To live among real people

I have decided to not run for the Linux Australia committee again for 2008, and to instead live as a normal community member in the Australian FOSS community. I’m hoping this will give me some context as to the good and bad of Linux Australia, and help me understand our community better, how people/organisations interface with LA, and what a national body can do for our community as our needs and society changes. Alongside this goal is also the fact that I have become relatively burnt out and need a break. I wasn’t nearly as active on the LA committee in 2007 as I wanted to be, and I also have two specific community-centric projects I’m helping with for 2008 that will be taking a lot of my time (specifically Software Freedom International of which I am still President, and a project yet to be announced).

With this in mind I thought I would briefly chronicle my time with LA for histories’ sake. I also want to lay the groundwork for what I believe makes a good candidate for the LA committee based on my experience and observations.

In the beginning…
When I came across LA only about 9 months prior to 2003 (Perth) I found an organisation with a total of 5 members (who were also the committee members) and a legacy of flamewars, distrust and apathy. The founding members had a great vision, and many thanks to them for their hard work in establishing Linux Australia (in particular Anand Kumria, Terry Dawson, and Gary Allpike). However, unfortunately it had become caught up in politics and harsh words, and didn’t yet have a strong base that people could get behind. The website was informative but quite difficult to use. The general decision making processes and vision of LA were not firmly established nor particularly transparent. But there was an interest in change for the better from at least 3 of the 5 members.

The party begins
I convinced the committee of the time to have an open AGM at lca2003, to drop the membership fee completely and to grant free membership to all attendees of lca2003. Then, at lca I went and spoke to most of the ~450 people who attended about what, if anything a national body could do for our community. A few people thought there was some usefullness to such an organisation. A few thought it was a complete waste of time. 150 people turned up to the AGM which was fantastic! I had never been on a committee before and I was considering perhaps nominating for an ordinary committee member position, and was absolutely floored when I found out some rogue had nominated me for President (I still don’t know who). I convinced Hugh Blemings and Andrew Tridgell amongst others to run for positions (they went for ordinary committee member positions) and all up we had about 20 people nominated for positions. At the end of the process I was nominated President with an incredibly strong team, namely Stewart Smith (Vice President), Andrew Cowie (Secretary), Anand Kumria (Treasurer), Hugh Blemings, Leon Brooks & Andrew Tridgell (Ordinary Members). Together we forged a strong base on which LA has grown now to almost 1400 members, with strong relationships with other organisations and even Government.

It took a lot of work as we had to create from scratch a vision for Linux Australia which really was focused on being an organisation that supports its members to do great stuff, that drives forward FOSS and the FOSS community in Australia, and that is flexible enough to reflect changing times and community needs. We also had a lot of grunt work to do establishing a useful constitution (many thanks to David Lloyd for helping with this), several policies and procedures for dealing with things usefully, and a whole new precedent for the organisation. In particular, Andrew Cowie helped with this by drawing on his background of building strong foundations for new organisations.

Passing the torch
In 2005 I decided to not run for the President role again, as I strongly felt that passing the torch is extremely important to successful projects coming into their own, and I wanted LA to be about itself, not about Pia Smith (at the time). Many FOSS projects become identified by their top representative, and this is fine in many cases, however it can also be to the detriment of the project. Particularly when it is a community-centric project, rather than a software-centric project. I ran for and won VP, primarily to provide support to the President and some continuity in the organisation. I have been really pleased over the past two years of watching LA be driven by Jon and a couple of great committees, to see that LA now is an entity that has its own momentum, its own identity and ultimately its own sustainability. Rock on to all the wonderful individuals who contributed to making this happen!

How to pick a strong candidate for the LA committee
One of the things I wanted to briefly cover is from my experience what it takes for someone to be a strong candidate and contributor to the LA committee. Below is a top five list of personal attributes I believe are important, and I would urge you all to look for when casting your vote for the LA committee in January. Feel free to add more important attributes in the comments 🙂

  • Community first – it is important to try wherever possible to put the community before personal feelings or motivations. Being on the LA committee puts you in a position of both representation and personal responsibility
  • Good communication skills – all committee members need to try to maintain good communications, an open mind to other perspectives, and in particular be clear about what hat they are wearing at any one time 🙂
  • Personal responsibility – it is important that candidates are willing to take personal responsibility for any specific tasks, communication, making decisions and whatever comes up (obviously in consultation with the committee). A strong committee only exists where each individual is willing and able to contribute personally
  • Being open to constructive criticism – Everyone receives their fair share of criticism, and often there are trolls lurking in the bushes with nothing better to do. Being open to constructive criticism and the possibility that at any time you could actually be wrong is important in keeping the channels of communication open, to growing as a person, and to understanding how to do your job on the committee better
  • Finally, and most importantly, positive vision – all the people who have had the best impact on LA have done so not only with a strong vision, but with a strong positive vision. You need to be able to articulate and encourage in a positive way, otherwise your attitude has a net negative impact not only on you and people you communicate with, but on the whole community

I guess these are some things to look for in committee members. It isn’t actually whether they are popular, fun to be around, great coders (or documenters, etc) or even great advocates. It is about what they can bring to Linux Australia and to our community. I would strongly encourage all candidates to really outline their goals and vision in their spiels so people can carefully weigh up what they want to bring to the table alongside other candidates.

I have been on the Linux Australia committee for 4 years now, two as President and two as Vice President. I’m really proud of what we achieved, particularly in the first two years of Linux Australia and I have met many extremely inspiring people along the way. I look forward to seeing what LA does in 2008 and I wish the best luck to all candidates in the upcoming election. I also call on all people who want to contribute to our wonderful community to put their hands up and nominate themselves for the LA committee. It continually needs new ideas and perspectives to keep it in line with our changing community needs and directions, and it is such a great privilege to serve the Australian FOSS community, which is one of the best FOSS communities in the world. I’d like to thank everyone I have worked with over the past 4 years, in particular Jeff for his constant support and advice, Hugh Blemings and Andrew Tridgell who provided a lot of advice in the first year, Jon Oxer who has been such a great steward of LA over the past 2 years (and hopefully again in 2008!), and to Bdale Garbee, who convinced me in 2003 that I had what it took to “herd cats”.

3 thoughts on “To live among real people”

  1. You do realise that the very unselfishness which you display here in taking a step back is EXACTLY what would get you elected (landslide) to El Prez if there was a way? (-:

  2. OBTW, I wouldn’t mind doing another stint as an OCM, but there are at least 3 considerations against, namely:

    1. there is enough personal trauma happening to demand (away from LA, as well as all else) an impractical amount of attention; &

    2. you are sufficiently valuable in so many ways (& I know of this Jeff bloke I’d expect to have agreeing with me here — if he was reasonably sure to be unobserved) that I wouldn’t want to confuse any issues by sticking my oar in too early; &

    3. I’m still finding my feet after a _major_ head injury; while many symptoms have evapourated, I think it would be wiser to let a year or two extra elapse before picking up any important loads (& while the amount of physical time & effort required of OCMhood is far from extreme, the scope for achievement in that modest role is considerable).

    So… _if_ circumstances work out reasonably well, I’d be willing to stand for an OCM slot in 2009, but not now.

  3. Thanks Leon 🙂 It has been wonderful to see your recovery progress so rapidly and I think you are a valuable contributing member of our community. I’d vote for you in 2009 🙂

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