UDS is dead, long live ODS
Back from a (almost) entirely-offline week vacation, a lot of news were waiting for me. A full book was written. OpenStack projects graduated. An Ubuntu rolling release model was considered. But what grabbed my attention was the announcement of UDS moving to a virtual event. And every 3 months. And over two days. And next week.
As someone who attended all UDSes (but one) since Prague in May 2008, as a Canonical employee then as an upstream developer, that was quite a shock. We all have fond memories and anecdotes of stuff that happened during those Ubuntu developer summits.
What those summits do
For those who never attended one, UDS (and the OpenStack Design Summits that were modeled after them) achieve a lot of goals for a community of open source developers:
- Celebrate recent release, motivate all your developer community for the next 6 months
- Brainstorm early ideas on complex topics, identify key stakeholders to include in further design discussion
- Present an implementation plan for a proposed feature and get feedback from the rest of the community before starting to work on it
- Reduce duplication of effort by getting everyone working on the same type of issues in the same room and around the same beers for a few days
- Meet in informal settings people you usually only interact with online, to get to know them and reduce friction that can build up after too many heated threads
This all sounds very valuable. So why did Canonical decide to suppress UDSes as we knew them, while they were arguably part of their successful community development model ?
Who killed UDS
The reason is that UDS is a very costly event, and it was becoming more and more useless. A lot of Ubuntu development happens within Canonical those days, and UDS sessions gradually shifted from being brainstorming sessions between equal community members to being a formal communication of upcoming features/plans to gather immediate feedback (point  above). There were not so many brainstorming design sessions anymore (point  above, very difficult to do in a virtual setting), with design happening more and more behind Canonical curtains. There is less need to reduce duplication of effort (point  above), with less non-Canonical people starting to implement new things.
Therefore it makes sense to replace it with a less-costly, purely-virtual communication exercise that still perfectly fills point , with the added benefits of running it more often (updating everyone else on status more often), and improving accessibility for remote participants. If you add to the mix a move to rolling releases, it almost makes perfect sense. The problem is, they also get rid of points  and . This will result in a even less motivated developer community, with more tension between Canonical employees and non-Canonical community members.
I’m not convinced that’s the right move. I for one will certainly regret them. But I think I understand the move in light of Canonical’s recent strategy.
What about OpenStack Design Summits ?
Some people have been asking me if OpenStack should move to a similar model. My answer is definitely not.
When Rick Clark imported the UDS model from Ubuntu to OpenStack, it was to fulfill one of the 4 Opens we pledged: Open Design. In OpenStack Design Summits, we openly debate how features should be designed, and empower the developers in the room to make those design decisions. Point  above is therefore essential. In OpenStack we also have a lot of different development groups working in parallel, and making sure we don’t duplicate effort is key to limit friction and make the best use of our resources. So we can’t just pass on point . With more than 200 different developers authoring changes every month, the OpenStack development community is way past Dunbar’s number. Thread after thread, some resentment can build up over time between opposed developers. Get them to informally talk in person over a coffee or a beer, and most issues will be settled. Point  therefore lets us keep a healthy developer community. And finally, with about 20k changes committed per year, OpenStack developers are pretty busy. Having a week to celebrate and recharge motivation batteries every 6 months doesn’t sound like a bad thing. So we’d like to keep point .
So for OpenStack it definitely makes sense to keep our Design Summits the way they are. Running them as a track within the OpenStack Summit allows us to fund them, since there is so much momentum around OpenStack and so many people interested in attending those. We need to keep improving the remote participation options to include developers that unfortunately cannot join us. We need to keep doing it in different locations over the world to foster local participation. But meeting in person every 6 months is an integral part of our success, and we’ll keep doing it.
Next stop is in Portland, from April 15 to April 18. Join us !