Resigning from the Technical Committee
I resign from the Debian Technical Committee, effective immediately.
Doing this immediately is for the sake of clarity and for some of the
reasons mentioned below, not to cause problems for anyone. I don't
believe any issues are created at this point by an immediate resignation,
since there are still six active members, plus Colin's willingness to
continue on for a transition period. However, if I'm wrong, please let me
know, and I can change the effective date.
I'm making this choice for a variety of complicated reasons. I'm going to
try to explain them, and hopefully I won't put my foot in my mouth or
unintentionally hurt anyone by doing so. I'm going to write a tome in an
effort to be clear. Apologies in advance for the giant wall of text.
If any part of this doesn't make sense, or if any of it feels like an
attack or a reaction to any single person or event, I'm happy to clarify.
I would appreciate it if people would ask for clarification rather than
making assumptions, as assumptions about other people's motives are one of
the things that I find the most demoralizing about the Debian project
The short summary of what follows:
* TC work and related conversations have become a large part of my work in
Debian. This seems conceptually wrong to me. It's also not very fun.
* Nearly every TC decision decision is now very fraught, and expressing
those decisions, at least in the current framework, requires more skill,
care, attention, and caution than I currently have mental or emotional
resources to do. I am not doing work that I can be proud of, which
means I either need to invest more resources or step down, and I don't
have the additional resources at this time to invest.
* It's no longer clear to me that my work on the technical committee is
actually helping the project as a whole. I believe that means I need to
either propose improvements or step down so that someone else who
believes in the work can pick it up, and I have not come up with any
In the following, I'm going to say a lot of things about my personal
thought processes and decisions. I know it's going to be tempting to read
some of these statements as subtle commentary on other people's decisions
and actions. Please don't. Where I have specific commentary, I'll make
it openly; otherwise, I'm talking about my personal goals and emotions.
Other people have different beliefs, goals, and reactions, and that's good
and necessary. My decisions aren't their decisions, and having a wide
variety of different people with different opinions in the Debian project
is absolutely vital to its ongoing health.
If anything in this speaks to you, I'm happy for it to be food for
thought, but please draw your own conclusions based on your own goals and
beliefs, and feel free to discard mine where you don't think they apply.
When I was first invited to join the technical committee, nearly six years
ago now, I was very active in the project in other ways: working on
Lintian, helping to maintain Policy, and maintaining a fairly large number
of packages. Since then, due to various changes in my own life, my time
to work on Debian has dropped considerably. I've stepped down or become
inactive in many of those other areas.
Being on the technical committee takes a deceptive amount of time. It's
something that I kept, while dropping other work, because normally the
time committment is fairly low. However, I badly underestimated the
amount of emotional effort and attention that it was going to require, and
in a way that's worse than a time committment.
At the moment, because my time is more limited, governance discussions
constitute the vast majority of the time I spend working on the project.
Sometimes, when I can find a good solution that makes everyone involved
happy, this is fun. But it's mostly not; it's just work, not something
that I do for enjoyment.
One of the things I feel passionately about is Debian as a volunteer
project, as an opportunity to work on the things that we find fun,
exciting, or interesting, in a setting without the normal pressures of
external deadlines, bureaucracy, and formal responsibility. But, right
now, I'm not doing that myself. TC work over the past year has been
difficult, exhausting, and not at all something I could call a relaxing or
invigorating hobby. The actual investigation of different init systems
was fun and felt productive and worthwhile; everything subsequent, not so
much. I'm hoping to shift to working on that I can enjoy wholeheartedly.
I'm also not comfortable being part of the governance process when I'm not
deeply involved in the work. I think free software governance works best
when it's done by people who have ongoing and direct invovlement in the
work being governed. This was true for me when I was more active in
Policy and Lintian work, and isn't true at the moment.
In short, I don't want to be that person who never does anything
themselves, but who joins all the conversations to complain about how
everything is being done. I can feel that happening, and I want to stop
it before it starts.
We've made two decisions recently related to systemd, both of which I
misjudged. By that, I don't mean the decisions themselves (my feelings on
that are more complicated, and I'm not going to get into that here), but
the way that they would be received and the ways they could be
interpreted. If I'd made either decision knowing that, it would be one
thing, but the reaction caught me by surprise in both cases, even though
in retrospect I should have recognized the problems.
There are other people on the technical committee with more technical
expertise and more institutional knowledge. The primary skill that I try
to bring to TC discussions is to catch exactly this sort of thing, and to
try to apply empathy in line with the values that I care the most about in
Debian: maintainer empowerment and the ability of people to work on things
that bring them joy. I'm not successfully doing that at the moment. It's
clear to me that I need to be doing a lot more work than I'm currently
doing in talking to people, understanding their perspective, and getting
more social context in order to do this effectively. If I'm not going to
do that work, and right now I don't have the additional resources to
spend, I need to step down and let someone else take their own approach to
the TC role.
This is particularly true right now, where every decision the TC makes
that has anything remotely to do with systemd is incredibly fraught. It's
going to be parsed and examined and dissected, and has to be extremely
careful in order to avoid making existing hurt deeper. I don't believe I
have the resources to do that work right now.
Finally, I've been thinking hard about Debian project governance in the
light of Joey's resignation, as I'm sure many of us have been. I've also
been thinking hard about many of the subsequent discussions and reactions.
As I've mentioned in several recent threads, I think governance of this
sort of project is a very hard problem, particularly when the project is
deeply divided on many aspects of a particular question. I do still feel
like governance is necessary; philosophically, I'm one of the people who
believes that any group of people larger than a small team are going to
need some sort of governance structure so that disagreements aren't
paralyzing. But I think Joey captured my feelings very well in his blog
post at <https://joeyh.name/blog/entry/on_leaving/> where he talks about
the importance of being able to try out decisions and iterate.
I think the agile philosophy got a few things right: find ways to reduce
the cost of change, empower individuals to make choices and act on them,
and reduce the cost of failure and embrace iteration instead of trying to
prevent failure in advance. And I'm increasingly dubious that Debian's
decision-making processes as currently used, particularly the technical
committee, are compatible with that approach.
My largest concern in stepping down from the technical committee is that
I'm just avoiding working on something difficult, and thereby making the
problem worse. I believe that some governance method is necessary, and
given that I have strong feelings about this and keep thinking about it, I
should stay and make it better. But it's become clear to me over the past
week or so both that I don't have any great alternatives that I feel
comfortable advocating, and that I'm exhausted with the discussion.
I think project governance is a hard problem, and a worthwhile problem,
and I hope that someone with good ideas will step forward and work on that
problem. Debian is one of the largest free software projects, and one
that faces a large number of hard decisions. If we can do that work well,
it would be a valuable contribution to the broader community. But, right
now, I don't feel like I'm helping that process, and at times am making it
Thank you, all of you, for your trust in me over the past six years as a
project representative for technical decisions, and for the wonderful
support and encouragement that I've received over the difficult past year.
I'm probably going to take a break from discussions and project arguments
for a while, and then hopefully will be back to work on more of the
day-to-day technical work of the project. I've been giving that
involvement a lot of thought as well, but this is a project that I want to
stay part of regardless of the outcome of the current GR. I have strong
opinions, but I also have great faith in the members of this project and
in the project as a community. Sooner or later, this will all be behind
us; in the meantime, I'm going to work on enjoying collaborating with all
the great people who make Debian what it is, instead of focusing on the
disagreements and arguments.
Russ Allbery (firstname.lastname@example.org) <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>