On Aug 15, 2013 4:53 AM, "Steven Walling" <swall...@wikimedia.org> wrote:

> Hey all,
> During Wikimania's Q&A panel, the Board lamented that, as always, they did
> not have enough time to answer all the questions from the audience and
> posted beforehand on-wiki. They did say they were accessible to follow up
> with on unanswered questions though, so I am taking this opportunity to
> start an open thread.
> The question I am personally interested in, I posted on the Wikimania wiki
> page,[1] and it's...
> "The 2013-14 Annual Plan allocates 40% of the Wikimedia Foundation budget
> and 59% of the staffing to engineering and product development. However, it
> seems that few of Board members have professional expertise in theses areas
> (compared to previous years and in general). Does the Board feel it has the
> necessary expertise to lead the Foundation in this area? Would the Board
> consider recruiting expert seats with more experience in engineering and
> product development?"

Thanks Steven!

Answering for myself (and only myself) I am in two minds about this
question.  On the one hand, yes, of course engineering is a core activity
for us - well over half, as you point out - and I wish it was an area that
was better represented on the board. I do think we should pay attention to
that when recruiting expert seats, and I do also wish our own dev community
was better represented in (all kinds of) governance.

On the other hand, I think the main contribution that recruiting for this
would likely bring is helping the board stay more focused on tech. No one
person is going to be able to instantly understand all our projects --
someone with a managerial background at another shop would have to rethink
their assumptions, as chances are excellent that whatever products they'd
worked on, they won't be as multilingual or community focused as ours.  And
someone from our own tech community would have the same challenge all of
our community trustees do, of having to relearn their relationship to
Wikimedia and balance many competing interests. So while yes, I think as a
board we should pay more attention to our overall technical landscape, I
think that we can push ourselves to do this at a governance level without
having individual specific hands-on expertise (similarly, just because
Kat's now left the board doesn't mean we're going to stop getting legal
updates and making that area as a priority). For instance, Erik's been
giving some very helpful visual editor updates to the board recently,
similar to his public emails; I hope that kind of ongoing update will help
both the board & senior staff reflect on and plan our activities.

So I'd like to back up a little bit and ask you and the community at large,
and especially the engineering community, what we need to solve for. What
challenges aren't we meeting? What strategic questions should we tackle?
What philosophical and/or strategic support does the tech community want to
see from the board?

For instance: in the past we've set our highest-level priority at Wikimedia
as recruiting and keeping more editors, which has led pretty directly to
things like E3, mobile editing, and the visual editor being prioritized.
But of course there's a lot of other engineering & product areas to think
about, everything from building features for existing editors to disaster
planning in ops to supporting the staff + volunteer dev community (I'm
quite pleased, incidentally, to see new 3rd-party mediawiki projects;
that's been a gap for a long time).

And lastly of course what's been on everyone's mind lately is we must
continue to try to figure out the best way to develop and roll out products
in our complex, opinionated, multilingual community. To be frank, I don't
know what the the best role for the board is in this process. I try to be
careful about keeping my public comments to a minimum when tech debates are
raging, as I think all the trustees do, because it's usually just not
helpful to randomly weigh in. Does that mean developers feel unsupported by
the board? That would be an unfortunate side effect of trying not to
overstep our role...


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