Thursday, August 26, 2010

Inconvenient process? Let’s fix it.

Some of you may have noticed the debate happening regarding proper entry expectations for WTP incubator project following Holger’s veto of a committer election. Holger is acting well within the power granted to him by Eclipse Development Process (EDP), but is it a right and proper action?

Every committer on a project has the veto power in an election. By extension, any entry criteria for a project (whether written or unwritten) is nothing more than a social convention. The reality is that every committer can choose to levy their own personal expectations. Most of the time it’s not a problem, except when it is.

Here are some quotes from this particular event:

“I found only some bug reports but not a single code contribution from any of the four nominated persons. Please attach the planned code contribution to a bug report. I'd like to vote for each of the nominated persons as soon as I know that the code is readable and covered by JUnit tests.”

“Have [snip] been asked if they like to become committers as individuals (and not only as employees of SAP)? Are these authors of the code or what is their motivation to maintain and enhance these editors?”

In a regular project with established code base, established team and well-defined scope, you can argue that giving every committer veto power over elections is appropriate. After all, there is an established code base to protect. The same considerations do not apply when a new component is proposed in an incubator.

The WTP incubator project was started with the intention to provide a low entry barrier playground for people to come and experiment on new ideas while gaining experience and proving their merit to committers on the core projects that will eventually be asked to admit matured functions. Incubators make sense because they provide a quicker way to get started than a separate project proposal. Unfortunately incubators have to rely on a social convention that existing committers act in a welcoming fashion to newcomers. Most of the time that happens, except when it doesn’t.

I would posit that there is no legitimate purpose served by holding a committer election when a new component is proposed for an incubator. The situation is supposed to be very similar to new project creation and we don’t hold elections there. The party proposing a project gets to designate a group of individuals to be the initial committers without anyone questioning their credentials or motives. A similar process is needed to make incubators work better.

The last revision of EDP has formalized the concept of a persistent incubator. I propose that we build on those revisions and amend EDP to remove the committer vote requirement for incubator projects when a new component is being proposed. The project’s PMC would still have the oversight and ability to decline a new component proposal. This change would also fix the rather awkward problem of having to have “seeder” committers when creating incubator projects.

Note that my suggestion is for persistent incubator projects rather than normal projects during incubation phase. I am also not suggesting that we remove committer vote entirely from incubators. Anyone wishing to join existing effort already underway in the incubator should still be subject to committer vote.


PS.1 : This situation has served to highlight a process problem and it is the process that I seek to improve. I have no beef with Holger. I am sure he is acting on what he believes in.

PS.2 : I am further confident that this particular storm will blow over, Holger’s objections will be met, another election held, etc. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve the process so that such situations do not happen again and we continue to have vibrant incubator projects at Eclipse.

Update: At Wayne’s request I created a bug to track this proposed improvement to Eclipse Development Process.