of your time to help get things started and possibly act
> as a liaison between the Board and any other committees, groups, or
> companies if relevant.

(1) There seems to be a blockage at the system/hardware administration
side of things (and this is _not_ a criticism of the guys doing all the
work on that side). For over a year now, there has been an item in the
board minutes about moving access to the GNOME CVS repository over to
use ssh. Earlier this year, that became "jrb to talk to Owen about
what's involved" and lately it has been concretely postponed until after
a new server is in place (and the new server seems to not be happening,
if I read the recent minutes correctly). If something is important
enough to be brought up at each meeting for a year, let's work harder to
get it done.  If we are having trouble sourcing hardware, let's get on
that. I have asked a few times how I can help by contributing to the
cost of a large disk drive or something similar -- only to be told that
it is too hard and requires a new server, etc, etc. Very poor answer.
Let's get organised and help people sponsor a piece of hardware each for
the new server or something. There are other areas where it seems like
some sysadmin help might be useful, too. There are enough of us around
who are pretty experienced system administrators on different
architectures and not entirely untrustworthy.

(2) Developer documentation and learning materials. Developing for
GNOME when you are coming from another environment is hard. I know this
from experience -- before coming to GNOME, I had dabbled in KDE code and
done a fair bit of work with wxWindows. It took me a fair while to come
to grips with all the different GNOME pieces, even though I knew in
principle what I needed to know. We can help incoming and existing
developers by completing the API documentation, writing more articles
that are available for download and giving tutorials at conferences
(paid or otherwise). "If you build it, they will come", but they'll also
walk away pretty quickly if participating requires scaling a high rocky
cliff (unless you are Glynn, of course).

(3) We need to organise what we already have. The current website is
undergoing a makeover. I'm not sure how much this includes But take a cruise around that site (d.g.o). Large
portions of it refer to out of date information and some information you
would expect to find there is missing. We need to have a few people
playing the role of "librarian" and making sure that the information
made available via GNOME is current and as complete as possible (with an
idea of what is missing). If you grab all of the documentation, articles
and example code available right this minute, there is a metric
truckload of it. However, it's pretty hard to find. GNOME does not have
to store all this information, but making it easy for others to find is
going to be doing ourselves a favour.

(4) Preparation of accurate "new developers start here" locations (this
is sort of related to the previous two points). Have a look on
gnome-list or gnome-love when people ask what they can do to help.
Sometimes they have looked at some old TODO lists, sometimes they just
want to know where the TODO lists are. However, we don't really have a
good response for these people. This is a hard job to do well, since it
requires constant updating and awareness of what's going on. But I would
definitely be interested in helping people coordinate the collection and
maintenance of this type of information.

I guess the common thread amongst the things I would specifically like
to work on is assisting outside developers to write whatever it is they
write in a way that works nicely with GNOME. That way GNOME will become
a good choice for a desktop. Attracting users seems to be safely looked
after by other people, but we need to get the developers interested,

> 8) Do you consider yourself diplomatic?  Would you make a good
> representative for the GNOME Foundation to the Membership, media, public,
> and organizations and corporations the GNOME Foundation works with?

Yes. As mentioned above (question 2), I have quite a lot of experience
at working in varied circumstances. I have experience talking to the
media. In general, if you put me in front of a podium and give me an
audience (advance warning optional), you usually need a shotgun to get
me to stop talking and I feel pretty comfortable talking to any group
from a bunch of eight year old children up to the corporate executives
(having done both ends of that scale and a fair few in between). I like
talking at conferences and have helped out at various install and
programming festivals organised by the local LUG in the past. Unless I
am repressing something, I have never been asked to leave because I was
embarrassing the organisation I was representing at the time.

> 9) Will you represent the interests of GNOME and the GNOME Foundation over
> all other personal or corporate interests you may represent?

Wherever possible, yes. Obviously this is not going to 100% of the time,
since my employer pays my salary and I am obliged to represent them
first and foremost while on the clock. However, whether I am on the
board or not, I always have GNOME in the back of my mind and do not
misrepresent it in public.

> 10) Will you be willing and have the available time to take on and
> complete various tasks that the Board needs accomplished?

Naturally. That would seem to be a requirement of nomination.

> 11) One of the ingredient for success in Free Software project such as GNOME
> is committed and dedicated memberships. How would you propose to promote new 
> membership, and encourage commitment of existing membership to make the GNOME 
> desktop the desktop of choice? [ Hints: the number of Foundation members have 
> reduced from 460 in 2001 to approximately 300 in 2002 ]

Let me deal with the Red Herring at the end of this question first.
There are real grounds for doubting that a comparison between the
current numbers and last year's is meaningful. The membership process
over the past few months has been reduced to the level of a tragedy with
mass expirations, horribly acrimonious relations between the membership
committee and a vocal minority in the bleachers and a sudden change
in membership policy (I'm not commenting here on whether it is better or
worse than the policy it replaced). Last year's numbers may be a little
inflated, since they included people who joined when the foundation
started and maybe did nothing since then. This year's numbers may be a
little deflated, since application processing stopped for a while and
people may be wondering why they should join. So ignoring that
comparison seems reasonable.

It is far from clear to me what the benefit is of being an ordinary
member of the GNOME foundation is. In theory, the only reason to do it
is to allow you to vote for members of the board. For many people, the
composition of the board, a group of people who are, in ways, involved
on a different, more corporate, level in GNOME may not be that

In practice, membership was also used as an initial admission check for
the "hacker's conference" in Boston (although that check was
subsequently dropped) and you need to have three foundation members as
'responsible people' on a GEP.

GNOME is a collections of volunteers and professionals with a common
interest. Participation is already open to everybody -- just look at the
involvements in the mailing lists. People can already contribute to the
GNOME desktop without joining the foundation. So, if we want to improve
the membership numbers (as measured by counting the number of GNOME
foundation members) we need to help people decide that it is worthwhile
to be a member. In order to that, we need to decide for ourselves why it
is a good idea to become a member. Note that I do not consider it
reasonable to say that this will help us show what a big group we are --
that is just creating numbers for the sake of it.

I don't know what the answer is here. I very nearly did not renew my
foundation membership this year for exactly the reasons given above --
what did it offer me? The things that changed my mind were the fact that
I may wish to attend something like a repeat of the Boston conference in
the next couple of years and I had thought about running for the board
(plus voting for the board didn't seem that onerous). I agree there is
work to be done if you want to count GNOME participants == foundation
members and I am willing to help if a reasonable argument can be found,
but I do not know how to do it at the moment.


Always try to be modest and be proud of it!

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