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Leadership, fawgawdsake!

September 20, 2014 1 comment

In a Google+ post last week, Aaron Seigo rightfully ripped into “community managers” — quotes intentional, because it doesn’t really apply to all who are in charge of keeping a community functioning (more on this later) — generally who lead from above or by “star power” rather than leading by the consensus of the community. I wrote about it briefly in my weekly wrap-up on FOSS Force on Friday, but it started me to think about what makes good project leadership.

As I said in my FOSS Force item, I think overall Aaron is right in his tome on G+, yet part of the problem is the term “community manager” itself, which might lend itself to the boss/worker dynamic, and whether this makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy in many communities. It very well might, and that aspect needs changing.

I would rather see the interpretation of those who are given the responsibility of communities — hopefully an earned responsibility granted by the consent of the wider community — to be titled something differently: community gardener, community facilitator, community cat herder, whatever. Those in leadership positions are neither bosses giving orders nor “rock stars” to be adored. Those in charge, regardless of what they’re called, are the ones who facilitate the project through inspiring a committed and focused community.

Reading Aaron’s latest salvo and the myriad of interesting comments that followed, it made me think about what makes a good leader and who might serve a project community well as a facilitator.

One name kept coming up.

My Dad.

Larry Cafiero, Sr., more "happy warrior" than "grammar hammer," would have made a good FOSS project facilitator.

Larry Cafiero, Sr., more “happy warrior” than “grammar hammer,” would have made a good FOSS project facilitator.

Larry Cafiero, Sr. — known as Larry the Elder to my Larry the Younger, or Senior to my Junior (prepare for some pain if you call me that to my face) like the Griffeys — was really more “Happy Warrior” than “Grammar Hammer” as a newsman, but one of the traits that made him exceptional in the field was that no job was too small for him — nothing too insignificant, nothing beneath him — either as a city desk editor at The Miami Herald or as the Herald’s longtime Special Publications Editor, the position at which he worked for the last decade of his journalism career.

It was really no accident that I followed my father into the field, and I always looked to him for guidance. It always impressed me that his staff, never more than one or two, always seemed to go the extra mile, and always went above-and-beyond, for the department. One time, I asked one of his assistants why, and I was told — and I’m paraphrasing — that my father “was one of them.”

I didn’t know what he meant by that until Dad and I talked about leadership when I had been given the keys to a weekly newspaper in Dade County and I had to lead a group of reporters and photographers.

“Did you ever read ‘Henry V’?” He asked me. I hadn’t. He said I should read it, paying special attention to the preparation for, and the fighting of, the Battle of Agincourt.

So I did. And I got it.

It also made something else he said several months before a little less obtuse. We were at Johnny Raffa’s Lobo Lounge — one of Miami’s press bars in the late ’70s — and we talked over identical bourbons about what makes a great newsman. Dad’s answer was simple: You had to be like Captain Kirk.

Actually, I found it odd that my father was referring to a show I knew he didn’t really watch.

“You mean, I have to kiss all the green alien women on the planet?” I asked.

I got the look, then the eyeroll, followed by the admonishment, “Oh, fawgawdsake,” in the New York accent borne of his rearing in the Maspeth section of Queens, New York.

I can still hear him explaining it this way: Kirk had the ability to do everything on the Enterprise by himself, if necessary. The entire crew could drop dead and he’d still be able to fly the ship, at least in theory if not in practice. So a great newsman knows everything about producing the news — he can report, edit, lay out pages, crop photos, set type (what we did back then), make plates, put the plates on the press, and run the press.

So what it comes down to is this: Creating software, or even hardware, as a community in the open-source realm means encountering many rhetorical Battles of Agincourt, and it takes special kind of leader to marshal a team of developers to perform this task, day in and day out, like clockwork. Also, it takes a special leader to be able to “fly the Enterprise” by himself or herself if necessary, having both the knowledge and the desire to pick up where parts of the team may be lagging to bring the project up to speed.

You don’t get that with so-called leaders following traditional management tenets in a traditional manager/worker role. You certainly don’t get that with “rock stars,” as if that needs saying.

But you get that with leadership modeled after Henry V. And Captain Kirk. And Larry Sr., fawgawdsake.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Among the many things he does, Larry Cafiero writes news and commentary once a week — and occasionally more frequently — for FOSS Force.)

