Drizzle, MySQL, Open Source

Describing Drizzle’s Development Process

Yesterday, I was working on a survey that Selena Deckelmann put together for open source databases. She will be presenting the results at Linux.conf.au this month.

One of the questions on the survey was this:

How would you describe your development process?

followed by these answer choices:

  • Individuals request features
  • Large/small group empowered to make decisions
  • Benevolent dictator
  • Other, please specify:____________

I thought a bit about the question and then answered the following in the “Other, please specify:” area:

Bit of a mix between all three above.

The more I think about it, the more I really do feel that Drizzle’s development process is indeed a mixture of individuals, groups, and a Benevolent dictator. And I think it works pretty well. 🙂 Here’s some of the reasons why I believe our development process is effective in enabling contributions by being a mix of the above three styles.

Who’s the Benevolent Dictator of Drizzle?

First, let me get the BDFL question out of the way. We’ve made a big deal in the Drizzle community and mailing lists that anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate in the development process — so why would I say that Drizzle has a benevolent dictator?

Well, although he would probably disagree with the tile of BDFL, Brian Aker does have some dictator-like abilities with regards to the development process, and rightfully so. Brian came up with many of the concepts that Drizzle aspires to be, and Brian has more experience working on the code base than any other contributor.

After having worked closely with Brian now for 18 months or so, I can definitively say that Brian’s brain works in a very, well, interesting way. Those of us who work with him understand that sometimes his brain works so fast, his typing fingers struggle to keep up, resulting in something I call “Krowspeak”. It’s kinda funny sometimes trying to translate 🙂

With this wonderfully unique noodle, Brian tends to knock out large chunks of code at a time, and often he wants to push these chunks of code into our build and regression system and into trunk to see the results of his work quickly. Sometimes, this can cause other branches to get out of sync and get merge conflicts, and Brian will inform branch owners of the conflicts and work with them to resolve them.

So, regarding dictator-like development processes, I suppose we have Brian acting as the merge dictator because he’s got a lot of experience and understands best how both his code and other’s code integrates. We tried a little while back having myself and Monty Taylor be merge captains, but that distribution of merge work actually created a number of other problems and we’ve since gone back to Brian being the merge captain by himself, with Lee, Monty, and myself improving our automated build and regression system to help Brian with the repetitive work.

That said, what Brian does not do is make decisions in a dictator-like way. Decisions about the code style, reviews, features, syntax changes, etc are made on the mailing list by consensus vote. If a consensus is not reached, generally, no change is made which would depend on the decision. Brian does not influence the direction of the software or the source code style any more than anyone else on the mailing list which expresses an opinion about an issue; and for this, I greatly respect his wisdom to seek consensus in an open and community-oriented way.

Groups Empowered to Make Decisions

I’m assuming that what Selena’s “large/small group empowered to make decisions” answer meant was what is sometimes called “Cabal Leadership” of a project. In other words, there is some group which steers the project and makes decisions about the project which affect the rest of the project’s contributors.

Drizzle has at least one such group, the Sun Microsystems Drizzle Team, which is composed of Brian, Monty Taylor, Lee Bieber, Eric Day, Stewart Smith, and myself. One might call us the core committers for Drizzle.

However, while the Sun Drizzle team certainly is empowered to guide development, it is no different than any other group of developers that choose to contribute to Drizzle. There isn’t a “what the Sun Drizzle team decides” rule in effect. Our “power” in the development process is no greater or less than any other group of contributors. We act merely as a team of individuals who work on the Drizzle code and advocate for the project’s goals.

Individuals Empowered to Make Decisions

One thing I’ve been impressed with in the past 18 months is how the Drizzle community has embraced the opinions and work of individual contributors. I believe Toru Maesaka, Andrew Hutchings, Diego Medina and Padraig O’Sullivan were among the first individuals to begin actively contributing to Drizzle. Since then, dozens of others have joined the developer and advocate community, with each individual carving out a piece of the source code or community activities that they want to work on.

I have learned much from all these individuals over the last year or so, and I’ve tried my best to share knowledge and encourage others to do the same. Our IRC channel and mailing list are active places of discussion. Our code reviews are always completely open to the public for comments and discussed transparently on Launchpad, and this code review process has been a great mixing bowl of opinion, discussion, learning and debate. I love it.

More and more we have developers showing up and taking ownership of a bug, a blueprint, or just a part of the code that interests them. And nobody stands in their way and says “Oh, no, you shouldn’t work on that because <insert another contributor’s name> owns that code.” Instead, what you will more likely see on the lists or on IRC is a response like “hey, that’s awesome! be sure to chat with <insert another contributor’s name>. They are interested in that code, too, and you should share ideas!” This is incredibly refreshing to see.

In short, the Drizzle developer process is a nice mix of empowered individuals and groups, and a dash of dictatorship just to keep things moving efficiently. It’s open, transparent, and fun to work on Drizzle. Come join us 🙂