The Apache Software Foundation Blog

Monday June 05, 2017

Success at Apache: Learning to Build a Stronger Community

by John Ament

As the next line in the series of "Success at Apache", I had to think about what kind of blog post I wanted to write.  Given my personal focus, it made sense to focus on new projects coming in and the incubator.  When I'm not busy dreaming up new ideas and working on personal projects, I'm helping new projects get in to Apache, keeping their goals in alignment with the Apache Way http://apache.org/foundation/governance/ . I'm a member of a few different PMCs here at Apache, notably the Incubator. I'm a mentor to five different podlings right now. While my primary programming focus is on programming models, my podlings are all over the place. Starting a new project here at Apache can be a daunting task: how do I get in? What if I don't build a diverse community?  Becoming a podling has more to do with the community than it does the technical aspects of the project. We don't expect you to be experts in it, but we do expect new projects to be experts in how their own software works. We want to teach you, and we want you to be receptive to learning about The Apache Software Foundation and its best practices.

I'm not sure if everyone does it, but I build a lot of parallels between how an ASF project works and how an Agile team works. Agile teams start off as a bunch of people who don't really know each other but have assembled themselves into an informal team focused on solving a problem, or some number of problems, knowing that they can only do it together. They have common goals and objectives, but lack camaraderie early on to be able to work together smoothly. Over time, they get to know one another, figure out strengths and weaknesses and can resolve issues together. A well-functioning team isn't one at the beginning. It takes time and practice for them to work well - both together and as an outwardly facing unit.

Projects here at Apache follow the same type of maturity progression. Whether it's learning The Apache Way or learning to work with one another, it takes them time to mature and get into a good groove. 

Open Communication
The ASF is pretty big on open communication, wherever it's a sensible solution. We want to discuss with each other what we're doing, ideas around how to solve it and come up with a good solution together, as a team, in an open manner.  

This all ties into agile practices. We host stand ups to talk about what we're doing and see if others have an opinion about what we're doing.

When a project comes to Apache, the original authors need to remember that they're bringing in a lot of experience, and the expectation is that those existing contributors must help get new contributors from the outside - outside their organization specifically - to contribute into the project. By driving towards open communication, outside of your own organization, you're encouraging more people to participate. This sort of governance model ensures that all parties who can participate are aware of decisions being made.

Open Communication isn't for everything though. We need to remember to be respectful in our communications with others and if it's felt that something’s awry - speak privately. But remember that isn't part of the decision making process. Likewise, anytime we're talking about individuals in either a positive or negative way that should be conducted on the private list for a project.

Turning Into a Well Oiled Machine
Once a project begins to grow, new people start to get attracted to it. As a community, you have to figure out how to work together. Building a community of diverse ideas and skills will ensure that new ideas keep flowing. Contributors can react quickly to a user's question on list and help them resolve the problem, put in an enhancement request or get a bug report squashed in a following commit. Time is of the essence right now because I have availability to work on this.

There can't be a long drawn out waterfall style process when dealing with Open Source. At the same time, making sure there's a documented decision process and in sometimes an in depth design is critical for both new contributors and existing alike to come to a shared understanding of what is being proposed.

Sustaining
Projects need to plan for longevity. Longevity comes in many forms. A strong backlog of features is important. Having a diverse set of committers is even more critical. You could even say that each helps create the other. Just like any feature set, we get to a point where the feature is complete enough that we can move on to another feature.  

How do you get there?
Apache's main way to go to these points is to incubate http://incubator.apache.org/ . You can't get to this point by yourselves, experiencing with first-hand from existing Foundation members will help get your community to turn a new leaf and adopt this way of working. We want you to be successful, as long as your project can dedicate itself to the practices that have been set forth within the Foundation.

New projects may be comfortable with a champion http://incubator.apache.org/incubation/Roles_and_Responsibilities.html#Champion that can work with them closely, answering their questions up front. While a lot of the pre-incubation chatter will happen off list, it is important that potential new podlings subscribe to the incubator general list http://incubator.apache.org/guides/lists.html#general+at+incubator.apache.org and understand both the goings on of a podling as well as try to build their list of mentors http://incubator.apache.org/incubation/Roles_and_Responsibilities.html#Mentor in the open. Mentors are extremely important to a podling, and understanding their roles and why you need to pick great mentors is something your champion and the rest of the Incubator community can help explain. Participating in our public discussion lists is sometimes the first step to joining the foundation at a deeper level.

Where do we go next?
If you're a potential new project, feel free to reach out on the Incubator mailing lists http://incubator.apache.org/guides/lists.html#general+at+incubator.apache.org to get started. We'd love to hear from you and get you acquainted with The Apache Software Foundation.

If you're on an existing project, we want to hear your perspectives on how the Foundation works. You may want to reach out to dev@community http://community.apache.org/lists.html to let others know your thoughts, or even just subscribe and see what others have to say. We're all working together to make the foundation better. The more input we receive, both the positive and the negative, will help shape everyone's actions in the community.

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"Success at Apache" is a new monthly blog series that focuses on the processes behind why the ASF "just works". 1) Project Independence https://s.apache.org/CE0V 2) All Carrot and No Stick https://s.apache.org/ykoG 3) Asynchronous Decision Making https://s.apache.org/PMvk 4) Rule of the Makers https://s.apache.org/yFgQ 5) JFDI --the unconditional love of contributors https://s.apache.org/4pjM 6) Meritocracy and Me https://s.apache.org/tQQh

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