Apache Software Foundation – 10 Questions with Board Member Ted Dunning

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Apache Software Foundation

Editor’s Note: Ted Dunning, Chief Application Architect at MapR Technologies, sat down with Ellen Friedman to discuss his recent re-election to the board of the Apache Software Foundation. In this video, he discusses Apache's charitable core as well as its current challenges. Learn about Ted's outlook for the Foundation and his thoughts on how it can best serve the Apache community. Here’s a transcription of the Q&A:

Ellen Friedman:
We're here today with Ted Dunning, Chief Application Architect at MapR Technologies, who was recently re-elected to the board of the Apache Software Foundation. Ted, what is the Apache Software Foundation, and what's the role of the board of directors?

Ted Dunning:
Well, the Apache Software Foundation is kind of a hard thing to define precisely because different people see it from different angles. On the surface and legally speaking, it's a charity. It's a tax exempt charity whose purpose is to develop software, open source software, for the public good. Now, most people don't see it that way because that's not how they interact with Apache. Most people see Apache as either a place that they can contribute software to, as part of as many of nearly 200 projects, or where they can get software from in order to run their business or to make a business out of supporting that software. And there's a lot of software that's of amazingly important caliber. So for instance, two thirds of the websites in the world run on Apache software. So, it's one of those three things, and some people, frankly, consider it kind of sociable to work with people that they like, but it's a group of individuals building software for the public good.

Ellen Friedman:
And is a board member, a board director, is that a voluntary position?

Ted Dunning:
Well, almost everything at Apache is voluntary, and in particular, the board of directors all are volunteers. But all committers, all contributors, all of the project management groups, this is composed almost entirely of volunteers. The only exceptions are a few paid positions to do with PR for critical responses, and for a very few, less than half a dozen or so, infrastructure people, people who work on the infrastructure that supports all of these mini projects.

Ellen Friedman:
So for those paid roles and for that infrastructure, how is Apache funded?

Ted Dunning:
They're some very generous sponsors out there. There's big companies. The folks you would expect, Google and Microsoft and other major companies like that, but then there's people who made a lot of money in software and they wanted to give back. So we had a big donation last year in the form of bitcoin from somebody who had done well, partly because of the contributions of volunteers at Apache, who had built software that they had used to build businesses.

Ellen Friedman:
So it sounds like that strong sense of community for Apache continues even beyond just the development of the software, even to people actually helping to fund the foundation.

Ted Dunning:
Yeah. And what you're touching on there, of course, is the biggest sponsorship that exists. I mean, there're small contributions from a lot of people, but not just the monetary contributions, but the software, the documentation, the community building. All of these volunteers who are building that software are, in mass, an aggregate making a huge contribution not just to Apache, but also Apache's mission to the public good.

Ellen Friedman:
Now, you've filled, I think over the years, a number of different roles with Apache. I believe as a committer on a number of projects, as a PNC member. You've been the mentor for new projects coming in. You've actually been the VP for Incubator, and now you're on the board of directors. So with that range of different roles yourself over the years, how has your personal impression of Apache changed?

Ted Dunning:
Well, it's kind of interesting, and I think that this is a path that a lot of people follow. As I was involved in one project, it seemed huge. It was amazing. And then another project and another one and another one, and then I mentored a dozen or something, and I thought, "Whew, that's a whole bunch. That's a big thing, a big part of the foundation that I've been exposed to," but each level of volunteering, and now at the board, I realized that nobody really is seeing more than a few percent of the Apache Foundation in general because it is so big and varied now. It's an amazing thing. And from the board, of course, we see reports on every project every month. Well, every project every three months, but a lot of projects every month. And the diversity in Apache is just stunning.

Ellen Friedman:
So what do you see as one of the big challenges for Apache right now?

Ted Dunning:
Well, Apache started about 20 years ago as one project. It was the Apache Group initially, and they were building the Apache web server. And then there was stuff that the Apache web server kind of needed that other people could use, so there was another project and another project and another project. But going from one project, with most of the people who were really active in the project also active in running the foundation around the project, to 10 projects, to 20 projects, at some point the people running the foundation didn't know most of the people contributing, and at some point most of the people didn't know most of the people. So at each level of scale, the organization changed dramatically, and it's still happening. Apache is still growing at a pretty substantial pace, and it's a common consideration to think about what it'll take for Apache to still be there, still be vibrant, still be a welcoming community of communities in 50 years. Now, clearly we don't know what that'll be like. We don't know how many projects there will be. We don't know how the interactions will happen. We don't even know what software will mean in 50 years. But we do know how communities are built, and we want to build the good foundations so that people can carry on that goal of community building. And so one of the big challenges is, at 20 years into the history of the foundation, we're beginning to get to the point where the people who founded it are not as young as they were, as we were. I wasn't a founder, but I'm also not as young. It's hard to say, but it is true. Some people claim, anyway. And in another 20 years, an awful lot of us will be gone, and in 20 years after that, almost all of us will be. And so the foundation's role over the next 20 years has to be to prepare the foundation at large for a wholesale turnover. It has to prepare for people who weren't there and who haven't been part of the back and forth over time. And so we have to scale, and we have to prepare to be the new Apache Software Foundation, and we have to build the new foundation so that it builds the next new foundation.

Ellen Friedman:
Well, I think you may have answered my last question as part of your answer of the previous one, but put on your looking to the future cap for a moment, and at least in the near future, what do you see on the horizon for Apache? At least, let's say over the next 12 months, two years. In the near future, is there anything you want to add to the vision that you've already described?

Ted Dunning:
Yeah. Apache is ... Well, in business they talk about servant leadership and things like that, but it's not even like that. It's upside down relative to a lot of organizations. The board exists to help the projects exist. The board does not really drive the foundation. What drives the foundation is all the people who come to make new projects and to make software and to help publicize it and things like that. And so the challenge over the next 12 months will be very much the Apache challenge of how to make the Apache Foundation work as well as possible, without fooling ourselves into thinking we are driving it or we are leading it or whatever. We're facilitating it. And that's always a challenge because you think, "Oh, I'm the august board," but no, it really isn't the role of the board at Apache. And so our challenge will be to help the foundation be what it is.

Ellen Friedman:
Well, thank you very much. This has been a conversation with Ted Dunning, who's on the board of directors for the Apache Software Foundation.

Ted Dunning:
Yeah, and it's been a pleasure as well. Thank you very much.


This blog post was published August 02, 2018.
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