The fourth interview in the “Inside Infra” series with members of the ASF Infrastructure team. Meet Daniel Gruno, who shares his experience with Sally Khudairi, ASF VP Marketing & Publicity.
What is your name and how is it pronounced?
I have my official name and I have my user name and people usually ask about both of them. My name is “Dan-yell Gkhroo-no” or I will accept “Dan-yell Groo-no” which is as you read it in English. It’s actually a Dutch name. So you would pronounce it “Hrooy-no” in Dutch, which I’m not even going to try to phoneticize that because, that’s, well, Dutch. And my username is “Humbedooh” which is an onomatopoeia that I randomly made up in 2004 for a game called World of Warcraft, where you need a username for this character that you create. And I think I had just listened to “New York, New York”, where Frank Sinatra sings “scooby doo bee doo”, and I was like, “hum-be-doo-de-doo” and the name just came to me and it stuck ever since. And so for the past 15 years or 16 years, I’ve been primarily “Hum-beh-doo” online.
By the way, Frank Sinatra sings “zoo-bee-doo-bee-doo”, not “scooby-doo-bee-doo” in “Strangers in the Night”, but I like your version better.
Okay. Well today I learned that.
When and how did you get involved with the ASF?
That goes back to 2010, 2011? Again, this beautifully tied us into World of Warcraft because in that game you can make modules, add ons for the game that will do nifty things, like add ons for a Web browser. And this is written in a programming language called Lua, L-U-A, which is Portuguese for “moon”. And so I started writing some programs for this game and I had great fun with it, and programing is not my official trade. I was educated in, or studied, human resource management at university actually. But it was my hobby and I had great fun doing it. And this Lua thing just got stuck in me. And then five years later or so I started writing a program for the Apache Web server called mod_pLua, the best way to describe it as if PHP and Lua had a baby. So it would be the same for people that know PHP. It would be the same structure with the less than equal sign and a question mark, and then the same thing to end it on the other end, but with the Lua language instead of the PHP language. So I wrote this program or interpreter for the Apache Web server. And I didn’t really think much of it. Obviously it was mostly for my own edification if you will, and for my own use. But I had put this on a site called SourceForge, which at that time had a community manager named Rich Bowen (also Apache HTTP Server PMC Member) who took a liking to this program or this module for the Web server because the Apache Web server community, which he was a part of at that point, have been doing something similar called mod_lua or at that time mod_wombat.
And that had stalled. People have interests and then the interests wane and people would move on to new jobs and the person in charge of this mod _lua had found other interests in life. And so this module was just sitting there and not really being worked on. And Rich said, “Why don’t you come take a look at this program and maybe this is a place where we can collaborate.” And he also got (ASF co-founder and Apache HTTP Server PMC Member) Jim Jagielski very interested in the work I was doing. And so I slowly started on my path to becoming an ASF Committer initially by fixing what’s called 404s, which is basically a reference in a Webpage to a link or another page that doesn’t exist. Either it never existed or it doesn’t exist anymore. So I started fixing a bunch of those just to get on their good side and hopefully they would take me seriously. And I didn’t have high hopes, but I think I was probably the fastest person to get committership at the Apache Web Server Project…perhaps the fastest in the 10 years preceding when I got it probably within a week. They had a vote going and I was voted in and…
Within a week?
Within a week.
I was pretty much on the path to becoming a Committer. I couldn’t believe it. Part of me wanted to believe it, because it was a very big validation for me. Because I had been using the Apache Web Server since 1998 and it always been a project that I looked up to and it had been this mythical “Father of the Web” program. And so to actually be a part of it and get your name on the page that says these are the Committers that actually have a say in the project and can commit code to it, that was I was quite a feat for me, especially at that time where I had stopped my studies at university and I didn’t know, what am I going to do now? Because as happens with a lot of people that study something, they eventually found out that while, okay, this was interesting, but it’s probably not what I want to be doing, if I’m honest. Because what I had fun with was programming. So while it was nice knowing a lot of stuff about statistics and economic models and psychology and so forth, it had started to get a little boring for me. I knew these things, what now? And so to get this validation to get an avenue of sorts where I could use my creativity in a new way that I hadn’t studied for, but it naturally just came to me this programming inspiration, that was really nice, to use a very vague word. It was a tremendous opportunity for me. And then that’s how I got started with Apache.
Fantastic. You’re not only a Member of the ASF and an Infra team member. What other “hats” do you wear at the ASF?
