I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, actually. Maybe years. I’m likely to get quite a bit of stabby glares from all sorts of circles because of this. That doesn’t matter to me, because the truth has to be told.
Yes, people, I’m about to declothe some emperors on this one. As I indicated in the prelude posting, Ciaran is only the latest in a series of jerks As up in arms as people get about him every few months, the truth is that he isn’t what will bring Gentoo down. This will be a bit of a meandering journey through some of the jerks in Gentoo’s history.
A year ago, Ciaran’s “case” was being reviewed by some sort of devrel committee with the aim of deciding what action to take to solve the circus of issues around him. I believe (and someone please correct me, if I’m wrong) what got to devrel’s attention was the fight between Brian (ferringb) and Ciaran. Now, DevRel has never been a particularly liked team within Gentoo. And over the past few years, it has gotten undermined pretty severely (each time, its power to actually do anything decisive has been stripped gradually). A year ago was the last time that that happened, and the truth about Gentoo’s actual power structure became plainer to a few more people.
Someone in infra decided that since Ciaran’s case was up for review, he was going to be removed from Gentoo development soon anyway, so why bother with the waiting for the actual trial and review to revoke his access. Instead, it was deemed smarter to just go ahead and revoke it. Despite many logical arguments being made, emotion won out. Sort of. What infra managed to do was undermine devrel to the point of obsolescence. There’s a jerk in this story, but we’ll come back to him in a minute.
First of all, most people can read about the “golden age of gentoo” in any number of blog posts. Well, it wasn’t all that golden back then, either. There were always upset people, hurt egos, stamped on toes. But things were certainly simpler. Daniel was the buck stopper, period/full-stop. That meant that if you didn’t agree with him, you either swallowed your pride and went on, or you left, or you had an argument and/or threw a hissy fit. Or some weird combination of those things. Anyone from the period can attest to my own numerous hissy fits. Or those of Daniel’s. (We had rock-steady forces in the mix though: Grant (g2boojum), Aron (agriffis), Karl (karltk, who also provided the comedy relief), and Martin (azarah). This was a foursome who just didn’t do hissy fits. They did not get emotional. They were rational, cool, level-headed people. People to be admired and emulated.)
Anyway, Daniel was alpha male. Hey, it was his project to begin with, it made sense. But then every so often, someone would come along and vie for that position. There were episodes of threats, hissy fits, accusations, and even bribes by people who wanted the sweet sweet taste of Gentoo power.
There was the zydiot who tried to bribe his way to the top. His m/o was the following: he gave of his time and brain power to gentoo (I believe his pet term for this was “sweat equity” whatever the hell that actually means. Someone find me a powerpoint presentation about it, stat!). In return, he wanted to be able to make money for his business. How Gentoo owed him that is unclear to me. I guess the privelege of having him work on the tree (presumably on embedded things, though I don’t recall any projects actually having gotten completed) put Gentoo in the position of somehow generating business for his, er, business. Annoyingly, he would send tirades of god-knows-what emails to -core almost nightly. You’d wake up to an email with page after page after page of him going on and on and on about i-dunno-what. After a while of the incessant emails wasting time and space, and his sneaky vying for alpha-dog, I made an executive decision. I did discuss it with Daniel (in the sense that I /msg’d him and told him what I was about to do). I fired him. Yes, people, the credit for firing zach belongs to me. I’ve been hearing Daniel getting that credit (not claiming, just getting) for years now and I’m frankly sick of it. I was proud of that firing, and I think I rightly earned the recognition for it.
For reasons unknown (for which I’m willing to give Daniel the benefit of the doubt), Daniel and Zach started talking again a few months after that and Zach returned. I did issue a protest to Daniel, but like I said earlier: he was the buck-stop. Anyway, Zach was up to the same old bull when he did return. The long and the short of it is that he decided he couldn’t stay without being in control, and surely he (of all people) deserved to be in control of Gentoo. I think he offered to buy a certain percentage of Gentoo Technologies from Daniel at one point, too. He also involved lawyers in the thing, it got pretty tense and ugly. Mercifully, he forked off into that zydiot distro (I forget the name, but it sounded like zydiot), and took a good percentage of Gentoo with him. The poison purged itself, so to speak.
