#passvotes Welcome to the Nom Com: Here’s Your Helmet.
Itās been over a week since my last post on this subject, and to be honest, I was hoping that I wasnāt going to have to write any more. I felt like I had stated my position that the Nominations Committee for the PASS elections of 2010 had been faced with an unpopular decision, and we chose to take the high road of following the process we established before picking the slate. Since then, Iāve had the peculiar experience of both being hailed as a hero (for making a public statement) and yet having my work deemed inferior (the decision we reached as a committee). Iām hoping that I can clarify some things, and publically answer some questions that have been asked of me online and face-to-face.
If you havenāt been following along, or (like me) have missed a couple of really good postings on the issue, you may want to check out the list of postings at the Discussion page on http://elections.sqlpass.org. I think it speaks volumes about our community that we worry about things like fairness and openness, and that the organization which is at the center of the controversy is hosting comments (both positive and negative).
The caveats: Itās all about me, really.
I should note that Iām making this post as an individual, not as a sanctioned representative of the Nominating Committee or PASS. Itās all me, and these are my beliefs and my opinions. I like to think that I hold myself to the highest standard possible, so there are some things that Iām going to frame in terms of my beliefs, even those beliefs may be more restrictive than what is legally or professionally required.
First, I believe that the Nominations Committee should be a āblack boxā; you define the standard by which decisions should be reached, the applicants to whom those decisions apply, and the decision makers before putting that in the box. Whatever happens in the box, stays in the box. I had earlier alluded to protecting the privacy of the applicants, but to be honest, the Committee should also protect the privacy of the members (in my opinion). This was a volunteer gig, and even though many of the volunteers were sitting Board members, a few of us were not. I know I said some things in those meetings about applicants that I donāt necessarily want broadcast, and according to the election procedure, my comments should be kept in committee; I believe that volunteers should have the right to express ideas in discussion that are unpopular, and those comments should not be used in a court of public opinion. If I thought that Jack Corbett was an evil genius intent on destroying the world, I should have the right to use that to spark a discussion in committee without ruining my relationship with him (by the way, I donāt believe that; Jack is one of the sweetest guys I know).
Second, I believe that no matter how unpopular the decision, groups that are composed of volunteers shouldnāt throw the committee under the bus when the work is done. I SUPPORT THE RESULTS OF THE NOM COM. Period. This is not ācircling the wagonsā or āhiding behind the processā; this is a fundamental precept of my understanding of civilized discourse. Seven people had an opportunity to discuss all of the applicants, and seven people reached a majority decision to promote five applicants to the slate. I respect the work of my colleagues on the Nom Com, and I hope they feel the same way about me.
Third, weāve all got to work together tomorrow. The SQL Server community is large, but itās still a small village in some ways, and I want to be careful in what I say because I want to engage in productive dialogue, and not destructive. It was funny to see some of the tweets about the perceived āus-vs-themā (and I know those tweets were in jest), but the truth is, I respect a lot of people that I donāt always agree with. Andy Leonard and I had some great discussions over the weekend at SQL Saturday 51, as did Andy Warren and I. Lynda Rab hugged me. Steve Jones and I have exchanged DMās, and Iām hoping to sit down over a beer with him at some point. Iāve also had several emails and phone calls from others with whom I disagree; Iām friends with people, and I hope that at the end of the day, we can walk away respecting each other even though we may have different ideas about how to solve the problem. Thereās no āthemā in this discussion; weāre all us.
On to the issuesā¦
Andy Leonard recently posted a great wrap-up about the process as he understands it; he does make some conjectures about the process which I think are incorrect, but for the most part, I think his analysis is insightful and a great read for people who can only observe from the outside.
Andy makes a great argument about process failures versus execution failures, and I can see his point.
I left Farmville Virginia at 4:00 AM EDT Friday morning heading to SQL Saturday #51 in Nashville Tennessee. I thought about where I was going the night before, printed some basic instructions, pre-programmed a few addresses into my Garmin, and then drove roughly 550 miles in about 9 hours… this was my process. If I’d ended up in New York City instead of Nashville I could offer the excuse that I followed a process, but you would see right through that excuse, wouldn’t you? You’d say things like "That’s weak Andy". If you had a vested interest in meeting me in Nashville and I
calledemailed you from New York City to tell you I wasn’t in Nashville and that I was, in fact, even further from Nashville than I was at the beginning of following my process, you would be understandably put out.
Itās a great analogy, but itās hinged on one troublesome precept: the Nom Com and the Board of Directors failed. I donāt think we failed (and I know that statementās about to open up a heap of trouble). Did we (the Nom Com) arrive at an unpopular decision? Yep. Did the Board of Directors support that unpopular decision and ratify the slate? Yep. Is that a failure? No. If youāre assuming that Steve Jones deserves to be a candidate, then I can see how you want to blame somebody or something for reaching a different outcome than you desire. But thatās not a failure; it was an unplanned outcome <G>.
Hereās my take on it: We (the Nom Com) had an agreement with PASS to find qualified candidates for the 2010 Board of Directors; to fulfill that agreement, we developed a process that we published and had explicitly approved by the BOD, and implicitly approved by the PASS membership (I donāt remember getting any feedback at all from the membership after making this post). We used a template to evaluate written applications, and then interviews (more about the template below). After all was said and down, it came down to an Yes/No/Abstain vote from each of the Nom Com members (as explained by Tom LaRock); Steve and Jack didnāt get enough votes to go on. Did the Nom Com deliver a slate of qualified candidates? Damn skippy; I believe that each and every one of the five individuals of the slate deserves an opportunity to be a Director. Did we leave off candidates that were qualified according to public opinion? Obviously so. Is that a failure? I wouldnāt call it one; to rephrase Andyās analogy, I think we made it to Nashville, but we left behind part of the slide deck. Can we still go on?
