Ever walked away from a code review or mailing list because of “sticky people problems?” The OpenStack Stewardship Working Group can help.


Stewardship is defined as the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. OpenStack Foundation community members formed a Stewardship Working Group to ensure that “people at the bottom and the boundaries of the organization choice over how to serve a customer, a citizen, a community.” 

The group grew out of what Colette Alexander calls “sticky people problems” and the conversations she had with OpenStack leadership around them. Some of the common sticky bits will be familiar to anyone with an online life — such as flame wars and shutting the door on discussions to put them out.

Alexander, named “hero of the people” at the most recent Summit, is part of the SWG and presented it to the larger community in Barcelona on a panel that included Monty Taylor, Thierry Carrez and Doug Hellman.

Here she breaks down the SWG mission and how you can get involved.

You were given an OpenStack Contributor medal in Barcelona – tell us a bit about how you manage the dual action of pushing projects forward (training etc.) and yet keeping a light tone

That panel talk was so much fun to do! I think that’s really the key, honestly, to a light tone – remembering that this is about talking and working with a pretty awesome group of people, and about having fun.  Even though some of the stuff we talk about is pretty thorny (and not always even “solvable” in the sense that engineers like to experience solutions) the subject matter – helping people to communicate better, plan better and feel better about their work – necessitates that we approach it with a positive attitude, and with care for everyone involved.

What’s the mission of the stewardship working group?

It’s probably helpful to read the resolution that created the SWG over here: https://governance.openstack.org/tc/resolutions/20160705-stewardship.html

But the tl;dr is that the OpenStack Technical Committee saw a need for improving leadership and communication tools and practices across the community and established the SWG as a way of examining, vetting, and providing recommendations to them, as well as resources to the community related to those themes.

Who should get involved?

Everyone. (I mean that, seriously – Users! Product people! Executives! Managers of OpenStack developers! And of course, the developers themselves!)

What are the most pressing “people problems” in the OpenStack community?

They’re the same pressing “people problems” everywhere, I think – communicating clearly, resolving conflict, and providing information, resources, and generally available help to anyone who wants to join the community or step into a new role in it – these are difficult problems everywhere.

I talked a little bit in Barcelona about how sometimes the community can be very conflict avoidant. The question I asked the audience was: “Who here has walked away from a code review, or a mailing list post, disagreeing or feeling uneasy about something or disagreeing with something, but without actually saying anything or addressing the problem?” We all raised our hands (including me!). I think starting to have conversations that seem uncomfortable or potentially involve conflict can be really difficult if we’re already in the habit of avoiding them.

What are some of the solutions you’re working on?

Well, we’ve already advised the TC on a couple of pieces of work they’ve produced: the goals for the release cycle was already on their radar before our formation, but some of the refinement of the goals process and work has happened with the help of the SWG. That’s also true with the discussion and writing of OpenStack Principles.

It should absolutely be noted that both of those actions resulted in quite a clamor on the mailing list and within the community. Some folks even came to the SWG cross project session in Barcelona to discuss their angst about those two things. The TC and the SWG were very receptive to feedback in those sessions (and still welcome it!) – and I think we all learned quite a bit during those initial months of work on how we can improve things moving forward.

What are some of the resources you’re collecting for how to help people be better PTLs minus the burnout?

One of the things that’s been on our backlog for a while now is the idea of an OpenStack leadership passport – a kind of checklist of activities or recommended reading that can help folks as they transition into different kinds of leadership positions in the community.

You can check off or “stamp” your passport as you complete things, and also have a place to write and reflect on what you’ve learned. The idea of a passport is to make explicit what sorts of activities really make a difference to effectively working within the community and leading a group of people here.

What contributions or involvement do you need most right now from the community?

We need meeting attendance! And participation in conversation on the mailing list! And on our IRC channel: #openstack-swg

More than anything, we want to hear what people think we should work on and solve, and what people are interested in working on themselves, even if they just have a spare half hour a week. Some items, like the passport I mentioned above, are going to take some research with various projects and leaders across the community to compile and put forward, so anyone who’s willing to have conversations and do some research and work on this is very much welcome and appreciated!

What are your upcoming plans for the Summit or this release cycle?

Well, one of the things we’re going to get to work on, by request of the TC, is facilitating the creation of a technical vision for OpenStack. Per my intro-email about the SWG, and Thierry’s response (you can see that here: http://lists.openstack.org/pipermail/openstack-dev/2016-December/108662.html ) it seems like the most pressing thing the TC would like some assistance on.

I’m also working on organizing another leadership training, sponsored by the Foundation, at ZingTrain. Tentatively, we’re looking at the week of April 10th for that and I’m looking forward to seeing TC members who haven’t participated in training yet, as well as many other members of the community there.

We’re still putting together a vision of what we’d like to see by the time of the PTG in Atlanta, and we’ll be talking about work for both the PTG and the Boston Summit in the coming month at our bi-weekly meetings: https://wiki.openstack.org/wiki/Meetings/SWGMeeting

Anything else you want people to know?

I think OpenStack has a really amazing opportunity to lead in the open source community space by providing an environment that fosters leadership and stewardship among its members. There aren’t that many other communities with such democratic principles in their governance models and structures, and that means that we have a lot of really cool strengths to play on.