Although I finished my master’s report nearly six months ago, I just now got around to publishing it here. I’ve distributed it to a few friends and colleagues, some of whom have asked to link to it. So here it is: Learning from Open Source. This version is slightly edited from the version I submitted to finish my master’s degree. For more about the topic, see My Thesis Topic.
I know that metereologically speaking, the current season is still Summer, but with three kids, for us, Summer effectively ends when the kids return to school. The first day back to school was last Tuesday. Our Summer ended in a whirlwind of activity. You wouldn’t know it looking at the blog postings here. It seems that for me at least, blog activity is inversely proportional to the amount of non-blog activity in my life. I wonder if this holds true for others in the blogosphere?
I finished my master’s report and have been awarded a Master of Science in Engineering (yipee!). The last few weeks of writing were an ordeal — many late nights, lots of coffee, lots of anxiety. I had planned to wrap up my paper early and head out for our annual family vacation to Corpus Christi on the Texas coast. Alas, I was not quite done when our departure day arrived (that last 10% is a bear) — and so I took my laptop (and my anxiety) with me and worked on my paper a few hours a day. It’s done now and I’m quite happy with the way it turned out. I’m going to do a little reformatting and give it another round of editing before posting it here.
Despite my paper ordeal, we managed to have an excellent vacation, I played some golf, took the boys fishing and worked on teaching our daughter to swim. She turned 3 at the coast, and we celebrated with a poolside birthday party. We made tie-die shirts, did the limbo and ate birthday cake and ice cream. As they say, “fun was had by all.”
No sooner had we returned from the coast than we dispatched our oldest son to two weeks of camp in the rolling green Texas hill country. He spent 16 hours a day outdoors doing things they do at camp: swimming, hiking, shooting, eating, singing and playing. He learned a new game, gaga, and made some new friends. When I first saw him, two Saturdays later, I was struck by how relaxed and confident he seemed. I was amazed how much my little boy had grown up in two short weeks. Instead of a homesick boy, here was this healthy, happy kid — glad to see me — but also a little sad to see his camp experience come to an end.
School started the Tuesday after we picked him up from camp — and now we are back to our usual school-year routine. The days at camp proved to be good training for waking early, and so getting to school by 7:30am was not as painful this year as in years past. I too am picking up a routine, one that, I hope, includes more frequent blog postings.
BusinessWeek covers the recent equity investment by Flextronics in frog.
Somewhere in my surfing today, I ran across a link to Scott Rosenburg’s post titled “[Blogs, bosses and bucks][bbb].” This caught my eye, because in my [thesis] research, I’ve been thinking about the role money and power structures have on collaboration amongst virtual teams.
In my research, I’ve been studying successful “open” collaborative communities like the Apache Software Foundation and Wikipedia, looking for “new” practices that could be applied to help virtual teams be more successful in a corporate setting. But what I’ve found is that the practices used by these organizations have, for the most part, already been widely documented in business and academic literature. These include things like have a well-defined purpose, clearly defined roles and responsiblities, recognition of achievement, etc.
It is not that these groups are doing anything drastically different, yet it does appear to be the case that good management practices seem to occur more naturally in these contexts. Why? Ultimately, I think it ties back to two key things:
- Volunteer organizations are easier to leave. Volunteers who lose interest in the project will simply move on to something else
- Criticism and alternate ideas are freely shared, because no one is afraid of losing their jobs in retaliation
I’m sure there is more to than this, but these two factors play together as well to promote strong leadership. In these organizations, leaders emerge not because the wield the power to over someone else’s paycheck, but rather based on their ability to build consensus and the value their own contributions to the project. When leadership fails in an open organization, it is obvious if not immediate. Failing projects are identified by recurring flame wars and by an inability to keep a steady, stable group of contributors involved in the project.
My point is not that leaders in volunteer organizations are better than their corporate counterparts, but rather that the role of money can mask poor leadership in an organization. Is everyone involved because they want to be? Or are they just drawing paychecks until they can find a better position somewhere else? Is the lack of debate a sign of silent agreement or fear of retailiation?
To tie this back to Scott’s article — I agree that in many organizations, the fear of being fired is going to keep people from blogging. But I would also argue that creating an environment that punishes criticism and curbs open debate can also put a company at a distinct disadvantage.
I agree with Tim Bray’s statement that companies who don’t adopt blogging will be playing “catch-up” — not because blogging itself is inherently advantageous (though it may be), but because it is an outward symptom of a company that internally values open sharing of ideas and criticism.
Sorry for the lack of traffic here — it’s been a very busy month for me. At work, we’ve had several projects wrapping up and new ones kicking off. Still we found time to hold a 2-day technology summit in Austin. We brought everyone in my group together to talk strategy, discuss process, share best practices, and repeatedly hurl 14lb. balls at formations of wooden pins. 😉
On the personal side of things, I’ve got less than 4 weeks to go to finish my thesis(!), so I’ve been spending any spare time on the weekends working on it. Finishing that paper is the most important thing I’ll do all year.
This weekend, I finally found time to spend on the blog. After making sure all my old links would still work, I removed the final remnants of MoveableType from the server. I’ve started on a new look and feel template, but won’t finish tonight. Maybe check back next month?
I had planned to spend a few hours this weekend converting this blog from [MoveableType][mt] (the software I was previously using to write this blog) to [Wordpress] (the software I am using now) and customizing my blog a bit in the process.
As it happened, I ended up having a better weekend that I had planned. The weather was terrific, and I spent most of my time outdoors with family and friends, including the better part of Sunday floating in the cool, clear waters of the Blanco river.
So I didn’t end up with much time for blogging this weekend, but I’m not complaining. Nevertheless, I’ve got WordPress installed and my MT data converted, all in a little less than 30 minutes since I started. Very nice. Now that I’ve got it running, I’m finding there is a lot to like in WordPress. I’m looking forward to hierarchical categorization, link management, and comment moderation in particular. I’ll being squeezing an hour here and there this week to finalize the conversion and customize the look and feel.
Warning: MoveableType techno-rant ahead…
Lately, every time I save a new post I get an “Internal Server Error” message from MoveableType. The error in my server log reads: “Premature end of script headers: /var/www/html/mt/mt.cgi”. After a lot of Googling I found a mention somewhere (can’t seem to find it right now) that indicated SmartyPants might be the culprit.
SmartyPants is a MT plug-in I use, which converts straight-and-boring quotes (“) to typographically-correct curly, or smart, quotes “like so.” I removed SmartyPants, grudgingly, as I like to be typographically correct, and the problem disappeared, for a while. Now it is back.
Unfortunately, because I had set “Markdown + SmartyPants” as my default text format, when I re-rendered my site, all my postings reverted to the “None” formatting option. Blech. Worse — all my RSS feeds were updated, with raw, unprocessed [Markdown] code in them. My apologies to everyone who may have seen a “flowdelic” update in their RSS readers, only to find a bunch of old posts, but stripped of formatting.
So last weekend I planned to take a crack at learning the MT template language and finally customizing my templates. But instead, I spent my time tracking down Internal Server Errors. Sorry kids.
All is not lost however, I think I have found my solution — WordPress. WordPress is open-source blogging software that has gotten a lot of recognition of late, and it has typographical-correctness built in! The fact that it is written in PHP is appealing too, as I am much more comfortable with PHP than Perl.
So rather than investing in wrestling with/learning MT when it looks like many are leaving in the wake of the new MT 3.0 licensing brouhaha, I’ll be trying my hand at WordPress this weekend. Wish me luck!