2017 GNOME Foundation Hackfest

This year, the GNOME Foundation Board decided to do a hackfest to work on financial policies and other work that has been piling up. From what I know, this is the first event of its kind, and I’m proud to be part of the group who made it happen.

As most GNOME Foundation members may know, the Board usually gets together two days before GUADEC starts to meet in-person for one day. I’ve been on the Board for two terms now and each year having just one day of meetings is simply not enough when you’re trying to be a really proactive Board.

So that’s the backdrop for why we decided to do the hackfest in the first place, and after considering everyone’s location and costs for travel, we decided that Berlin would be the perfect place to do it this year.

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The Work Stuff:

Entering the hackfest, there were a few topics front and center that had surfaced and we wanted to cover. Here’s a summary of the topics we covered and where we left each of them.

  • Budget allocation and approval: The GNOME Foundation fiscal cycle is from November to October of each year. One of our top priorities for this hackfest was to approve the budget for 2017-2018. However, we wanted to make sure that the categories and line items made sense. Basically, we wanted to make sure that the reports that we pulled later in the year could help us actually understand what we were spending our money on with enough level of detail.We also discussed how the expenditure for our new Executive Director’s salary will affect this year’s budget. We talked about how much run rate we wanted to have, and what we considered to be our overhead costs of running the organization. We decided that we want to have about 1 year run rate and then we backwards planned our targeted budget based on that.

    By the end of the hackfest we had restructured the categories to reflect our goals for the upcoming year, and approved the budget. We will be sharing this budget with Foundation members in the upcoming weeks.

  • Travel: We’ve heard a few concerns from the community around travel policies and practices. For example, a lot of people send in price estimates for their travel plans and prices have gone up by the time that they receive an answer on approval. Other concerns have been around not knowing if non-Foundation members can apply for travel sponsorship too.

    Instead of coming up with solutions of our own that we then impose on the travel committee, we’ve decided to have more of a working relationship with them to problem-solve together. As we progress with this plan, we hope to build more transparency into travel committee processes. Alexandre was nominated as the Board member representative to speak with the Travel committee and he’ll be planning a meeting with them soon.

  • Easier reimbursements: If we want a larger community with lots of local events and representation around the world, we need to create ways for people to know when and how they can access GNOME funds. We’ve started to do that, but the tools we’ve used for reimbursement have made it difficult for some people to participate. For example, reimbursements through Paypal in Peru make it so that people being reimbursed lose almost half of the money we sent them in fees. We heard from our community that we needed a new option for money transfers, and we’re happy to say that we’ve acted on that.

    TransferWise is now a payment option for those seeking reimbursement from the GNOME Foundation. This means lower fees for the recipient. We hope that this will encourage more people to participate in GNOME activities.

  • Committees: This was one of our hot topics — so much so that it resulted in a new drinking game (with tea and water), where we drank every time one of us mentioned the word “committee” at the hackfest. Basically, we want to have a closer relationship with our committees and we want to start a couple of new ones. We’ve already announced the Sponsorship Committee, which will help us secure funding for our major conferences, and we are thinking of creating one for the Engagement team — so that they can allocate funds for marketing and engagement purposes.

    As part of this, we also talked about budget authorization levels and how much budget holders could spend without needing approval from the Board. This will give more power to the community and will reduce the amount of time that the Board spends arguing over tiny things in the budget such as how many balloons make sense to pay for at an event.

  • Marketing, engagement, and small events: I’m particularly proud of the progress that we are making on this front. We are starting to more actively recognize the importance of community building, marketing, and engagement. When we asked for the community’s feedback on where they’d like to see more funding, one of the things they brought up was small events at Hackfests and other meetings. So, you hollered and we listened. We’ll be rolling out more funds for small events, guidelines, and resources to help people organize events that can help us build a stronger community.
  • Privacy funds: We’ve had these restricted funds for too long, so one of our priorities was to start acting on spending them for the purpose they were originally meant to be spent. Previous Boards have fluctuated between using the money for internships or hiring contractors. We’ve decided to do internships, and Carlos and Zeeshan met during the hackfest to begin planning, building on what Cosimo started during this the 2016 GUADEC. More updates on this to come, but I think we’re finally going to get some momentum on this. Fingers crossed.
  • Empowering our employees: An interesting thing that came out of the hackfest was the realization that our employees (Neil and Rosanna) are not empowered to actively participate during Board meetings. Since their such an important part of the Foundation, we are looking into ways to change this, so that they can help the current Board, and future Boards, be able to make the best decisions possible. I can’t count how many times Rosanna’s historic knowledge has helped the Board, for example, and it’d be great to formalize a way to ensure that she can have more of a voice within the Foundation.

    We’ve reached out for legal advice and are looking into how other organizations approach this.

As mentioned, this is just a short summary of the many things we discussed and worked on during the 3 day hackfest. By the end we were exhausted, but we definitely made some great progress. We hope to make hackfests like this a regular event of the future.

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The last thing I’ll say is that, apparently, whiteboard markers can be wiped off of plastic with lots of chemicals and patience. If only we had realized that we were writing on plastic sooner. I guess we’re only pretty smart when it comes to some types of board stuff.

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The Social Stuff

We decided to rent an Airbnb to make it less expensive and to promote bonding, and everyone was able to join except for Zeeshan. He was busy apartment hunting in Berlin since he just started working at Kinvolk. The apartment was great, except that the WiFi situation was pretty spotty.

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The first night we were in town we had dinner with Lennart and Kai. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of that first dinner because I was dead tired. However, I did take pictures of our dinner outings the following days.

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One of the social highlights of our trip was going to C-Base, the old hackerspace in Berlin. We ordered pizza (which despite some Italians’ protests about the quality of pizza in Berlin, it was actually not too bad), and we had some beers. I also learned about Ingress because C-Base had a cool map that showed which places belonged to each team.

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We also happened to be in town for the Berlin Festival of Lights, which was awesome. Here are some pictures from that.

Yes, I bought a light-up flower crown. Yes, it was fabulous.

Thank Yous 

I wanted to include a few shout-outs:

  • Cosimo & Alexandre: thanks for helping us plan the travel logistics around the hackfest.
  • Kinvolk: thanks for being such gracious hosts! Your office is awesome and you guys are da bomb.
  • Zeeshan: thanks for being such a good sport about having us around even though it was his first week starting a new job.
  • Julian & Tobias: thanks for coming to all of the GNOME social events and hanging out with us.
  • Tom & Carlos: thanks for being my moral support as I prepared for my keynote speech at GNOME.Asia!

… And a huge thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel to Berlin!

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