[rfc-i] RSE models

Ted Hardie ted.ietf at gmail.com
Sat Nov 27 23:09:18 PST 2010

Reading through the most recent draft and the threads on this list,
I've been struggling with both a sense that we're missing something
very fundamental and a humbling lack of ability to say anything
that digs it out.  Below is my best current effort, because I think something
needs to be said here, but if you find it unsatisfying, please don't be
surprised.  I do myself.

Andrew cast the difference between potential RSE models as
"narrow" vs. "broad"; Dave has put it as "junior" vs. "senior".
My own internal expression for this is closer to "highly experienced editor"
vs. "technical executive".  But I think this is masking something else.

I think, at the base, we're struggling because for the past decades
the folks acting as RFC Editors were people who were widely admired
by both our community and the wider world.  In a variety of ways,
we seem to be asking Glenn to write a job description that echoes
a very deep desire within the community to have the person holding
this job be someone admired by at least this community and, hopefully,
the wider world.

The problem is that the various ways we are expressing that to Glenn
don't necessarily jibe.  We want someone admirable to be attracted to
the position, so we add things to it that would attract those people (long
appointments and the trust they imply, executive power).  We also understand
the weight that someone  admired by the community can have in a role
like this, so we add tasks that really rely on the gravitas of the incumbent
rather than the functions of the job (resolving problems among the streams,
"representing the series" rather than educating folks about it).  We ask that
the individual be a writer of RFCs and known to the community, but in
at least some
formulations we have also seen executive search firms and a blessing
of committees
composed of the great and the good.

We've changed the basic model organizing the RFC series to split the
functionality into various pieces.  The Independent Stream and the decisions
that went into placing things in it were a big part of the previous RFC Editor's
power, discretion, and community standing.  Now that the RSE and ISE
are split, I think we're very much struggling to find ways that the
RSE can be a
leader within the community.

And I think we're back to making a mistake that almost all organizations
make at some point--conflating the characteristics of the incumbents
with the roles they have to play.  The role the RSE has to play is one
focused on keeping the series going by making sure that its form
and format keep up with the changing needs of archival continuity,
searchability, an international group of contributors and lectors,
and subject matter that may require explication in complex forms.
Anyone doing that job well will be admired by the community,
and he or she will no doubt be tapped *as an individual* for many other
duties as a result.  But the core of the job remains there, working with
the documents themselves as much or more than working with their
authors or audiences.  And in all the other, admirable aspects we're
loading into this job description, that seems to me to be getting lost.

There are huge amounts of this job that will always be invisible if done
well, much as it is for the site selection team or the IAD's work.  And I think
we have to trust ourselves to admire someone who does that invisible
work well, rather than finding ways to attract people whom we already
admire or loading the job with other difficult jobs that require stature,
gravitas, or the appropriately long white beard.

My advice to the IAB is to treat this job as *at minimum* 80% about
the documents, and to treat all the other work not driven by the needs
of the documents as overhead work.  It may be needed and it may
be wanted.  But if it overwhelms the real work, it will be damaging indeed.

Not quite two cents, I fear,



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