Rust OSS Governance and Sustainability II

Continuing my post from last time I want to continue putting down my ideas before the upcoming all hands so that I can have a more concrete understanding of my thoughts and solutions. Like last time these aren't officially endorsed/might not be. They're just ideas! Let's get started!


Back when I was in High School I did choir. A lot of choir. I loved singing and as a group effort it always produced a sound that sounded better together than alone. One of the concepts used to achieve this is known as staggered breathing. Everyone has different capacities for how long they can hold a note for or sing before needing to breathe. This changes for many reasons, loud vs quieter sound, sustained notes vs a succession of notes, but the outcome is the same. You have to breathe at some point. Staggered breathing is where those who can continue to sing do so while others breathe and when they get back to singing you can then breathe if you need it. By covering for each other the sound is a continuous flow rather than stilted sound where it stops because everyone breathes at the same time when the score does not show a rest to breathe on.

Why am I bringing this up? One of the problems we face is leadership keeps getting burnt out. People take on more than they can or are asked to do a lot of emotional labor (RFCs for example) and then they don't act at the same capacity as before. Burn out is draining. It's not just from RFCs but from each other as well. I'm not an exception. I've had hot takes on Twitter that serve no purpose. For example:

This does nothing for anyone and only further increases the possibility of people getting burned out (on reflection I bet the RFC for this was also contentious and had this same argument). In fact going forward we should account for that to happen at any given point. A lot of plans and ideas that people have try to eliminate whole classes of problems. This is hard to do and this case without systemic change I think burnout will continue to happen. What we need to do is build resiliency into our leadership to minimize burnout, but to expect it to occur. This is where this idea of staggered breathing comes into play.

We should have at least 3 people in a leadership role of either a team or WG. This allows multiple things to occur

  • If someone gets burnout from an emotionally laborious task they can take time away from the project to recover (breathing)
  • If someone needs to step away there are others able to cover for them (staggered)
  • If everyone is available then they can work together as a team (choir)
  • They'll have peers at their level in an org chart to talk to about issues they're facing rather than going at it alone
  • It provides a way to have votes not tie for more controversial decisions in a majority rules way (assuming an odd number)
  • Work can be distributed to avoid overloading one person with too much allowing for splitting of duties to keep things running and reduce time to burnout
  • There's always someone on the team that can be asked to answer a question or go to a meeting

In a way it's just applying another idea we have with distributed systems (horizontal scaling) to people, but I think it works well for what we're trying to accomplish. We're a fundamentally distributed group of people working together on something, so it makes sense to apply some of these ideas to governance to deal with inevitable failures or burnout of people. Anyways that's all for today, make sure to look after each other and breathe. We're all we got and so only we can fix these issues together by examining ourselves and those around us.