Friday, 7 March 2008

Perception is Reality

Yesterday made me sad for a number of different reasons, all of them are related to a common underlying theme that Bjorn called out just the other day in his interesting blog about Perception verses Reality. The underlying issue is that our perceptions of the world is what drives our mental model of reality. It's all fine that someone might point out to us that our perceptions are deceiving us and that reality doesn't actually conform to the mental model we've constructed, but it's very hard to change the way perceptions give rise to our mental model.

The first sad thing for me was to lose my patience and my temper. Many people note that I tend to be quite soft spoken---goodness knows I often need to repeat myself to be heard---so when I raise my voice in frustration, it's easily noticed. To protect the innocent, I'll leave out the names and the details. Suffice to say, I was on yet another mission to do good and to be helpful so I had a very hard time trying to cope with the fact that my attempt to arrive at a long term solution for a long standing problem was not perceived in a way that matched the intent. It wasn't even the case that the results of my actions didn't yield the solution I had intended. In fact, I believe the problem was solved in the best of all possible ways. So the fact that this optimal outcome did not result a positive reaction from the folks who have been coping with the problem for years just threw me for a loop. The feeling of "no good deed goes unpunished" overwhelmed me, and being human and all, I didn't react as well as I might have. After calming down, I realized that the perception was that the optimal solution might take a bit longer than a suboptimal one. I still could have cried.

The e4 debacle from yesterday deeply saddened me even more. Of course, like Mike, I think controversy can be both interesting and healthy, but my sense is that the e4 discussions really need a boost to get past the divisiveness of hurt feelings and the misunderstandings. I like to see our community thrive and I think the way e4 was handled was unfortunate and leaves behind a taint that needs to be healed. This was particularly upsetting to me for a number of reason, so let me elaborate on some of them.

I think it's important to point out that the Eclipse 4.0 plans were presented to the board at our face-to-face meeting in December. So all the board members were informed and there was a call to action. During that meeting, it became clear that previous efforts to recruit strategic developers committers for the platform had largely failed; that effort was initiated before I was on the board. It was interesting to realize that one reason for the failure was characterized as IBM showing up asking for people to work for them for free. My own efforts to recruit modelers seems to have been more successful and in light of the criticisms, it struck me that perhaps my efforts have been more successful because I've always focused directly on the grass roots, i.e., on interested people who have something specific they'd like to work on related to modeling. In other words, to put it very bluntly, I didn't show up at a board meeting with my beggar's hat out. Of course that's a gross mischaracterization for an organization like IBM which commits vast resources towards Eclipse, but, perception is reality and perception is a great filter.

Being the blunt outspoken type, during that meeting I pointed out that we needed to be very careful about perceptions with regard to Eclipse 4.0. Coming to the board with the premise "Here's a plan we think is a good one and we'd like you to step forward and help us" is not the same as coming to the board with the premise "Here are some cool things we think are important for the future of Eclipse and we'd like to work with you folks to gather additional ideas and then work as a group toward a common goal." See the subtle but fundamentally important difference that lies at the root of the problem?

My reasons for pointing all this background out are twofold. One is that the strategic developers were informed. And two, that folks were forewarned that managing the perceptions of how we work with the community on promoting this exciting new initiative is of fundamental import. I'm not sure the extent to which board members went back to discuss the Eclipse 4.0 proposals at their respective organizations but even if no communication took place, I think the way this proceeded from there represents yet another lapse. Sure Mike ought to have published the board meeting minutes by now---especially given the copious staffing at the EMO (just a little joke Mike)---but do we really expect the community at large to learn about this by avidly following the published board meeting minutes? No! Of course not. The developer community is entitled to expect that they will be approached directly.

Naturally the idea was that this would be presented to the community at EclipseCon where there's be ample opportunity to explain the big picture, everyone interested can attend, and spontaneous questions can be answered. Mcq dislikes travel with a passion so it is a really big deal for him personally that he is traveling for EclipseCon to present the e4 strawman proposal. In the interest of concreteness, he wanted to actually demonstrate something substantial by making available some real code rather than just spouting hot air about hypothetical vaporware. An incubator was needed to host that code and folks commiting to it needed commit rights. As a result, a very unfortunate announcement was posted to the community and hackles were raised. Many notes were posted and a number of blogs were written (one of which even disappeared in a blaze of Sith Lord sparks).

Again, to be really blunt, my reaction was to post some internal notes immediately. They were of the nature "What were you thinking when you wrote this?" The outcome was not only predictable but actually literally predicted. As Bjorn pointed out, it wasn't a case of people misreading the message, it was a case of miswriting the message. Well, it's too late. The damage is done and now it needs to be undone. Let's start by forgiving people their lack of attention to subtle but important details.

As part of repairing the damage, let me be 100% clear that the message was indeed miswritten and that people's negative reactions are largely justified. You might be surprised to know that I was personally upset to not be included in the long list of names. I believe modeling as the basis for data integration is fundamentally important to the evolution and success of Eclipse so I don't want it to be left out. Of course one more IBMer on the list of committers would only make the problem worse, but quite frankly that kind of makes me mad. I don't think it's right that we all be painted blue and then dismissed as if we as individuals don't represent diversity. It's just plain wrong and I won't put up with it. As an individual representing the modeling community I would indeed bring diversity to the picture. We need to get over this issue of coloring people. Sorry for ranting, but if you look closely, you'll see that even the blue coral has more than one color blue.

Well, I had a little chat with Boris later in the day, and he showed me the cool stuff they're doing with modeling in e4, so I was quickly placated. I expect to get involved for sure. I think I've developed a pathological attachment to all things Eclipse. But enough about me; back to the community. Actually, one more thing for the conspiricists who believe the world is controlled by an elite group that pulls all the strings behind the scenes; they might make devious suggestions that "d" is the 4th letter of the alphabet and that e4 is secret code for ed. Don't pay them any heed!

For those out in the community who, like me, feel disappointed that they've been left out. Worry not! The e4 project will not be a success without involvement from the community. Nice platitudes you might say? Let me put it a little differently then. The e4 project will be scrapped if there is insufficient participation from the community to staff the effort. And note that I didn't just say it will be scrapped if there is insufficient interest. I literally mean it will be scrapped if the community does not step forward as participants to carry a very significant fraction of the burden. Consider it a bright promise or an ugly threat as you see fit. Personally I see this as the best way to turn a new leaf at Eclipse. Let's get all get involved and let's focus on technical visions of utopia...


Doug Gaff said...

Thanks Ed. I wish more E4 people were commenting right now on the planet.

Ed Merks said...

Indeed. I noticed that there is very little commentary on any of these e4 blog posts. Each person seems to want their own platform, both from which to speak and for e4!

I hope everyone keeps in mind that things are not nearly as concrete or as far along as is being assumed and that EclipseCon will be a great place to work as a community to make this what we want it to be.

Wayne said...

Great post. "e4 is secret code for ed" made me spit Cheerios on my screen. lol.

Kevin McGuire said...

Ed, as always a balanced post that you clearly put a ton of thought into. Your last point is particularly right-on and we need to keep repeating: e4 will be nothing if folks don't participate. For one, its whole purpose is around community participation. For another, because there is (by design) more work than the existing platform committers could handle. In many ways I view e4 as a test for whether we can all get past our pasts to build something new, both as technology, working methods, and perceptions.