Changing culture [was Re: Updating BCP 10 -- NomCom ELEGIBILITY]

Brian E Carpenter <> Fri, 13 February 2015 19:43 UTC

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Date: Sat, 14 Feb 2015 08:43:45 +1300
From: Brian E Carpenter <>
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To: Melinda Shore <>,
Subject: Changing culture [was Re: Updating BCP 10 -- NomCom ELEGIBILITY]
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Hi Melinda,
On 14/02/2015 07:10, Melinda Shore wrote:
> On 2/13/15 8:44 AM, Dave Cridland wrote:
>> Moreover, if you accept that the word "culture" is effectively
>> indistinguishable to outsiders from the term "status quo" (though the
>> intent is obviously different), it's really quite revealing. All this
>> "preserving the culture" talk comes out in an entirely different light.
> I think this is a really important comment.  I mean,
> *really* important comment.

It is. We need to preserve the useful parts of our culture, of course.
But corridor conversations at meetings is only one aspect of that.
The ability to hear from, and respond to, anybody with email
is another one.

> But it also seems to me pretty clear that the culture
> is changing, anyway, and it's one of those things that
> I expect most people know without addressing it directly.
> I don't think meetings were so heavily emphasized 10
> years ago, although that's subjective and could be wrong.

I think it's probably wrong. Whatever other changes have occurred
(such as noticeable improvement in remote participation technology,
for those who recall the occasional burps of audio from the audio
multicast setup in the 1990's, and very great improvement in the
on-line tools), the underlying human beings are still running the
same software. As I type this, I can visualise Melinda and think
of her as a real person. That is significant, and only possible
because we've attended quite a few meetings together. Humans
work that way.

High quality audio/video can help with this, but my own experience
in a large company heavily dependent on remote interaction was
clear: it helps enormously if you have real, in the room, contact
with the remote people once or twice a year. Eating a meal with
somebody creates a bond.

Have we diluted the principle that decisions are taken on the
mailing list? I don't think so. Have we diluted the principle
that details are debated on the mailing list? I don't think so.
But we haven't changed the fundamental nature of human beings
as social animals, either.

> We've now got a very large number of people participating
> whose primary job function is to create standards, and
> that's caused some changes because their incentives are
> different from those whose job it is to create products
> or technology.  I don't know how long it's been since
> running code was a significant adjunct to the work being
> done in the IETF, but I think it's been quite awhile.

That isn't true everywhere in the IETF. For certain types
of protocol & product, it is clearly a real problem
due to long development cycles. I don't know how to fix that,
because it seems to be a feature of the real world, not
a social artefact.

> So these cultural shifts are taking place anyway, and
> they are not being "managed."  Some are good, some are not.
> I do think that the increased significance of meetings
> in IETF participation (and here, I'm not talking about
> things like nomcom but about significance to our technical
> work) is a problem, both because it tends to marginalize
> people who can't come to meetings and because it slows
> work down.

It is very clear that things have slowed down compared, let's
say, to 20 years ago. It's harder to introduce new things
than it used to be, because of the size of the network and
the inertia of operational practices. So running code at an
early stage is definitely harder, and (as I said above)
product development cycles are longer. I think that's outside
our control.

Thank goodness we have three hard deadlines a year, set by
the meetings. Otherwise, I think we'd be even slower.