I have a couple of hats. I’m also the Vice President of the Apache Web Server Project, which is a great honor. And it’s still to this day, three years in, fun to do. People think of it as this is a dictator role or you get to decide, but it’s more of a glorified secretary really, where you keep tabs with everything or most of the things that are going on in the project. And you relay that information in a concise way to the Board of directors, whose job it is to look at these reports and say, “Are the projects doing okay? Do they need any help from us? Are they in trouble?” So basically VP is the watchdog –in these COVID days, I guess you can say it’s a pulse oximeter of the project. And if you want to know if a project is still healthy and stable and progressing, the VP is the one to ask, because that’s basically their job to know. As VP I don’t get to decide who gets in or who gets kicked out or what direction we take in the project: I am just the person that ensures that the Board knows that the project is in good health.
Do you wear any other hats or is it just the VP of Apache HTTP Server?
I’m also VP of Apache STeVe. As I said, I have two VP-ships and STeVe is a whole other beast. Let’s say it’s very stable in that we have a code base that works and we don’t really do much about it, we maintain it. In the Apache Web server, we have around 20 to 30 people actively contributing code every single quarter. And in Apache STeVe, we are basically twiddling our thumbs, waiting for something bad to happen. And it never happens. We have a program that works the way we like it. And we don’t see the need for any large changes. And as long as there is sufficient oversight in a project, then the Board doesn’t come in and say, “Hey, can you make this cool feature?” Because that’s not the Board’s job. The Board’s job is just to help us, as projects. And so if the project doesn’t have anything that it feels it wants to add, but it’s still there and the people are alive and well, then the Board will say, “You got it. We’ll see you next quarter.” And so two projects are very different and it also makes for very different reports.
OK. Let’s drill into Infra, as that’s the focus of our interview series. How long have you been a member of the Infrastructure team? How did you get there?
I am not sure. I think I’ve been a member of the Infrastructure Team since 2012. You can probably figure out when exactly I got my membership in the email archives . It started because the Apache Web server project needed a commenting system. Because we had been eyeballing the PHP project and they had a system where you could, on the documentation pages, you can enter, I have a comment about this documentation bit, or you could add some code snippets or ask a question and get an answer. And the only thing we had was send an email and get a reply and then the next person comes along and doesn’t know that that email existed and sends the exact same question and gets the exact same reply and that can get tiresome in the long run. So we wanted someplace inside the documentation itself where you could go in and see, okay, I have an issue with this documentation, have other people encountered the same problem or are there some smart solutions that I can find here. And this type of software doesn’t write itself, unfortunately. So I set about in writing that using the mod_lua that I had now invested a great deal of time in because A, we needed a comments system and B this was a good excuse to show off mod_lua in a production system. This could really do something, it’s not only fast, but it’s got a lot of features and it’s got a lot of flexibility to it. And so I asked the Infra Team, which at that point was very daunting for me because they were, let’s say our image has improved over time at Apache Infra, it was much more a, well basically an operator from hell vibe you got back in the early 2000s or early 2010s from the Infra Team, especially when you’re someone of a more timid nature like I am. So anyway, I asked if I could get a place to set up a machine or borrow a Web server basically and put this commenting system on that I had been writing as a hobby. And they pretty much said “Sure.” Which was surprising to me because normally when you go and ask for something at a company and it’s very difficult, you can ask for meetings and meetings and meetings, but if you ask for actual resources, you will usually have to file a form J/99-B in triplicates and whatnot. And here they were just: “well it looks like he wants to help the project, just give him what he wants”. And so I got started on this commenting system. And other projects became aware of it and they wanted to use it as well. And then I became the comments guy, basically. And I started maintaining this system for, I think, it was seven different Apache projects at the time using it. And since you can’t really maintain anything at the ASF without somehow being an infrastructure person, I was made an infrastructure person…and generally if you’re a given something, you get a taste for it and you want more. And so I started volunteering for more and more infrastructure tasks. And then I became what is called infrastructure root. This was about two years later down the road. Which is a point where the Infrastructure Team says we have complete trust in what you do. Here are basically the keys to the kingdom. Do whatever you like, except don’t do that. But you could do whatever you wanted to. And that was almost as awesome as becoming a member, which I had become just about a month prior. It needs to be said that at that point you could not become infrastructure root unless you were also an ASF member, because needless to say, when you have root access to an organization as wide and important as to the ASF, you get to be privy to a lot of information that you should keep to yourself. And so the logic at the time was, if you are an ASF member, you will already have access to most of this information because of your membership and so we can allow you to become an infrastructure root person. This has changed since then, we have cast a wider net when looking for new infrastructure people, this also includes a more thorough vetting process that we have now. So we feel more secure and not just requiring you got to be an Apache member before you come and help us. So we are able to look for a broader set of requirements that might not have been found within the, at that time, 400 and something members that were in the Foundation.
