Reflections as Project Lead

AUSTIN (October 30, 2023) — Today marks three years since Adélie’s first internal leadership transition meeting. I feel it is an appropriate time to reflect on my role as the Adélie Project Lead over this period, as we enter a new release cycle, and going forward.

This post will focus on my personal views. Project-specific details will be published in our upcoming annual status update, and platform release details in a corresponding article.

Yesterday I drove on some scenic roads that I’d last traveled early during the pandemic. Then, as now, without a GPS or destination in mind, yet a strong sense of moving forward.

I began drafting this post a year ago as we were preparing for our third release candidate, RC3, which seemed well within reach at the time, holding all variables constant. This was too optimistic. I want to acknowledge this, and apologize for the unrealistic expectations.

This project has historically struggled with predicting milestone completion, primarily due to our uncompromising insistence on quality and correctness, which I firmly stand behind.

The many-upsteams-to-one-product nature of a distribution dictates that, holding constant our high standards of security and quality, package “debt” is both regular and cumulative.

Multiplicative, even, if we consider integration challenges like deprecation of build tools, library functions, tight coupling, and version incompatibility. It is a team effort. Period.

Opportunities to lead interesting projects don’t arise often unless one has the means to create new projects or turn faltering projects around. I would liken it to entering into a meaningful friendship or relationship. This is especially true when no compensation or payment is involved. You have to see and believe in the potential for a fruitful outcome, be willing to accept uncertainty and disappointment, and meet the other where they are at.

Uncertainty, when risk is managed appropriately, can be a source of joy and excitement. In the spirit of “you don’t know what you don’t know,” an uncertain path forward creates the potential to try new approaches, make and learn from mistakes, and to grow together.

The offer to take over as Project Lead was made to the broader community, and I put my name in the hat. There were no objections, and we held a formal meeting 9 days later.

I can commit to keeping services alive and providing some lube for others to continue working. I do not intend to put in 80 hour weeks bumping packages and so forth, but once I understand what is needed I’ll be in a better position to explain what I am able to offer.

October 21, 2020

While I had been tangentially involved in the community, merely donating some CPU time and bandwidth, I was not expecting to take on all of the responsibilities that this would turn into. Three core contributors moved on from the project around this time, and two more grew distant. This was a great opportunity, and Adélie is a platform I absolutely believe in.

The uncertainty around this loss was cause for notable (and welcome) changes in my personal life, mainly the time commitment but also financially. Early on, it was necessary to set up parallel infrastructure and migrate our existing services. Then, so much discovery to map out the project state and TODOs. I appreciate the need to take a more active role.

It was also an opportunity to document things from scratch, such as how our infrastructure is set up and managed. To be responsible for and handle power outages, and equipment failure. On a tight budget, to deal with the secondhand market and its risks.

I would be setting aside time each day to catch or follow up on project-related issues, and pick up tasks that the previous contributors used to handle. Stressful at times, sure, but a source of pride and involvement nonetheless.

Leadership roles, as in an orchestra conductor or town mayor, require a multidisciplinary approach to promoting the general welfare of the communities involved at both the micro- and macro- levels. Leadership, in these contexts, cannot be a dictatorship. The interests of everyone must be considered and balanced. Compromise must be acceptable to everyone.

In an orchestra, it is the musicians and the audience members. In a city, the community members and the surrounding communities. In a Linux distribution, the community members, upstream projects, downstream projects, and end users.

Time is a critical factor and must be taken into account when considering anyone’s interests. How long will any given individual accept their current situation before they choose to leave or disengage from the community? Again, it is important to strike the right balance. Patience by all parties will increase when the trust and mutual respect is strong.

On the other hand, change that happens too quickly (save for removing sources of toxicity) may stress or break delicate but essential components in the system.

It is important to lead with empathy, otherwise the necessary trust and respect will quickly erode and the whole system will fall apart. Empathy does not imply that everyone’s concerns need to be acted on or eliminated. The expectation needs to be that everyone’s voices are welcomed and heard, that they as individuals are respected and valued, and that context and justification for community-level decision-making is communicated.

The Adélie community and remaining contributors had to adjust to my style of leadership.

Lacking historical context and finer details about how various bits of the project came to be, I was (and am) sometimes the source of friction and uncertainty. We are learning to dance.

Projects, like people, need to be given the care and space to grow and become self-sufficient. Projects, like villages and cities, are made up of communities of people and would be nothing without them. Retention is a function of the sense of shared purpose.

The Adélie platform is a reflection of the Adélie community. This is our value proposition and commitment to our upstreams, our downstreams, and our users: quality first.

My commitment is to our community, and I want to steer the project in such a way that my role within it is made invisible or obsoleted, then focus solely on being a public interface and managing the “business” side of things, like support contracts and fundraising.

Projects and communities that are not contracted to produce some output in exchange for something of value may struggle to maintain some level of financial independence or sustainability. Money is often required to make “real” things happen: to acquire hardware for development, pay hosting bills, and to cover transportation to conferences.

From 2020 through 2023 I’ve viewed my role as unblocking and assisting our contributing community members in maintaining our package repositories, tooling, and preparing for regular stable releases, doing whatever is necessary to fill in gaps. We’re just about there.

When so much work is going on behind the scenes (until recently), and without established regularly-occurring processes, milestone estimation has been very difficult. In retrospect, with N contributors, a 1/N loss may halt all N contributors. The key here is to ensure that no contributor is a single point of failure. We’re making significant progress toward this end.

With our BETA5 release imminent, enabling seamless installation of Adélie on all of our supported target platforms, I will transition to focus on finding new contributors and sponsors. The investment is paying off. I’m confident the community feels similarly.

With love,


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