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Moving on

September 8, 2011 17 comments

OK, it’s crunch time. At the end of the week, you should be in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Linux Fest — if you’re going to a Linux show before the year’s out, make it this one. This is the last big show on the North American continent until SCALE in January. At OLF, Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

KDE’s Aaron Seigo, “a shift-key-challenged KDE hacker,” wrote an interesting blog item this week where he outlines where KDE is going with Plasma Active. While the blog item itself may not be terribly earth-shattering, the significance of a member of the KDE project leadership taking the time to outline where things are going, so there are no surprises down the line, is significant.

Most telling and reassuring, at least to me, is this paragraph: ” . . . [W]e do not believe in the ‘one interface that runs on both your desktop and your tablet’. We believe in code reuse, in component-reuse (and, where beneficial, drop-in-replacement), compatibility and interoperability; but we also believe that a tablet interface and a desktop interface are not, and should not, be the same thing. The use cases and form factors are just too different.”

He adds later: “So those who are concerned that we’re going to do something nasty to the desktop interface: breath easy.”

Amen to that, Aaron. Thanks for bringing that up and I’m breathing easier as a result.

“Hue and cry” is something at which various Linux and FOSS communities excel. When we find something going amiss, usually a controversy of biblical proportions ensues, where the end of the whole Linux/FOSS paradigm — not to mention yet another delay in the Year of the Linux Desktop — is inevitable unless said problem/redirection/error is fixed, and fixed now.

But while wailing and gnashing of teeth is a hallmark of Linux and FOSS communities, so is the ability to overcome these missteps and improve the programs, or if improving is impossible, forking the program to make a new one. Think LibreOffice, which was trapped by Oracle before being released into the Apache wild. Or this: Not that it’s a fork per se, but my Fedora colleague and friend, Juan Rodriguez — who wanted GNOME 2.32 on his Fedora 15 — stated his displeasure of GNOME 3, but rather than harping on it, he went to work and created the BlueBubble respin of Fedora which has the older GNOME desktop atop Fedora 15.

So amid the upheaval of desktop environments, we have a precedent to look at with KDE having gone through this before. Fortunately for GNOME, KDE’s experience serves as a cautionary tale. KDE seems to have ridden out the rough spots after their release of version 4, though there are some that are just not going to be happy with anything other than their KDE 3.x, and they aren’t shy about saying so.

Arguably, GNOME has stepped in a steaming pile with GNOME 3, and it would bode well for them to take a page from KDE’s playbook here and recover in the same manner. Frankly, I’m expecting GNOME to get over this rough patch, circled as they seem to be by angry users (and ex-users) with torches and pitchforks. The folks at GNOME could learn something from Aaron’s blog item about not making one desktop fit all, but I digress.

Meanwhile, back at the point of this blog . . . the point of this blog today is to remind those KDE users who are constantly picking on KDE because 4.x is not 3.5, as well as to the army of GNOME 3 enemies throughout the shire mercilessly beating up on GNOME, to heed these words: Stop already — we get it.

For better or worse, or for good or evil, both KDE 4.x and GNOME 3 are here. The barn door is open and the horses are in the pasture. The toothpaste is out of the tube.

Get over it and move on.

While I remember the “false start” that accompanied KDE 4.0 and the problems and complaints that KDE users made at its release, I don’t know the situation first hand because I was an intermittent KDE user at the time. I’ve clearly warmed up to the KDE 4.x series and, to be honest, I don’t get what all the hubbub was about, since KDE 4.6 works pretty well on my Fedora 15 laptop.

I understand the animosity toward GNOME 3 — I can’t use it (I have old hardware), and I consider the “fallback mode” the digital equivalent of sitting in the back of the bus. On the few occasions I have had to use it on newer hardware, I want to like it, but I just can’t — it’s an interface that doesn’t seem to belong to the laptop or desktop.

However, that’s all I’m going to say about it, except that I hope GNOME 3.x will fix some of the problems I have with it, making it usable for me. If not, I won’t use it. That plain, that simple. As an aside, I am warming up to Xfce quite well on the whole, so I may be splitting my time between KDE and Xfce from here on in.

But I don’t plan to bludgeon GNOME every time it comes up in a forum or an on-line discussion, because beating dead horses gets you nowhere.

So the choice is yours: You can keep harping on this great injustice, picking at the scab so the unkind cut doesn’t heal, or you can move on by either accepting the way things are or adapting them to what suits you, as Juan did with BlueBubble.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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