However, there was another poison waiting in the wings! Another one who fancied that his business credentials were more important to running a distro. He went about his power grab in a different and more subtle way (and a not so subtle way, as you’re about to learn). He decided he would “help” out with the infrastructure. And that was his way in. He took control of Gentoo’s infrastructure and formed a team of loyalists around him. Daniel no longer had access to his own stuff without Kurt’s say so (if you guessed klieber in the third paragraph, kudos to you). Kurt created a sub-culture of inherent distrust in Gentoo. The developer base was growing (fast) so in some ways, that was bound to happen anyway. And as far as system administration goes, it’s a sound principle, which is why there was very little protest when that happened.
What followed was a progressive pressuring on Daniel to “open up” the leadership of Gentoo to a managerial committee. Kurt advocated having decisions made by committee rather than just Gentoo. It would be “good for the community” or something. Rac was involved in this pressuring as well (the four of us had a meeting at LWE san francisco about it, which left me livid). Rac is an idealist, so I can forgive him for it — he probably came from a good place, even though his statement that “prominent Japanese businessmen that he knew refused to use Gentoo because it was led by one person instead of a group of people” was basically laughable. What did disturb me was his disappearance, shortly after the foundation’s birth. What he championed for so strongly he achieved. Then left the mess for everyone else to deal with — see below.
Anyway, the management structure led to even more pressure, because Daniel retained his buck-stophood. Can’t have that, can we? Kurt increased pressure: Gentoo was still owned by gentoo technologies, inc, which was owned by Daniel. It had to go to shared ownership. The pressure continued and continued and continued on. Eventually, Daniel caved (and it’s something I’ve had a hard time forgiving him for) and paved the way for the foundation to come into existence. He did what is undeniably the single worst thing he could do for Gentoo. He left it headless. There was no buck-stop. The buck-stop is a stop by committee. Congress, anyone? Need I say more?
And he left Gentoo. At the time, Gentoo was my life. It was like my child. I’d put in many hours of work and effort and emotion and sanity into building up a group of developers into kick-ass teams and keeping up morale amongst them. So, while I knew that the whole rule-by-committee was the beginning of Gentoo’s descent into Debian-hell, I stayed on because I loved Gentoo, and I would be damned if Kurt could do any more damage.
There I’ll say it again more clearly. I stayed on in 2003 to be an opposing force to Kurt on the boards and councils etc.
Back to paragraph 3, then. The truth is that it is INFRA which is the true power base of Gentoo. The council, the trustees, devrel — they’re all at infra’s mercy. Ciaran’s access revocation a year ago was just Kurt exercising his raw power (and playing on the emotional tension surrounding that situation). Since then, however, we actually have an infra team and leadership that inspires trust. Between solar, Mike (king of tacos), Robin (robbat2), Chris (wolf31o2, who’s equally amazing as the releng lead (who’s equally amazing as the GWN editor (who’s equally amazing as the head of PR))), and others, I think infra is in great hands. Once devrel and infra actually do follow policy of retiring kurt for inactivity (3 weeks shy of a year now), the poisonous personality will be gone finally.
I’m really really happy that Kurt’s professional career has been as stellar as it has been, because it has left him little to no time for Gentoo. In truth, he did fuck-all once the foundation came into being. Last I read, he said something to the effect of this (ie the board of trustees thing) being a failed experiment.
No shit, sherlock, where were you when I was saying the same thing in 2003? For what Kurt has done for Gentoo, I have nothing but negative feelings about. He was a poisonous character, but thankfully he went away.
And I’m not blameless either. There were many situations when I would think, “jeez, Daniel, just give me the reins for a month so I can fix this situation” (where “this situation” was whatever crisis we were in, of which there were many). See? Everyone wants to be alpha-dog.
The truth is that a lot of this stuff is in mailing list archives, irc logs (if there are any), and other public statements. I’ve not said anything baseless here, but if something is factually incorrect, please do leave me a comment about it.
And for any bridges that this post has burned: my sincerest apologies — it was going to happen some time, the real wonder is that I’ve managed to hold it in all this time (not counting the small number of people in whom I’ve confided over the years).
There may be a part 3 to this, I’m honestly not sure yet.
Edit: My anger got the best of me, so I removed an inaccurate statement.
Edit2: For the real scoop behind the early removal of access mentioned up there, see Lance’s comment on the matter. I tried not to imply that Kurt was the decision-maker, but the overall tone of this article probably makes that challenging for the reader to properly discern. So, formally, Kurt was not the one who pulled Ciaran’s access, he simply put himself in front of infra as its spokesman and shield (a rather admirable thing to do for your team).