motivation to "join" IETF (was: the old fellowship program)

Keith Moore <> Thu, 15 April 2021 18:45 UTC

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Subject: motivation to "join" IETF (was: the old fellowship program)
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From: Keith Moore <>
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Date: Thu, 15 Apr 2021 14:44:51 -0400
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On 4/15/21 10:45 AM, Theodore Ts'o wrote:

> If many IETF'ers do standards work out of a passion to make the world
> a better place, and continue their work across multiple employers
> (which is very similar to many open source engineers)...

In asking myself why it's hard to attract new people to IETF, I find 
myself wondering if it's harder these days for newcomers to see how they 
can "make the world a better place" by working with IETF, than it used 
to be.

I don't want to dismiss those who claim the problem is "culture", but 
IETF culture exists for some reasons (some but maybe not all of them 
good ones), and I think there might be other factors also.

The "low hanging fruit" is mostly picked.  If you want to make a 
positive difference for the world/Internet it's harder to do these days 
than it used to be.   The existing protocols are more complex and often 
more entrenched, making them  harder to understand and harder to 
change.   The network is more hostile to innovation. There's a lot of 
inertia within IETF itself also, both in the sense of accumulated wisdom 
and accumulated prejudice about which ideas are "good" vs. "bad" (even 
if conditions have changed making old assumptions less valid).   The 
IETF organization itself is a lot more complex and bureaucratic than it 
used to be.   And a lot of the Internet is effectively controlled by a 
small number of large companies, so any innovation that wants to be 
successful has to be made in awareness of the economic landscape as well 
as the technical and political and cultural.

And yet, there are still opportunities to make valuable contributions, 
and in some sense to make even more valuable contributions than could be 
made in the past.   Because the growth of the Internet has made some 
problems larger and more important than ever.

But a newcomer faces a steep learning curve consisting of many different 
layers of complexity AND a unique culture: they have to know a LOT 
(technically and politically and economically and culturally) to make a 
useful difference.   (I suspect IETF culture is actually the least of 
these barriers - experienced IETF people still want to find and 
encourage new people who actually show interest and have a chance at 
making a useful difference)

So if I'm right, part of attracting newcomers means showing them how to 
navigate these layers.   And I believe there are things we could do to 
help educate newcomers (as well as some who are experienced but perhaps 
aren't quite up to date).   Take addressing and routing for example.  
There's a lot of accumulated wisdom about how to delegate addresses to 
make routing a more manageable problem in both hardware and software, 
about fairness in address block assignment, about routing policies, 
about route advertisements and aggregation, etc.   There are different 
types of addresses for each of IPv4 and IPv6 and a need to understand 
these.    There's a need to know about NATs, the different kinds of 
NATs, what's good and (mostly) bad about them.  There is also a need to 
know about the roles of IANA and the regional registries and some degree 
of current practice between RRs and operators, and routing arrangements 
between operators.

Somewhere there needs to be a resource that points IETFers who are 
interested in routing and addressing, or anything that touches them or 
relies on them, to some current information about those topics, with 
pointers to even more detail.   And that resource should probably also 
point out currently-unsolved important problems, just to get people 
interested (maybe kind of like the exercises in Knuth's /The Art of 
Computer Programming/ books).   If good resources like this already 
exist, great; if not, someone needs to be recruited to write them.   And 
similar resources are needed for several other layers or widely-used 
technologies: "the web", email, transport protocols, DNS, etc.