What are you responsible for in ASF Infrastructure?
Oh God. As with most infrastructure members, it’s almost easier to see what are you not in charge of, which I usually say “Jenkins” with a big smile because that’s things that are, I know this is going to sound silly to a lot of people reading the article, but things that are Java, I tend to shun like a vampire and sunlight.
Any particular reason?
Yes. I’m not accustomed to the way the output and stack traces and core dumps. And the thing about Java is it’s very verbose: you can write 50 lines of code and you’ll have a print Hello. And it doesn’t appeal to me. So yeah, when things don’t appeal to me immediately, this is one of my weaknesses, I try to not really understand it because it’s easier not to.
Fortunately we have some very talented people at the Infrastructure Team that knows pretty much everything there is about Jenkins and JIRA and Confluence and all the other big Java powered mod lists we have at the Foundation so I can spend my time elsewhere. What I mostly do at the Foundation day to day work aside — because we all have basic maintenance tasks and disasters that can crop up from time to time — is product development of the glue that binds The Apache Software Foundation together and its software infrastructure.
And I’ll tell you about a new thing that we’ve been doing, which is something called PyPubSub. I can spell it, it’s P-Y-P-U-B-S-U-B, so it’s a Python publisher subscriber service for the ASF.
You can basically think of it as a newspaper where you have a publisher, you have an audience, you have the readers, and then you have topics of interest. Some might want the sports section or the funnies, or someone might want the financial news. And then you have, of course, the writers or journalists that make up the contents in these sections. And at ASF, these sections, they would be Subversion commit or Git commit or a new email being written, or someone got added as a Committer or someone filed a pull request, someone filed a new bug or issue, or some are discussing an issue. And the writers and journalists would be all these systems where you send an email to, or you open up a new ticket or you commit some code to it.
The readers will then be either users, or there will be a lot of different software components that rely on these messages in order to operate themselves and do what they’re supposed to do. So in essence, PyPubSub is, again, some glue that binds the majority of our services together. And it does so by dispatching events to basically whomever wants to read about them. We actually have something called a Pub/Sub Explorer, in real time shows every single event that happens at the ASF technology wise. So if someone sends an email to us, if someone commits something, if someone opens the poll request, if someone comments on a discussion, it all shows up in this Explorer that will update in real time. And it’s very cool.
(ASF Infrastructure Administrator) Greg (Stein) was saying that you do things that are uniquely different from other team members. In addition to the PyPubSub, what other things are you working on?
Currently, one of the main things we manage is called technical debt, which is basically, the longer you don’t maintain and upgrade a system, the more expensive it’s going to become once you finally have to do it. And so I’m dealing with some technical debt that is moving the service that we have called GitBox from an old, pretty ancient set up to a brand spanking new 2020 machine and software, which also means moving from Python 2.7 to Python 3.8 for every single component that is in the service called GitBox. And that is a lot of components. GitBox is the ASF side of where a committer would commit code to if a project uses the Git version control system.
The other side would then be GitHub, if a project chooses to use GitHub. And GitBox and GitHub, they kind of talk together and figure out, okay, someone pushed to me, I’m going to synchronize this with you. And I’m also going to make sure that everyone gets an email on the mailing list saying “something just happened.” It’s rather unique in that you can choose to either use a GitHub account, or you can choose to say, “I’m not going to use GitHub. I’ll just use my Apache credentials on the Apache server instead.” Not a lot, very, very few, in fact, organizations have this kind of interconnectivity between GitHub and a locally hosted git server.
And what we have done very neatly is, we have managed to link our LDAP directory of all our
committers to GitHub. Meaning that, if you go in and say, “This is me on GitHub.” We automatically figured out, okay, that means you get wide access to this and this and this repository. And that is updated in real time.
How did these out-of-the box projects come about? I remember when you first approached me about five years ago with these fantastic stats just before I was going to publish the Annual Report. I’d never seen anything like that at the ASF.
