What do you do? Week of May 21, 2018

This is a snapshot of what I do at work. Not a log, but a glimpse into my life as the senior manager of the Community Leads team at Red Hat. I’m providing it to share what people do. When I was at the GNOME Foundation, my weekly write-ups of what I did as Executive Director were appreciated by many. This writeup will not be as comprehensive, as there are many things I’m involved in that are not mine to break the news on. This is a glimpse, not a log, of what I do. If you think I should do more of these writeups, please let me know.

This week, I …

Attended my manager’s staff meeting. It was short but a chance to quickly update her on major happenings as she just got back from vacation. We talked about things like GDPR. We continued the GDPR discussion in the general OSAS (Open Source & Standards Group) meeting.

Had 1:1s with all of my team members. As I wrote in my 1:1s post, I spread them out over the week. So I met with Rich Bowen who is working with the CentOS community on Monday and with Brian Exelbierd who is the Impact and Action Coordinator for Fedora on Tuesday. Wednesdays I meet with Rain Leander (RDO), Leo Vaz (Ceph) and Josh Berkus (Kubernetes). Thursdays are Amye Scavarda (Gluster), Sanja Bonic (Atomic/Silverblue) and Friday is Dave Neary (Che) but we met Wednesday this week instead.

Other 1:1s. Had several other 1:1s with other colleagues and my manager. As a remote employee, I think this is especially important.

Sales onboarding. There is open source material as part of Red Hat’s sales training and I attended a meeting to talk about reviewing and updating it. (All of Red Hat’s products are open source software — it’s our business model.)

Open source study. I met with a Swedish graduate student doing a project on how companies should evaluate which open source software projects they get involved with.

Project governance. I’m helping one of the open source software projects that Red Hat invests resources in to figure out the next step of governance. Many projects periodically do this. Gluster got a new project leads model last year.

Community Leads. All the people within Red Hat that do community type work are invited to the Thursday Community Leads meeting that I facilitate. We used this week’s meeting to talk about how our presence and booths (Community Central) went at Red Hat Summit a couple of weeks ago. We often share best practices, issues or upcoming events. We also often have guest speakers on community topics — if you’d like to share some community knowledge with us and start a conversation, let me know.

Awesome people. I met with a candidate interested in working for Red Hat. I don’t have an opening but I always try to help awesome people in the field find good jobs and Red Hat is a good place to work.

HR stuff. Among other things, I learned a little bit about visas. Luckily we also have legal resources to help.

As part of my work with the TODO group, I was interviewed as part of a guidebook for Diversity & Inclusion in Open Source projects. Also introduced them to other people working in this area.

Booked travel for an upcoming event. It was made complicated by personal travel happening right afterwards but my travel juju is strong!

Expense reports. Red Hat has weird quarters. (My term, not theirs.) Our current quarter ends on May 31st. I approved a lot of expense reports (more than 36!) and hopefully will submit one of my own.

Writing. I made a concerted effort this week to post more!

And I am taking Friday off!

1:1 best practices for remote teams

How often should you meet with each of your team members if you manage a remote team? How long should you meet? What else should you do?

My team spans geographically from the west coast of the United States to the Czech Republic and from as far north as the Netherlands and as far south as Brazil.

Here is how I have 1:1s. I am always looking for suggestions and best practices!

  1. Be available. This is not a 1:1 thing per se, but I believe one of the most important things for successful remote working is being available and communicating clearly when you are available. (Focus on communicating when you are available, not when you are not available. Nobody cares that you have a dentist appointment or a day of meetings. They do care that you’ll be free and online from 10–11 their time.)
  2. Scheduled weekly calls. I have a 1:1 on the calendar with each person on my team every week. I only cancel if one of us is not working. I think it’s important to take a minute to say hi “in person” even if there’s nothing on the agenda.
  3. Use video. Meeting in person is way better than meeting on the phone. Meeting via video is some where in between. We communicate a lot with our body language and you can get much of that through video. Meeting via video helps build a rapport and makes difficult messages and conversations easier.
  4. Keep track of agenda items and discussions. For each 1:1, we keep a joint document where we can keep track things we want to tell each other. If I think of something when I’m in another meeting, I can jot it down there to discuss in our next 1:1. We also use it to capture topics we’ve discussed and links to things we’ve shared.

