A Personal Account On Getting Deeply Involved With Apache

by Ostatic Staff - Oct. 15, 2009

As we reported recently, the ApacheCon 2009 conference is rapidly approaching, to be held November 2nd through 6th in Oakland, California.  The conference will feature sessions and speakers talking not only about web server- and services-related topics, but about the Hadoop software framework for data-intensive queries,  and the many sub-projects that the Apache Software Foundation oversees. The event is partly intended to mark the 10th anniversary of the Apache Software Foundation, and we already ran a post from Jim Jagielski, co-founder and chairman of the foundation, on Apache's future, and a post from Justin Erenkrantz, who is the president.

As another post in our Apache series, today we offer up a guest item from Shane Curcuru, a director at ASF, on his personal experiences with the foundation. Here it is.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Get Involved in the ASF

By Shane Curcuru, Director, Apache Software Foundation

With ApacheCon quickly approaching, I'm excited to meet fellow contributors from The Apache Software Foundation (ASF), particularly those I've never met before, in spite of collaborating with them for years. This is a frequent scene at our conferences, where many committers meet for the very first time. Invariably, one of the most commonly asked questions is, "so how did you get involved with Apache?". Anticipating the follow-up "did your boss understand/support your work?", here's my story:

In the summer of 1999 I was lucky to be working at IBM just as they donated their LotusXSL code to the Apache XML Xalan project – one of the first projects at the ASF.  From there, I’ve continued to get involved, step by step, into other areas of the ASF, and this year was elected to be on the Board of Directors. There are a few good tips to share along the way.

Committers and Projects

When IBM donated LotusXSL to Apache, I became a Xalan committer. Part of my IBM job responsibilities were learn the Apache Way, and to "shepherd" my IBM teammates to work within the community –- something I looked forward to. At the time, I had no idea where that decision would lead me.
As shepherd, I dove into learning how Apache projects worked.  It was clear to me that the first lesson was that Xalan belonged to the Xalan community -– not IBM (our employer), nor to "us" (the original creators). We were careful to make community decisions for Xalan itself, separate from LotusXSL: builds that we provided for IBM.  The pragmatic Apache License allows this, ensuring corporations can build proprietary solutions atop community-driven Apache projects.

Making community decisions about Xalan means using open mailing lists -- as the saying goes, "If it doesn't happen on-list, it didn't happen."  As the Xalan community grew, we got great input from users and developers around the world.  Working with my IBM co-workers, I was careful to relay details of any in-person meetings to the list, ask for community feedback, and encourage my teammates to participate in the lists.  Open lists paid off technically, too, particularly when IBM and Sun collaborated within Xalan on major new XSLT processor features and standards.

My next big step was attending ApacheCon 2001.  The presentations were great, but more important to me was meeting members of the community.  I was impressed with the friendliness and openness of everyone there.  Even as a newcomer, people were happy to answer questions and include me in their discussions.  I attended the ASF Member's meeting there as a guest, and even got to ask a question of my own.

Membership and Committees

My interest in how the ASF works was recognized, and I was lucky to be elected as an ASF Member in 2002.  I continued attending ApacheCon each fall, learning the technology from the original committers during the day, and getting to know them over beers in the evenings.  Once you start asking questions, it's easy to get involved in new projects. I was curious how ApacheCons were run, so I asked some questions of Ken Coar, the then-VP of Apache Conferences (Concom).  He invited – or should I say dragged – me to a Concom meeting, where I went in being curious, and came out volunteering to help.  One of the core concepts of meritocracy within the Apache community is "do-ocracy": if you have good ideas and volunteer to do the work, you often end up making the decisions too.  It wasn't long until I was voted onto the Concom PMC (Project Management Committee), and attended future ApacheCons as a member of the planning team.  When my job at IBM shifted away from Xalan, I wound up cutting my technical work on Apache Xalan, but continued to volunteer on Concom and the PRC.  For me, the public recognition of my personal efforts is well worth the extra time I spend.

The most important takeaway about getting involved at Apache is simply: "just do it".  It may sound trite, but whether it's on the mailing lists, or in person at ApacheCon, simply jump in and ask!  If you have an idea or patch, share it and ask for feedback.  Have the answer to a question?  Send it to the list!  "Patches welcome" is not just a slogan; it's an invitation to participate in our communities, and to be recognized for your participation.

I look forward to seeing you at ApacheCon and hearing your Apache story.


Shane Curcuru is currently a Director of the Apache Software Foundation, and serves on its Conferences (Concom) and Public Relations Committees (PRC).  He is also an Applications Architect at IBM, and a contributor to the Apache Xalan and XML-Commons projects.  You’ll find him volunteering behind the scenes at ApacheCon US 2009 in Oakland, helping to ensure the conference and the ASF's great 10th Anniversary events come off without a hitch.