What about the Numbers?
Both Andy Leonard and K. Brian Kelley provide some insight into the numbers from the templates used to rank the candidates. Again, very well written and thoughtful posts that certainly raise some questions about why Steve (and to some degree, Jack, who is getting a very short shrift in this controversy) didnāt make the slate. Itās understandable, because those templates are comfortable to look at for data-oriented geeks. We like numbers, and we like it when numbers make sense. It would be great if we had some sort of objective measurement by which to determine the qualifications of an applicant; unfortunately, the template aināt it.
Brianās analysis shows the holes in the theory that we had an objective measure by questioning how we (the Nom Com) arrived at those ratings; granted, his rankings are based on his personal knowledge of Steve Jones, and heās a sample of 1, but it shows the subjectivity inherent in a ranking system. Granted, the averages were supposed to ease some of the subjectivity (by reducing the emphasis on outliers), but 7 is still a small sample, so extreme differences among Nom Com members could have definitely impacted the outcome. Furthermore, the Nom Com was privy to information that was not public (the complete application and interview); our rankings were based on our perception of how well the candidate met the criteria using all information available to us, and most of that information came from the application and the interview. Did I know about Steveās black belt? No. Did I know his son was on the Eagle Scouts? Wasnāt on the application form.
Ultimately, the numbers were used as a guide to facilitate discussion; there was no cut-off point, and 7 interviewees were well within the maximum number of candidates for the Board (as defined by the bylaws; see the election process for more details). It came down to a majority vote, and the majority of the committee felt that Steve and Jack were not ready at this time to be on the slate (for Jack, it was 0 yeaās, 6 noās, and an abstention; for Steve, it was 1 yea, 5 noās, and an abstention).
The question of fitness.
Hereās a quote from Andy Leonard:
I know Steve. I believe he would be disruptive. I think he would challenge the status quo and defend the SQL Server Community with every ounce of his being. I believe he would start his two years of service on the Board more stubborn and obstinate than he would end it. Like every Board of Director member that’s taken time to share their experience, Steve would evolve. For some, that’s a problem. They cannot tolerate the disruptive-ness. I believe Steve was deemed "unFit" for the Board for this reason.
I may be misreading this, but Andy seems to be accusing some members of the Nom Com and the Board of Directors of bias against disruption or discussion, and to that end I ask: Have you met Rick Bolesta? Andy Warren? Lynda Rab? None of these folks would I consider to be peacekeepers; theyāre all opinionated, strong-willed, intelligent, and fair people (and I can name others on the BoD). To assume that we (the Nom Com) deliberately excluded an applicant because they met the same characteristics of many of the sitting BoD is illogical.
To be fair, I can see how Andy got there; Steve is not known for pulling punches when it comes to PASS, and I can see how it looks like āSteve was a bully, so Iām not going to let him play on my teamā. But, to linger on that assumes that the we (the Nom Com) are incapable of being professional when it comes handling criticism. To pull another quote from Andy regarding the Nom Com:
You could argue that they did their job with the same zeal as the people who shrink-wrap CDs and DVDs. But understand they were told to protect us from another marketing executive. This isn’t a complaint about the NomCom – it’s constructive criticism. I believe members of the NomCom know the difference.
I, too, believe the Nom Com knows when criticism is constructive, and I think we factored that in to the definition of Fit. But oneās ability to deliver constructive criticism is NOT the only component of that measure; we examined all nomineeās skills, experiences, and strength to derive that measure. Granted, it was a subjective measure masked as objectivity, but it should not have been used as a bias against Steve (or any other candidate) because heās a rabble-rouser.
Other bits and bytesā¦
After all of that is said is done, thereās still some lingering questions to be answered. Iād been meaning to write a post about this, but obviously the controversy is outweighing the need to understand what happened in committee. Let me briefly summarize some of the main points:
Would I have changed anything about the process?
Yes. I think that the Nom Com qualification process needs to be standardized and used every year; that would alleviate some of the concerns as to why the quality of candidates differentiated so wildly from last year to now. I think the template is a great idea, but the Board needs to define (in conjunction with the membership at large; stole that idea from Andy Warren) what constitutes a qualified candidate. Those qualifications need to be simple and easy to understand, and allow for a broad range of candidates to qualify.
I also think the board needs to have more community members sitting on it, like others have suggested (I couldnāt find the reference, so if you were first to post this, sorry). I do believe that a Nom Com is necessary for PASS, and Iām open to discussions about the role of that committee.
Am I mad about the controversy?
There have been times over the last week that I have wanted to haul a few posters aside and have a discussion out in the parking lot (despite the fact that the last fight I was in was in 7th grade, and I lost because my lip got stapled to my braces). Iāve gotten very good at relieving stress via Wii Boxing. I think the criticism that hurt most was from people whom I respect and they posted something without thinking about the people involved in the process; most I have forgiven (and talked it out). Others will take a while before they gain my trust back.
I also HATE that 5 talented individuals that did make the slate (and 1 who did not) are being marginalized because of the outcry over Steve. Weāve got to move on, and soon, or weāre going to miss out an opportunity to understand the next set of Directors.
Would I serve on the Nom Com again?
Hell, yes. I plan to serve until I get the chance to deny Paul Randall a seat on the board (j/k). To be honest, Iām very proud of my service, and I hope to do again. I realize itās not the easiest job in the world, but nothing important is.