These things seem more personal preference and perhaps less universal:

  1. Time length. I prefer 1:1s to be 30–60 minutes. How long depends on the person, their role, what’s going on in that role, how they like to communicate, how much time zone overlap I have with them the rest of the week, etc. If I schedule 30 minute calls, I prefer not to have a meeting right after so that the conversation can go longer if needed. I think it’s more important to meet weekly and be available in between calls than it is to have a certain amount of time.
  2. All in one day or spread out? I like to spread out my 1:1s throughout the week. Personally, I find it too much context switching and too draining to have them one right after the other all on the same day or two. Spreading them out lets me focus on them and helps me remember who said what.

What 1:1 best practices have you discovered for remote teams?

Does someone have to become poor for you to become rich?

I recently read Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust , Why that is a Problem, and What to do About It.

Dream Hoarders is a book with a good point hidden in a really annoying lecture.

The premise: Because of our society and our culture, the upper middle class is becoming a hereditary station in American life, not the meritocracy we imagine.

The author’s flaw in logic: In order for poor kids to become rich, rich kids need to become poor. He seems to believe that people cannot become upper middle class unless people leave the upper middle class. He’s obsessed with the way he measures classes, by the top 20% of income earners or the top 10% of wealth holders. I believe instead that class could be measured by what you are able to do or what you have access to. I don’t believe only a certain percentage of people should be allowed to read or go to college.

The annoying part: The author believes the book’s audience is the upper middle class (which seems reasonable) and he uses the first half of the book to lecture them about how they are keeping out poor people by ensuring their kids’ success.

The good: In the second half of the book, the author actually gets to some potential solutions that are not “sink the rich”. These include:

  1. Better birth control. If people can plan families better, they will have kids when they can best plan and take care of them.
  2. Home visits. The early years make a huge difference in a person’s life and home visits can help make sure parents have the support they need.
  3. Better teachers. Our best teachers go to our best schools. We need a way to incentivize them — or make it worth their effort — to go to schools that serve more disadvantaged students. The author says a good teacher can make more of a difference than smaller class size or even more funding.
  4. Cheaper college. The author argues against free college and against plans like the 523 college plan which he says benefit the middle class. But he still argues we need more affordable colleges for everyone. He also argues that the bar is rising and you need a graduate degree to distinguish yourself.
  5. Zoning. In the US, schools receive tax money from the neighborhoods they serve. This means that wealthier neighborhoods provide more funding for their schools. The author argues for more mixed neighborhoods so that poorer families have access to better schools as well as better networks.
  6. Legacy admissions. The author argues that legacy admissions — giving preference to alum’s kids in college entrance — is really hurting our meritocracy. The author was really upset about this one. I wondered if it had impacted him or if legacy admissions just really seemed ridiculous to him.
  7. Open internships. The author argued that internships should be treated like jobs and subject to laws like minimum wage. Otherwise, only those that can afford to live in New York City or San Francisco and work for free will be able to take advantage of them.

I also really liked the author’s point that a meritocracy works when all kids come equally prepared to opportunities. It’s not enough to give all kids the same opportunities, we need to make sure they have the same preparation for those opportunities.

If parents watched math tests like they watch sports

Photo by A Healthier Michigan

I’ve been watching kids sports for 12 years now and I’ve seem some crazy behavior from parents. Every once in a while, I wonder if there’s some way to channel all this extra energy and support into academics.

What if parents followed their kids’ math tests like they follow their kids’ football games?

Whenever I mention this possibility at a game, parents give me a blank look. No one laughs, no one explores the idea, they just look at me like I don’t get it. Which obviously I don’t.

Most parents cheer on their kids during games. I’ve seen them cheer on base hits, yell with delight when they catch the ball, support their kids after heart breaking poor plays, hug them after falls, cheer them on during new accomplishments, celebrate wins, pay for extra coaching and spend time practicing with them.

Some times the support is not so positive. I’ve listened to parents yell non-stop at their kids. “RUN. RUN. RUN. THROW IT! DON’T DROP IT. SLIDE!” (I always wonder why the parents just don’t play themselves.) I’ve seen them chew their kids out after the game for bad plays. My favorite was the dad yelling “LOOK LIKE YOU’RE HAVING SOME FUN OUT THERE!”

But what is clear through this all is that parents really, really want their kids to do well in sports and they are willing to spend hours each week driving them to practices, watching them play and giving them advice.

