To my friends in the Drupal Community -
Writing this letter as the former CEO of Trellon, LLC. For those of you have not heard, my last day as CEO was in March 2017.
Very proud of all we accomplished as a company as part of the Drupal Community. I have made many friends and built relationships that will last forever. It’s hard to forget the first time I met many of you, and thinking about how some of you grew, personally and professionally, as contributors to this open source project is a great feeling. The endless patches, late nights and constant travels were worth it.
Calling the last 13 years an adventure would be an understatement.
While there are many reasons I chose to pursue a new path other than business owner, one stands out as something I hope to do something about. I write this letter out of a concern for tolerance, with the hope of preserving the qualities that make this community so unique and wonderful.
I like solving problems and participate in many groups dedicated to ones I care about. Beyond the Drupal Community, I am active in others related to politics, business, parenting, technology, and various nerd’s-nerd subjects few would find interesting. But what makes them worthwhile for me is the people. Having my own ideas challenged, understanding the perspectives of others, and working towards some common good gives meaning to my life and a sense of hope in the future.
Given my wide interests, I have to be selective about where I focus my time. What goes through my head when I think about a group is something I call the Oscar rule, named after Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. Basically, Oscar was part of a community that welcomed him despite the fact he coveted garbage, had a shrewish disposition and took genuine delight in the misfortune of others. For those of you who never saw the original episodes, Oscar has been toned down quite a bit from what he was. There’s far less menace to the character we see today.
As a child, I used to wonder why anyone would want an Oscar to be around. Solving the problems posed by the presence of a Grouch seemed so simple — just turn over the trash can and roll it away down a hill. Then everything would be so much more… grouchless? Never was too sure why it had to happen, just that his behavior and attitudes are a problem someone needed to deal with.
As an adult, I came to realize his presence had little to do with he was and everything to do with the vitality of the community around him. A group that could accept Oscar and find value in his presence has the strength to do great things. His qualities were not a problem, they were an asset which made everyone else’s lives richer and fuller. Groups possessing that level of resilience are the ones I wish to be a part of, as the ones lacking it tend to possess a toxic dynamic that turns members against one another and ultimately detracts from shared goals.
I strongly believe in tolerance and inclusiveness and genuinely feel sorry for those trapped in communities that hold them back. You get the gift of 24 hours each day and should spend it with people who help you realize your own potential. Anything less and you are dying a little bit inside.
The Drupal Community — or, more precisely, the Community Working Group (or CWG) — has been banning members over infractions of the Code of Conduct (CoC.) Dries has banned a prolific contributor for a non-CoC violation. Many developers I speak to — some of whom I have known for over a decade — tell me they are afraid to be involved with drupal.org for fear they will be attacked over something they have to say or their beliefs. Some people are also talking about leaving, or have already left.
All of this surprises me.
On the one hand, I thought of the CWG and the CoC as being these benign parts of the community, not instruments to be used against other members. They do not serve a useful function as instruments of policy and should be abolished immediately.
On the other hand, you — the community — not the Drupal Association — are the people who make Drupal what it is. Pick how you want to describe yourself, but I haven’t met anyone over the years where at least a couple of these terms apply: you are innovators, technologists, entrepreneurial, socially-conscious, super-intelligent, word-changing, head-banging, collaborative, insightful, diverse, optimistic, social, inventors, revolutionary, conscientious, indefatigable, well-rounded, bad-ass, political and genuinely concerned with the condition of the human race.
You took this scrappy open source Sharepoint alternative used by some fringe US political candidate (the screamer) and turned it into this massive open source project used by millions to power their blogs, campaigns, organizational websites, online stores. You organized yourselves without the need to attack one another long before someone came along to organize events on your behalf. You are not the people who sit there quietly and satisfy yourself with the idea some process is playing out in it’s own petty way, you are the people who innovate and reinvent the Internet — and do a good job of it.
So why the despair? It occurs to me the only thing that could stop a community this great is a) thermonuclear war or b) a reasonable approximation of such perpetrated by community members upon one another through IRC and Online Forums.
I don’t believe we have a community where large numbers of people are being judged for speaking their mind or for their beliefs. We have the perception our community has devolved to this point based on the actions of a small, well-meaning group that uses the CWG and the CoC to complain about other members to enforce a rigid orthodoxy of beliefs and behaviors. Just like every group in the history of Western civilization that feels the needs to regulate the thought of others, it’s authority is being abused and it’s having chilling effects that can easily be observed in the community.
There are better ways to deal with situations like this than walking away. Like standing up for yourself and others. Which is the kind of thing that helped this community to grow in the first place.
Some people have suggested the Drupal Community is so big, having to pare toxic members is natural and a good thing. That would be a nice euphemism if it were true. This is not a problem with size or scale, but more like a segfault. The community is not configured for exclusion and banishment causes kernel panics. The shock of seeing long-time, prolific contributors being asked to leave causes pain, and creates the sense we all have to watch our backs as we proceed.
Banishment is a particularly sinister form of punishment for an open source developer. You give your time, mental bandwidth, and resources to support this platform then suddenly someone comes along wanting to damn you over some infraction. Not sure anyone likes the thought that his or her contributions can be eliminated by some sensitive soul taking issue with thoughts / ideas / actions / etc that exceed their personal thresholds. Even though it’s very unlikely that would happen, does anyone actually want to live with that? Is that why we do open source?
No. It’s not. When you think about why this is wrong, think about that. Your contributions matter and no one should be able to take that away. Those who seek to probably have aspirations that include not having you around. Let’s not give them an easy way to do it.
The Drupal Association possesses a charter from the trademark owner that governs use and application of the name and logo in specific venues and grants them the power and authority to regulate the use of some website, and that is all well and good, but that does not compare to the enormity of your accomplishments as a community.
Do not forget that. Speak up, get organized, and demand change. You have already proven you — not the people on the CWG that would judge — are the masters of growing open source projects and communities.
The next time someone tells you what to think or do, remind them there are better ways to spend their time. Like coding. Suggest they go start an open source project related to judging people since this is clearly where their passion lies. Ask them if they have heard of Scientology, which has an organizational structure and apparatus they would likely recognize and appreciate. Offer to send them a copy of the book, there are ways to get it online for free.
Do anything, but do not accept stuff like this as normal. The fact that your open source project is so well organized it can issue corporate-style HR reports is a testament to something, but it probably has little to do with innovation.
You deserve better. I look forward to watching your response, and will be following up on other items related to open source developer empowerment in the near future.
For the record: before I get brought up before the CWG for having a belief system based around a Muppet with anti-social tendencies, the Muppets I identify with most closely were Cookie Monster and Animal, Electric Mayhem’s drummer.
Edit: It’s been pointed out to me by several people my letter contains an inaccuracy. The CWG does not actually ban anyone, Dries Buytaert does. Several people thought it is important to understand the distinction. But the CWG does function as part of the de-facto process that leads to bans, similar to the hammer of a gun — once that hammer is pulled back, the ban-bullet is in the chamber. From what I have gathered, no one appreciates the idea of having the CWG pointed at them.