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From Sally Khudairi ...@apache.org>
Subject Success at Apache: Project Independence
Date Mon, 05 Dec 2016 12:59:00 GMT
Success at Apache is a new monthly blog series that focuses on the processes behind why the
ASF "just works". 
This article is available online at https://s.apache.org/CE0V

By Mark Thomas 

I've been involved in The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) since 2003. I was using Apache
Tomcat at work and I hit a problem that needed a new feature to be implemented. There was
already an enhancement request in Bugzilla so I submitted a patch. After some re-work by the
project committers, the patch was applied and the feature available in the next release. I
enjoy problem solving, so I started to take a look at the other open Tomcat bug reports and
my involvement grew from there to include Apache Commons, the Infrastructure Team, the Security
Team and, most recently, the Board of Directors to which I was elected in March 2016. 

Apache Tomcat has always been at the heart of my involvement and is where I spend most of
my time. Tomcat started with a donation to the ASF by Sun in 1999 and, some seven major versions
later, the project continues to be very successful. A significant part that success is due
to the involvement of a wide range of individuals from different companies. The reason those
companies are happy co-operating on Tomcat is because of the importance the ASF places on
project independence. 

There are many aspects to project independence but, for me, the most important is that committers
and Project Management Committee (PMC) members contribute to the project as individuals and
do so with the intention of doing what is best for the community as a whole. Some committers
contribute in their free time – I did for the first five years or so with Tomcat – and
some are allowed /directed to spend time contributing to Apache projects by their employer.
However, those committers contributing on their employer's time still need to act in the best
interests of the community rather than the best interest of their employer. 

To give a specific example, my employer has a product that is built around Apache Tomcat.
The sales folks at my employer asked if I could add a feature to this product. The problem
was that this feature required access to low-level Tomcat internals in order to implement
it effectively. For this to be possible, I would have needed to make some ugly API changes
to Tomcat to provide the integration points required. Rather than try and push those changes
through, I persuaded my employer that it would better to donate the entire feature to the
Apache Tomcat project. 

This feature also demonstrates other important elements of a successful ASF project: the ability
to make decisions in public and always aiming to achieve community consensus with those decisions.
As the development of this new feature progressed, the design evolved as the community reviewed
the commits and suggested improvements. This isn't always the quickest way of working but
the quality of the end result – both technically but more importantly in terms of community
health - more than makes up for that. 

The perception of project independence is as important as projects actually being independent.
It is a key factor in many projects choosing the ASF as their home so projects need to ensure
that the perception agrees with reality. 

Things can and do go wrong. With 350 projects it is pretty much a given that there will be
a handful of ongoing issues at any given time. For example, there might be an attempt to push
a project in a particular direction or to suggest that some external entity controls / leads
/ manages the project. Typically these are self-corrected by the PMC. Sometimes the PMC needs
help to resolve the issue e.g. from V.P. Brand Management or possibly the ASF Board. 

Being a board member is often viewed as more significant than it is. I have no more status
in Apache Tomcat, Apache Commons or any other project as a board member than I did before
my election to the board. I can still have bad ideas and my fellow community members still
point it out when it happens. I don't get to always have my way just because I am board member.
It is the board as a whole, rather than the individual board members, whose voice carries
significant weight. It is fairly rare for any board member to speak on behalf of the board.
To give that some context, I've probably done it no more than once a month since joining the
board. It is sufficiently rare that board members always include an explicit "on behalf of
the board" when speaking for the board rather than as an individual. Sometimes this point
isn't appreciated and the views of an individual board member are incorrectly taken to be
the views of the board. 

The ASF board is also very different to a corporate board. The board manages the Foundation
but it is the PMC that manages the project and sets the direction. The board has no role in
the technical direction of a project. The board has responsibility for corporate governance,
finance, legal etc., but its primary role is monitoring, mentoring and coaching our project
communities to help keep them healthy. As part of this, the board reviews all projects on
a regular basis. Newly graduated projects are reviewed monthly for typically 3 months before
moving to quarterly reviews. The project V.P. (PMC Chair) is an important part of this. They
are the eyes and ears of the board. While the board will look for warning signs as part of
its regular review, the V.P. has much more in depth knowledge of the project and can flag
specific issues early. Where issues are identified, the aim is to get the PMC to self-correct.
The board will provide mentoring / coaching / guidance as necessary but it will be the PMC
members who do the work to correct the issue. 

As an example of the board working with a PMC, earlier this year the V.P. for a particular
project became unavailable. The board became concerned because the regular reports were not
being produced for the project. In this instance, no-else on the PMC had experience of being
a project V.P so the board worked with the PMC to identify a new V.P. and to then mentor the
new V.P. as they found their way in their new role.

For the last 17 years, the ASF has provided a home for a large and diverse set of open source
projects. Key to this success has been the importance the ASF places on project independence
as part of the Apache Way. By continuing to adhere to the principles of the Apache Way, I
am confident that the ASF will continue to be successful for another 17 years and a long way
beyond. 


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