Sports are typically events with an audience

I think it’s great parents support their kids and I understand that team sports are about entertainment. That typically sports games have an audience. And that the audience enjoys watching the game and cheers on their team. However, the experience changes drastically when the audience member has a vested interest in single player’s success. When they feel they are responsible for that player’s success. Suddenly it’s not hoping your team wins but it’s doing everything possible from the stands to make sure your player wins. And to make sure your player does not lose. And since you aren’t playing the game, you reduced to encouraging and yelling. And paying for extra coaching afterwards.

What if we followed our kids’ school achievements with that same amount of energy? What if we spent hours watching our kids practice and compete in English essays and Geometry tests? What if we stood over their shoulder during tests and yelled “Great sentence structure! Love that adjective!” and “No! No! No! That’s not a division problem. Add! Add! Add!”

I’m sure it would help our kids do better in school, don’t you?

Originally published on Medium.

No Doors Podcast: How to have Difficult Conversations with your loved ones

How to have a productive disagreement with your loved ones in a way that you can stay friends with them.

How to have a productive disagreement with your loved ones in a way that you can stay friends with them.

0:38 If I were you …
1:50 Lose the anger
2:13 Don’t try to change their mind
3:07 Talk one on one
4:08 Keep it short
4:45 Summary

You can also listen to this podcast. Or subscribe to the podcast No Doors on :

Why People Don’t Contribute to Your Open Source Project

I just listened to Mike McQuaid‘s FOSDEM talk, Why People Don’t Contribute to Your Open Source Project.  If you are interested in communities and how they grow, I highly recommend you take a half hour and watch it.

Some of the things I got from the talk:

  • I get asked a lot what the difference between a contributor and a maintainer is. Mike does a great job of explaining it around minute 4:00. Contributors are people who write code or docs or do triage for your project but who need help from others to get their work included. Maintainers are people that review and merge contributions.
  • You should users as your source for contributors. The type of contributor that is not a user is not likely someone you want.
  • Once maintainers are not users, they are not likely to continue contributing. So if you stop using your project, you need to start recruiting someone else to maintain it because it’s unlikely that you’ll continue to maintain it.
  • Most maintainers are talked into it. Nobody thinks they are qualified at first.

I did wonder what Mike would think about open source software projects where most of the contributors are people paid by a company to work on it. There are projects that are unlikely to be used by individuals, that are primarily supported by paid contributors. Do the same rules apply?

Do not mention time when giving a talk

One of the challenges of public speaking is timing your talk.  And paying attention to that timing without distracting your audience.

Do not mention the time to the audience.
Do not say you only have 5 minutes.
Do not say you won’t take up too much of their time.
Do not point out you finished with one minute left.
Do not mention you are running a couple of minutes over.
Do not ask for a time check.

If you focus your audience’s attention on time, they will think about time, instead of the topic you’d like them to be thinking about.

The one exception is if someone is waving a huge placard saying you have 5 minutes left, distracting both you and the audience. In that case, nod to acknowledge them and go on with your talk.

You should focus on leaving your audience with one key message. And that message should not be how you are delivering your presentation unless your talk is about presenting!

How do you rate books?

Every time I rate a book, I struggle with what I’m rating it on.

Both Amazon and GoodReads use a 5 star system. If I loved the book, that’s easy. However, what if I liked the book except for the ridiculous stereotypical romance that was a minor theme. Do I ding it half a star? What if I read a romance and it’s really well written and the character development is good but I hate romances? Do I rate it on how good of a romance it is? (Maybe pretty good.) Or on how well I liked it?(Maybe not at all.)

And it depends on who I’m rating it for: me, friends, potential readers or authors. If these ratings are just for me, maybe to remember how I like a book or for some system to recommend books for me, then it’s simpler. I’ll rate it based on much I liked it overall. But these ratings are also for our friends to see if books are good. And if you leave your rating on Amazon, it’s used to make recommendations to potential purchasers. I’ve also had authors reach out to me and ask me to write a review because I’ve rated their book.

I really want a rating system with many more subcategories. Readability, character development, plot, dialog, descriptions, … And each category of book might have an additional subset of categories. Nonfiction books might have an accuracy category. Science fiction books might have a universe category.

How do you choose to rate a book? Do you just pick a star rating based on how you feel? Or do you have a system? Who are you rating it for?