Hackfests: The Next Generation

Reports of my assimilation are greatly exaggerated.

— Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek: First Contact

(This is a repost from the discussion on the board-discuss@documentfoundation.org discussion — including all typos and misspellings — for more visibility.)

Hi all,

I recently had a look at a variety of challenges the LibreOffice community is facing wrt Hackfests and especially also tenders:

Status Quo

– due to a set of reasons based in the size of the project, the scope and selection of tender topics, the rules of properly running an NGO and the distibution of skilsets and available time in the BoD it is a lot harder to oversee the tenders for TDF than it would be for a for-profit organization.

– also, for historic reasons mostly, these tasks have been limited to the BoD mostly, while as an open disttributed and tranmsparent community we should not needlessly concentrate this work: rather the challenges and solutions should be shared as widely as possible in the community (and beyond).

– the waterfall modelled tenders have no iterative approach. Because of this they also tend to be mostly quite small, leading to significant overhead at both TDF and for the business implementing the tender.

– contracting out tender in bulk in a blackbox fashion naturally limits the ressources spend on documentation of discovered challenges. It thereby also needlessly limits the educational output to the community. There is such output, but it clearly could be better.

– beyond that we reduced doing Hackfests ~2 years ago, limiting the exchange of knowledge they provide.

– Unlike in the good old days, we dont have urgent infrastructual problems and the like to solve that would rally developers around topics. So motivation for certified devs to attend has shrunk. And those that do attend usually use the facetime for syncing on various issues, while the actual work on the code is somewhat limited. Even more when there is an emergency at the (professional) developers employer (Unfortunately, there often is.)

Suggested new format

So everyone hip in the last decade would see the words “waterfall”, “non-iterative”, “controlling overhead” would scream “get agile” from the top of their lungs. In general that might solve the practical problems, but as agile is essentially a way to move the customer in close enough to create the trust and bond allowing the overhead to go away, that is exactly what we need to watch out for and avoid: the foundation should not bind itself too close to any single commercial provider of services in its core operations.

But maybe revitalizing Hackfests are an opportunity here. Here is a suggested new format:

– TDF selects a small of the tenderable topics (6 man days)

– TDF selects a “product owner” for the topic (could be an TDF employee or a qualified and motivated TDF member)

– TDF hires 2 certified developers from LibreOffices companies for 3 days each

– TDF offers 2 days “development training” to its members, but also to the general community: ideally we select four people for this.

– All are invited to a two day Hackfest.

– Hired consultants are expect to pair program with one of the volunteers on each day, with the hired person not distracted by other business and doing the main effort with the paired volunteer focusing on learning.

– On each day, one of the hired developers works on the projector of the room, allowing other partcipants to the Hackfest to observe and learn.

– Closing the day, each paired team will give a 5-15 minutes lightning talk on their progress and challenges over the day. This presentation should be done by the paired volunteer to the best of their ability and recorded e.g. by TDF staff for publication.

– Rest of the extra booked day should be used for a 1-hour prep Hangouts, follow ups and overtime.

– Selected paired volunteers should ideally be 50% certified or uncertified developers and at least 25% volunteers active in non-development areas (e.g. documentation, l10n …).

– Beyond this, it will be a “normal” Hackfest allowing others to mix an mingle.

What this might solve (hopefully)
– Controlling and the need to proof due diligence going away as it is performed right in the open and self-documented, reducing the vast redtape needed to set up and run tenders in the first place

– the involving the broader community is much more involved in this major aspect of the foundations work

– the community gets a much better transparency on the real cost and challenges
of development

– we approach a more iterative/agile approach without being hit by the challenges this usually implies for an NGO

– we provide clear and visible progress and effort on education for the community and the general public

– we might help onboarding of new developers and make LibreOffice more interesting for contribution

– if this works on this 4-6 man day scale, we might consider extending it (e.g. a three developer week[1] with prep is already a 21 man day project)

There has already been some internal feedback from a smaller circle I shared this with first: There was some concern (one pointing out this new format isnt free of challenges[1], one asking for bigger steps as this proposal was considered to small/iterative[2]), but beyond that the feedback was generally quite positive.

As such, Im looking for people who would like to join in and help giving this new format a try: The starting point would be organizing a broad, welcoming and well-organized Hackfest at a location easily reachable for many in the community: Thus at well-connected place in europe. It should also have local people on the ground, who are enthusiastic to make this a success.

If you are interested in helping with this, either as:

– someone on the ground helping to organize the Hackfest

– someone who wants to pair program with a hired certified developer at a Hackfest

– someone who is just interested in joining the Hackfest in general

– someone who helps fleshing out the details of this idea

feel free to contact me. I will try to set up a team of people interested in getting this off the ground. As noted above, if this proves to be successful, this might be the start of something excited and big bringing this community and project to a new level!

Another (final) note: This list is currently unfortunately less used than it should be to provide information on the proceedings of the foundation. The Board is mindful of that and tries to change this. This is a start. Feel free to share this message to those in the community who might have missed it as they are not (yet) subscribed to board-discuss@.



[1] But neither is the status quo — in many more ways.
[2] note that the two kinds of criticism pointed in exactly opposite directions

If you are interested in this effort, feel free to:

UPDATE: Time and date for the call are set: Sunday 2017-09-03 14:30 UTC, Talkyoo room 21 24 86 #. Please join!


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