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GOP-PROP 7: Developers as resources

From: Graham Percival
Subject: GOP-PROP 7: Developers as resources
Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2011 11:47:09 -0700
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.20 (2009-06-14)

Recent discussions have prompted me to clarify this.

** Proposal summary

How should treat+view developers? I see three main contenders:

   1. Independent volunteers: each person does whatever they want,
whenever they want. We have busy careers and lives; we make no
expectations of action from anybody (with the exception of 6
people in “Meister” positions).
   2. Human resources: developers are members of a team; we can
build better software with more coordination. Developers will be
assigned bugs to fix, features to implement, and patches to
   3. Mixed: we form 1 or 2 teams of developers, plus indepedents.
Developers are still free to do whatever they want whenever they
want as independents, but they can also sign up for a team for X
hours a week. For those X hours, they will be assigned bugs to
fix, features to implement, and patches to review. 

** Rationale

I have historically been very vocal about treating developers at
“independent volunteers”, but some recent discussions are making
me wonder if that’s the best way to go.

Our policy on this topic will influence many upcoming discussions.

** Amateur orchestra

I deliberately chose the loaded term “human resources” to get our
immediate distaste out of the way. Here’s the positive spin on
that idea: I shall describe the workings of the (Vancouver) “West
Coast Symphony Orchestra” (at least when I was playing with them,
back in 2002-2006).

    This orchestras is the best amateur orchestra in Vancouver; it
is better than most university student orchetras. Most of its
members are doctors, engineers, or lawyers, and the average age is
between like 40-50. As you would expect, they have busy careers,
growing families, but still love to play music.

    There are 5-6 weekly rehearsals for each concert. The list of
performers for a particular concert is relatively fluid; there’s
up to 30% fluctuation in the list of performers. A week or two
before each set of rehearsals start, a list is passed around where
people sign up for the concert or not.

    There is no discouragement from missing a concert – members
know that they all have busy lives, and if there is a big deadline
at work or a family vacation during a rehearsal period, they
simply do not sign up for that concert. However, if you do sign up
for a concert, then you are normally only allowed to miss one

Orchestras are particularly interesting because they involve a
voluntary surrender of freedom. When the conductor indicates a
tempo, you don’t start playing your part however you want; you
follow his tempo. If the conductor tells your section to play
quieter so that the soloist can be heard, you don’t start arguing.
You follow his directions, even if you think he’s wrong – not
because you’re getting paid to do so, but because you trust that
in the long run, having a single authority controlling 80
musicians allows them to produce better music than 80 musicians
all exercising their independent judgement.

** Problems with independent judgement

The orchestra idea (or choir, or dance troup, or any volunteer
activity which involves following somebody else’s orders) could be
benefitial in lilypond.

We’ve seen a certain amount of friction lately with reviews. Not
enough reviews; reviews are too superficial; feeling uncertain
about reviewing code that’s not your speciality.

To take one specific case by the bull’s horns: David has
identified a few problems in an old commit. We’ve noted a few
problems, such as non-experts reviewing the patch (which is still
fantastically better than nobody reviewing the patch!). But David
is also interested in the parser – which is an area of lilypond
that has even fewer experts, and even less interest, than the old
patch that introduced a few problems.

If we had a central authority leading a team (or teams) of
developers – or at least, leading developers for X hours a week –
then we could “enforce” reviews. Maybe July-August would be
directed towards the graphical display of rhythms. That team would
dissect any patch for beaming, drawing longas, etc; any patch to
the parser would be ignored (at least, ignored during the X hours
of team work). But perhaps the team leader would decide to look at
parser stuff in November. That’s not ideal for David, since he’s
interested in working on that stuff now... but perhaps he’d be
willing to wait until Nov (or Oct), so that at least when it
happens, there will be a serious discussion about those problems
and serious review of those patches.

** Bottom line

We’re not going to pick option 2 “treat developers like human
resources”. I’m mainly wondering if there’s enough interest in
option 3 “mixed” to make it worth doing.

Note that you don’t need to spend all your lilypond time on the
team-based approach of the “mixed” option. You could sign up for 5
hours of “team work” each week, but still spend another 5 hours on
your own lilypond work, submitting patches and stuff in exactly
the way you do right now.

** Implementation notes

None yet. 

- Graham

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