Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life and Death, Love, Respect and Foolishness

Death clarifies a lot of issues. At least it did for Steve Jobs, as he so eloquently expressed at his famous Commencement address at Stanford (text, video). Personally, I wish he had made other choices, but he didn't ask my advice. He did follow his intuition and curiosity, however, and that is what I want to take from him. These things helped make him insanely great, coupled with his intense focus on perfection.

A couple of days ago was the eight anniversary of my cousin Carol's death. Her life and death changed my own life in many ways, and I continue to be blessed to have known her especially in her last bit of time on Earth. And I'll be forever grateful for her son Colin becoming our son. He and his hubby Rory bring joy to our life so often. Carol was a year and a day younger than me, yet she has been eight years gone. So Steve's words about living each day as if it might be your last have special meaning to me.

What does all this have to do with Free and Open Software, you might ask? Apple was the opposite of free, at least once Wozniak stepped away. Yet I've recently heard yearning for a dictatorial leader who has a vision, and makes US "insanely great." Steve did that, at great cost. He left many people feeling shredded and shamed by his public tantrums, although he deserves universal acclaim for the beautiful objects his teams produced. But there is more than personal and professional hurt left as part of his legacy. There is also a very dirty secret about how the workers who produced those beautiful objects have been treated, right into the present. We can't forget the dark side of this leadership style, which relies on domination hierarchies to produce both software and hardware. If we choose that terrible beauty, let's at least acknowledge what our choice entails.

There is a better way, in my opinion. There is freedom. Freedom of association, freedom of thought, the generous gift to the world of one's code, documentation, web pages, work, money, time. What is this freedom based on, since most of us don't work for money in KDE and Kubuntu? We work for love. We don't often admit it, but we love the freedom, we love the people, we love what we do, and we love the product we put out. We work in partnership with people all over the world!

I've noticed some problems lately, as the quality of that love has become strained. Like any other relationship, our love must grow and change as our projects grow and change. Kubuntu is six and a half, while KDE is fifteen now! Happy anniversary, and welcome to growing pains. We have as many projects now as there used to be developers. This means we need to spend more time listening to one another, and suspending judgment until all the facts, all the ideas, all the creativity has been taken into account. And at that point, we don't need a leader to tell us what the right decision is. We can continue to listen until we've come to consensus. Yes, this takes some time, but not as much time as Do it all over again! as Steve often demanded. If we have respect for one another, and enough self-respect to do our best with the work we contribute, we will turn out LOVELY products!

Steve asks himself in the Stanford speech, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Please don't stay on in a position or a team where you aren't in love. Doing so will only result in burn-out, bitterness, and other nasty stuff. Instead, bow out gracefully, and find a project and team you ARE in love with. As Steve said, Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.


  1. Words and facts don't always go the same direction, regardless, these words have been nice to read

  2. This is the best written 'warts and all' look at Steve Jobs and his legacy.

  3. I disagree.

    "This means we need to spend more time listening to one another, and suspending judgment until all the facts, all the ideas, all the creativity has been taken into account. [...] Yes, this takes some time"

    We would become the United Nations Security Council. Talking, listening, trying to find consensus and in the end no decision is made or it's too late.

    I want to point out that some of the most successful things in KDE are so cause of hard rules. The KDE Styleguide for translations and interfaces for example. 100% freedom would mean everybody can do whatever they like and/or love and break every consistency in KDE. We would become the next Windows XP.

    "Yet I've recently heard yearning for a dictatorial leader who has a vision, and makes US "insanely great.""

    I guess you referring to my 'speech' at IRC. I did not yearn for an dictatorial leader, so you might have not fully understood what I was saying. I was yearning for a leader. It should be somebody that listens to others but can make hard decisions, one the mass can follow and use his/her as a reference. That way, more developers will move in the same direction and I think our software would greatly benefit from it.

  4. People can listen to one another and write standards and laws. Listening and suspending judgement during the dialogue doesn't mean that no decisions are made, it meand that the group makes those decisions, standards, laws. It also means that as conditions change, the group remains open to change -- not in a lawless way, but in a respectful, deliberate way.

  5. I always enjoy your posts, Valorie. Very thoughtful. I'm glad KDE has you.