It’s difficult to explain. It’s like asking a painter, ”Where do you get your inspiration from?” It just happens. A lot of time –I will tell a little secret– a lot of the time that I spend in my day-to-day work is not spent actually typing code or reading up on new fun things. A lot of it is spent what you would call idling. And by that I mean not particularly engaged in any specific task, but kind of just all over the place casually … Like how, and I hope not to cause any offense here, but how a standard office worker would spend a lot of time on Facebook catching up on friends and family. I’ll just spend mine to see whatever I’m interested in the moment that has to do with programming or mathematics or psychology. And in the back of my mind, there’s always, how can I take this information that I’m reading about and apply it in a software world?
My mind has a tendency to see structures that may or may not be there. And I think almost exclusively in structures. Whenever I see something I want to understand not just how does it work, but how is it basically designed? And can I replicate that? And so, a lot of my day-to-day work is, I see something cool, it might not be anything that has to do with software, or the internet, or anything. It might just be a cool gadget, or a painting, or a chart in a newspaper. And I’ll be like, ”What can I use that for that would benefit the foundation? Or whatever hobby project that I’m working on?” And then you get these aha moments where you’re like, ”This I can actually use this way to fix a problem that we are having, or that problem that we could have.”
Sometimes you just make up problems that will potentially happen in the future, just so you can have an excuse to get started on something. And for some strange reason, these fictitious problems very often tend to be not so fictitious at all. And once you show three or four people, hey, I thought of this thing that’s not actually a problem. And I thought of a solution. They’ll be like, ”That is actually a problem for us.” And suddenly you have a solution to a problem that you didn’t think existed in real life, but it actually does. So, a lot of the things I do are “for the fun of that”. But there’s always a work-related starting point in that, is this something that can be used within the software world? Or within the managerial world of software? Which is where I primarily tend to focus my energy.
In terms of your day-to-day work with the Infra team, you said that you’re hands-on, not necessarily coding specific tactical solutions, but solving other problems –do you participate with the firefighting as do the other team members? You often respond to my queries about mailing lists –is that your specialty? Chris and Drew shared that everyone specializes in at least one thing. What do you specialize in?
My focus is primarily, and there’s this kind of a self-made problem. My focus is all the programs and services that I, unfortunately, created.
You create it, you own it.
Yes. There are a lot of services at Apache Infrastructure that either I made from scratch, or they have a very big thumbprint of mine on them. And so, when I started at Infrastructure, the Infrastructure team, it was expected that we do our fair bit of firefighting. We do a fair bit of the tasks that every single member of the infrastructure team knows how to complete. And I will go through tickets and I find tickets that I find manageable and complete those. I will participate in firefighting. I will do whatever I feel needs to be done right away. If there’s something important, or if there’s something where I feel like this should have been dealt with by now, I will do that.
But it was also the expectation that I come in and help develop and maintain a lot of new features we were looking at creating for the committers and for the end users of Apache software. Simply to make for a better user experience and an easier workflow for our committers and contributors. So, a lot of what I do is maintaining and assisting with services that I have either initially authored or helped expand upon.
Tell us about the structure of the Infra team –how did your work come about in a formal way? You were saying that you’re creating these tools and then they just kind of got integrated. But were they looking for your sort of skill set? Or was it more of, “hey, we need another Java guy”? What clicked there? Your background is really different. Your expertise is different. Your insight is different. It’s an unusual scenario to have a traditional department embrace someone like you and say, ”Hey, we’re going to have a whole new type of services offered based on this one guy’s vision.” That’s very unusual. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
I don’t think they were looking for someone like me. But I think they got someone like me and it was completely happenstance. The Infrastructure team at that point, that was early 2013. They were looking to expand with one more staffing spot. This was a part time job. And this was probably about a year and a half after I started doing things for the Infrastructure team. And they had a very narrow list of candidates at the time, because it was a very closed circle. And kind of still is because when you’re a staffer, you get the keys to a very mighty kingdom. And so, they had a few people that they could consider, but I was probably by far the one putting in the most hours. And I will, gladly admit that, at that time, I did not have a job. So, I was able to put in a lot of hours.
This was when Sam Ruby was VP infrastructure. When Sam initially took me aside and said, ”Hey, we are looking for this part time opening, are you interested?” I was like, ”No, this, surely you’re not, you can’t be serious. There’s got to be someone that’s actually qualified for this job.” I didn’t consider myself qualified at all. And…
But you were doing the work?
