Michael Schwern: "The system continues to encourage aristrocracy and dictatorship"

Updated September 24th, 2013: Michael Schwern has been arrested on domestic violence charges, though the District Attorney declined to charge him. The Ada Initiative declines to work with Michael Schwern in future or support his ally work. See our full statement here.

More today from Michael G Schwern‘s keynote address at YAPC::NA 2012 (Yet Another Perl Conference, North America), on the subject of diversity or lack thereof in the Perl community, and Open Source software in general.

This morning we posted an excerpt of his talk in which Schwern talked about what Perl has to lose by failing to be diverse. Later in his talk (19:26), Schwern identifies a key problem with the Perl community and diversity: a move to an aristocratic model of power:

Most of you know I maintain a bunch of really important CPAN modules such as AAAAAAAAAAAA and you know, other things like Test::More that everyone uses for testing and Test::Builder that all the other test modules are built on and MakeMaker that handles most modules installs. So if you’re installing a module you’re probably using my stuff.

So let me ask you something: why am I allowed to control how you write tests and install modules? And you might say that it’s because I’m doing good work and that’s not really, well, that’s not really true. But that’s not why. And it’s not because I’m the best person for the job, it’s not because you all decided on the best person for the job. It’s not because you think I should take care of it.

So 10 years ago I led a drive to build a better testing system and grabbed the namespaces for Test::More and Test::Builder along with chromatic and a bunch of other people and 10 years ago I led fixing up MakeMaker and shoved it onto CPAN and got the namespaces. And so 10 years ago I took over some areas that were languishing and did some things of merit.

10 years later why am I still controlling how you write tests and install modules? And there is one and only one real reason. I own the namespaces. And nobody can take them away from me, at least not in the current system. So 10 years ago I did some work of merit and now I have total control. Benevolent-ish dictatorship. Not meritocracy. But dictatorship.

And when I’m done with them I’ll hand them off to someone I trust which now becomes inheritance. And a government of inherited dictatorship is an aristocracy. Most of Perl works this way. Perl has become an aristocracy, not a meritocracy.

Now there are some projects that buck the trend and the system. But the system continues to encourage aristocracy and dictatorship.

Later again (28:50), Schwern returns to his dictator tendencies and suggests a model for reform:

So I’m going to be doing some work in the future to change how my CPAN modules are run. And one of the things I’m going to be doing is writing down my policies and procedures which are basically generally just in my head so that people know where they are, new people know where they are, existing people know where they are, and they can be discussed, they can be changed, they can be followed and so on and so forth.

It’s not just rule by man, it’s rule by law. I’m going to move towards a consensus driven approach to accepting patches. Which basically means well basically it means that I don’t dominate every decision. Nóirín [Plunkett] will talk more about what consensus is and how it works. It’s not voting!

And keep my blind spots from dominating.

I will try and have, I will have a public roadmap of where the project is going. Written down so that the community knows where things are going and they can have some say in the matter. Right now? All in my head.

It’s going to be awkward. First season’s always awkward. But that’s how you learn: by doing and by failing and by trying again.


Videos: learn more about running an inclusive Open Source project!

Schwern recommended two YAPC talks by Ada Initiative advisor Nóirín Plunkett for further information on running an inclusive, consensus-driven Open Source project:

Video of these talks are available, but subtitles aren’t, please help subtitle them in Amara and make them more accessible!

Further reading about creating inclusive, diverse Open Source communities

Schwern provided plenty of resources for further reading:

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