I was doing the work, I just didn’t have any confidence in the work I was doing. You can be creative, you can do a lot of interesting things and still have this incredible imposter syndrome going on at the back of your head saying, ”Someone else is doing this work. It’s not you.” So, I politely turned him down and said, ”Thank you, but I’m not insisted because you’ll just find out I’m a fraud.” It actually took two other Infrastructure at that point, current staffers, two other sector members to yank me aside and say, ”What are you doing? We want you for this job.” And they had actually pretty much all internally, independently been rooting for me and trying to position me to become this new member of the team, to my great surprise.
After, I think it was after a very long talk with (former Infra team member) Joe Schaeffer, I was finally convinced, maybe I should give it a shot. And I’m very glad that he convinced me. I’m very glad that the other people at that time also convinced me because it’s now been, to this month, seven years since I started. And it’s not been fun every day because there can be such a thing as too much firefighting going on. But it’s been interesting every single day. You’re never bored and you never think, ”I need to find a new job.” Because you are respected for what you do. You are rewarded in more ways than money, honestly, and you can probably agree with this, at The Apache Software Foundation you get a very unique sense of loyalty. Not to the Board of Directors, or to the specific projects, or anything else, but to the community as a whole. To the mission that we’re doing. So, I am honestly very content being where I am.
I’m very happy that these people ganged up on me and, basically, forced me to get a job that was… It was kind of silly in hindsight because it’s a well paying job, it’s part time. So, you don’t have to spend nine hours a day on it. You can work whenever you want to and… There were no setbacks except for this nagging doubt that people are going to find out the real me. Which, as I discovered myself, it turned out the real me was actually kind of awesome at this job.
It’s interesting because the Apache community tends to not want someone if they’re not good. So, it’s testament to your skill set, and who you are as a person, you’re liked. You’re very well liked.
Thank you very much. And, you’re right. The Apache community seems to be very good at finding talent, and also very good at rewarding it in ways that make that talent stick, and make them interested and continue working within the ASF community. I think that’s a thing that you don’t see in all software communities.
We learned from (Infra team members) Chris (Thistlethwaite), Drew (Foulks), and Greg (Stein) about the scope of the work that Infra does. How is the ASF different from other Open Source foundations from an Infra perspective –are there other people doing what you do, or how our group performs, or the services that our group provides. Is this common in other Open Source foundations?
It is not common in other foundations. We are different in that the breadth of the amount of services that we provide for each project. And especially at the budget that we provide it at. I think we did a count back in 2015 and it was something around 52 different distinct unique services that we had, that we were running for all projects to use. And in between these, there are possibly more than 300 machines each running, some of them running the same thing on 10 machines. And then you have another 10 machines that are running 10 different things.
This is all handled by what? A team of what, seven people now?
Six people actually, five of us and Greg (Stein). Greg is a bit of an übermensch, so yeah.
That’s amazing, in terms of the workload.
It can get hectic, and I will not deny that, but we have a very, very strong cohesion. I don’t want to say we finish each other’s sentences, but when someone has a problem, the others know when to step in and help, when to back off, and what to do while someone else is doing their thing. We compliment each other really well. And we have a nice set of tools to help us with managing things, making sure that everything is up and running, diagnosing when something goes wrong. We have a lot of, again, by the hand of me, a lot of custom tiny services that you never even hear of or see if you’re not within the infrastructure team. But that goes on automatically. Let’s say you’re abusing someone in a ticket multiple times, or you’re spamming, whatever. We have a lot of microprocesses that go in and detect abusive behavior, both in terms of spam, but also what you would call technical hardware abuse, where someone is repeatedly using all of our bandwidth, for example, or causing the CPU to spike.
We can go and detect that automatically and pull a systemwide ban on you, which it’s very custom, but it saves us a lot of money. I will say that we’ve saved a lot of money at the Foundation by being smart about what we do and not being afraid of making a few mistakes while we make new things… Because a lot of what we do is custom-based, custom-made. Because there is not, unless you’re talking about something big like Kubernetes or something at that scale, it’s often very difficult to find the tools that do what we want them to do with the problem that we have. Because other companies, especially companies, are not the same as ASF. They don’t have 300 different departments that all have their own little tools that they want working in their specific way. And they want this to connect to that, and that’s connected to some other thing. We are not afraid to create custom solutions, we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty and we’re not afraid to make mistakes. That doesn’t mean we make mistakes all the time, or that we’re okay with all sorts of risks.
How do you interact with the team? How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated by interacting with my team, I would say. Interaction is mostly on Slack, which is, for those that either don’t know it or pretend they don’t know it, is an instant messaging platform. We have an account for the Foundation; we have our staff channel where everything gets discussed, whether that be, the mail servers are a big backlog, or this prime rib I just sous vide-ed at 105 Fahrenheit four or five hours is awesome. I think one of the tricks or keys to success for teams like us is to really mix up the subjects and not be all business and not be all fun because you don’t want it to be too boring, you don’t want it to be too relaxed. I think we’ve somehow managed to hit a pretty good ratio of fun and serious items that we discuss on a day to day basis.
So, it’s fun talking to your colleagues about real-life stuff that isn’t work, but it’s also rewarding talking about work and learning from them and their experiences, and you being able to give them some work experiences and wisdom from your many years of being a sysadmin or infrastructure architect. I think we’ve hit a really good ratio there.
It’s an interesting perspective with that because everyone I’ve interviewed thus far has given the same answer. Can you describe your typical workday: now, I know some people don’t have an exact schedule, some people do. What’s a day like in Daniel Gruno’s life?
My typical workday is very atypical for a worker. I don’t have a set schedule. I don’t have a set time. I don’t have a minimum amount of hours I work. I don’t have, unfortunately, a maximum amount of hours I work. It all depends on the day and what happens during that day. As said earlier, a lot of what I do is developing new services for the Foundation. As such, I spend a lot of time getting inspiration, and that’s done through various means of… From idling, I can be working at noon and then I’ll be like, ”I should watch a movie.” And then I’ll go watch a movie. My significant other will tell you that’s a lie, I don’t watch movies. But that was just an example. I can’t sit through two hours, I get too fidgety.
And that’s actually the real truth about me. I can’t sit still and do something for a specific amount of hours, unless I’m in a really inspired mood. So, my typical workday is finding things to do that don’t take more than half an hour to do, in between suddenly getting the greatest inspiration from up high. I’ll be looking at tickets that are easy for me, not absolutely speaking, easy to fix, but tickets that I know how to fix and I’ll go in and fix those. I’ll catch up on every single email that I receive, which is thousands of emails every single day. I have a mania about inbox zero. If there’s an email, I have to read it and sort it. Otherwise, I can’t get past the inbox. I can’t even close down the mail client unless I know that there is nothing in my inbox. Yeah, it’s the same with Slack and IRC and all that. If there’s a message pending for me, I have to check it.
But that’s beside the point. It gives me something to multitask between. Because there will always be a new email, there will always be someone saying something on Slack. So, a lot of my time is spent just multitasking between that, between reading up on news. And then, at some point, the inspiration that I need for that day will hit me and then comes the manic in a few hours where I just code like crazy because I have the inspiration. I tend to form fully thought out ideas which is terrible because if you have a fully formed idea in your head, you know it’s going to take eight hours to complete it. But you also know that if you stop, you might forget that fully formed thought.
Sometimes a work hour day can be four or five hours and sometimes it can be 10, 12, 13 hours because my muse has sung to me and the inspiration just has to be translated through the keyboard and into some sort of code or what page or documentation or just a specification for a new idea.
Having said that though, don’t pity me because I work 12 hours a day and don’t be jealous because I work five hours a day. Because it adds up to a lot of hours on average per month. But I’m also happy to do it because it brings me joy.
With this constant flow of concepts and code and inspiration, how do you keep your workload organized? You might be hammering away on a solution and imaging and envisioning something to develop –there’s a lot of things happening simultaneously. A lot of people have a hard time multitasking, or focusing on one thing and managing the thousands of emails coming into the mailbox, et cetera. How do you manage that?
I would say I don’t manage it, but luckily I have family that helps manage it. I have a boss that helps manage it. I’m a very … I’m on the autism spectrum and some would say that I probably have ADD as well. So I get very easily distracted and can lose focus, but I am surrounded by people that are very good at a) knowing that I lose focus very easily and b) guiding me back to the right path for that day.
I think in terms of my boss, Greg’s point of view, I think it’s a win win because I get guided back on my path and I get to actually do something useful and not just 20 unfinished projects. And he gets some services that are working and are improving the use of experience of the people that we are there to support: the committers.
So serving 350 Apache projects, initiatives and their communities, like how busy are you? How many requests do you receive a day? How do you prioritize these requests? How do you do this? Greg, Drew, and Chris talked to me about JIRA systems, et cetera. Your work, as I understand it, is not necessarily responding to user requests. How do you fit the creativity in with this process? How do you mitigate that? How do you fit everything in?
I do respond to users to keep me busy because if I am, I don’t want to say stalling, but if I am really idling then I lose interest so I have to always keep busy with something. So I will grab a lot of tickets just to keep busy with that.
That’s the thing that I had to teach myself how to do. And I don’t have the recipe for it, and yet I have somehow taught myself. The thing where you have to not click on every single new ticket that opens up. And not read every single … Well, you can read email, you just don’t have to write a reply to every single email.
It took a few years, I think, for me to stop doing every single ticket that came in within five minutes of it coming in. Because at that point, if you do that, plus you have 10 different projects on the side, you get burnout very quickly. And I’ve had a few burnouts, where I’ve been unproductive and doing nothing for the next week because I’d lost all hope in humanity because of the amount of tickets and angry users.
So a lot of it just letting go and knowing that there are team members who know just as well as you do what this is about and how to solve it. And if they don’t then they will ask you and you can help them then. So a lot of managing the workload is learning to let go of the workload.
And if someone creates a ticket saying, “My forwarding address doesn’t work.” It’s probably okay to wait more than five minutes before you fix that if you’re in the middle of something. I used to be of the, not opinion, but yeah, I used to be of the opinion that this must be fixed right away. The minute I saw someone had a problem, I wanted to help them.
But there comes a point where the more you try to help someone, the less you’re actually helping them in the end because of the overhead of dealing with too many tasks and being burned out. I think some of it is … Stefano…
Yeah. Right. The Mazzocchi equilibrium. There is a certain point where in the effort you put in and the effort comes out of that starts to not align anymore. And so if you’re not good at holding back and letting things slide just a bit, then you cross that threshold and you end up putting in maybe, I don’t know, 12 hours of work. And really what you are doing is five hours of work or four hours or one hour of work because you’re so not interested in what you are doing.
I know that some of my colleagues use Trello or If This Then That, or other tools to organize their day, but I want to say that’s not for me. I don’t think it factors in the creativity that is needed in the role I have. I think without any scientific evidence whatsoever, that if your job is to think up new ideas and think of new ways to do something. These tools, they don’t necessarily account for where creativity comes in because you can’t put in your calendar: step one, “be creative”; or at 9:00, “be creative”. Creativity is something that just happens. I’ve found that it happens for me when I am idling, when I am doing a lot of non-work related things, switching between and then switching back to work. And then switching back to non work items and switching back to work. And then suddenly, a link appears between these two things and they’re like, yeah, this idea could actually be used for work.
But the things I am doing are not something that you can put into plan because you don’t know … I mean if I knew how to be creative, if I knew to just go to this Website, then I would be a millionaire by now. So I don’t know *how* to be creative: I know that I can be creative and I know it happens when I let it happen.
You have to make space for that to happen, right? You have to allow for that to happen. It’s great that you have flexibility to be able to do that in your job –that part of your work is to be able to conceptualize and visualize and come up with things. It takes a while because sometimes you’re not going to know the problem unless you’re in the middle of it: “so, oh this is an issue … here’s an opportunity for us to come up with something that’ll help.”
It’s great. And it’s especially great because I think honestly if I was stuck and let’s say I was doing human resource management or whatever that I studied for, if I was stuck doing Excel spreadsheets, for example, all day long … Not that that’s a bad thing, but when creativity suddenly hits me, I have to get it down on paper or it’s going to haunt me to an extent where I just can’t stand myself.
So I’m very fortunate to have a job where I can, fire fighting aside, I can say, “Boom, I have this inspiration suddenly. I need to focus on that.” And then I can go and focus on that. And I have a boss and I have a boss’s boss and I have my colleagues that are understanding so that suddenly, “Oh Daniel got inspired. He’s probably going to manic for the next eight hours just working on this idea he’s got.”
It’s really wonderful being given that space to be creative because I think no matter what job I have, there would be an urge to be creative and to think up ideas. And again, when I think of an idea, it forms itself completely in my head.
Some people will start with half an idea or a fingertip of an idea. For me, it’s mostly been the entire idea presents itself to me right away, and I have to get as much of that as possible down on paper before it’s lost. To have that opportunity is really wonderful.
[END OF PART ONE]