I already mentioned some good GNOME board candidates for 2007. Now the bad:
Jeff Waugh is a psychotic failure, obstructive and destructive. He is poisonous people. Some details:
His favorite tactic is to somehow take responsibility for some team or task and then do nothing, preventing anyone else from doing anything either. Inquiries will be ignored repeatedly or, at best, met with irrelevant personal attacks. This is not just being busy – this is being off the rails. He will only respond when it seems that his authority might be removed. He then tends to
- Lie: You did send him those emails. No, he didn’t tell you all about it already. No, he’s not working behind the scenes, and no, he’s not almost finished, and it won’t be ready by tomorrow.
- Obscure: By being incredibly vague or contradictory so that nobody can even understand enough to disagree, and by never specifying exactly when he claims to have said something or what he claims to have done.
- Attack: His defense against claims that he’s done nothing or ignored repeated requests for status or attempts to help? He will say you are just being overly negative and will portray the problem as a difference of personality. This is always ridiculous given the extreme behavior in question, but the board is generally too weak to act on how they really see it.
The worst of Jeff Waugh’s behavior is always restricted to private mailing lists or direct communication. The only thing that’s ever been known to control him is being forced to work in the open. Even then you’ll have a terrible time, but you will avoid the worst excesses, and it will be easier to work around him because everyone can see that you are acting sensibly. If you find yourself forced to work with him privately then you’re screwed.
His behavior is far beyond the acceptable and displays contempt for the people in GNOME who actually do work. We’ve tolerated it too long, lost several high-level contributors because of it, slowed down the work of other contributors, and made their work unpleasant. That cost is too high, and we receive almost nothing in return. Jeff Waugh’s only aim is self-publicity and any responsibilities in GNOME are just a way to achieve that. As long as his abysmal destructive misuse of those responsibilities is tolerated then he will happily continue clinging to symbolic authority regardless of the effects on GNOME. He seems driven by paranoia that people seek his downfall, but he is not driven by any need to do the job. Inevitably, people soon do want him to get out of the way.
I’ve seen this in the release team, the web team, the Gnome mobile group, the marketing team, and his management of Planet GNOME: Everywhere that I’ve had to deal with him. I’m sure that every GNOME board has experienced this when it’s had to deal with him. We’d have more repeat candidates this year if he was not running, because nobody wants to continually fight against him, just as nobody wants to be the guy sitting next to the psycho on the bus. Nobody wants to be responsible for dealing with this problem, for fear of being associated with it, but it won’t go away by itself.
The is currently most obvious in the GMAE (or GNOME Mobile) group, which Jeff insists on controlling, which the board allowed despite knowing what would happen. After almost two years it has produced nothing more than a press release announcing its existence, and that happened six months later than the members wanted. The announcement was catastrophically vague and buzzword-esque, leading to multiple confused assumptions about what it meant, and hence making promises that will be broken. The members couldn’t explain it to anyone because they didn’t know what he meant. Despite the great work that people are doing on the underlying technology, the group has done nothing to help companies start to use the technology or plan for the future. It has given a whole new set of companies the worst possible impression of GNOME as an organization lacking direction, at the mercy of an erratic fool who they would fire if they could. In addition, he’s shown that he cannot be trusted with the secret product plans of the companies involved if it makes a journalist take notice, making it even less likely that they will use that forum to work together. These people should not be expected to create a rebellion as their first act inside GNOME. I withdrew my company in May 2007 when it became clear that nothing could be achieved within the group, and to avoid endorsing its current state.
This blog entry was not written in haste. I wrote the GNOME Code of Conduct so you can be fairly sure that I wouldn’t write this in these words if I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary. I’ve been dealing with this for over five years and I believe we’ve hidden the problem from you for too long.
My first experience of the GNOME organization was when I joined the release team, way back in 2002 (I think). From the start, Jeff Waugh’s behavior was bizarrely evasive, irresponsible, and obstructive. At great effort, we managed to document the release process, actually create a list of modules in GNOME and their requirements, decide on new modules, and make the process clearer to the maintainers who release software, all against his best efforts to prevent it. He almost never told the other members what he was doing, even when he disappeared for months at a time, forcing us to evade questions about why scheduled releases or decisions didn’t happen rather than state the truth. We did occasionally get to hear from him via appearances in the press, where he would claim credit for our work. At various times the release team openly rebelled against him but he took years to finally get out of the way. As he told me years later, he “knew” even from the first moment I joined that I was plotting against him, though I didn’t even know who he was at the time. There’s not much you can do against that psychosis.
Likewise, countless contributors’ first experience of the GNOME organization has been an attempt to have their blog added to the Planet GNOME page. The board has allowed Jeff Waugh total control over this, so their first experience is usually to be ignored, then to be accused of lying, and often to be abused. Some of them give up at the first stage, and I can’t blame them. You don’t hear their thanks.
Enough For Me
I and many others have fought against this for years. I’m still here, and I’ve achieved much despite him, but I feel that I’ve done my time. I no longer even attempt to work in any group that he controls. I don’t read messages from him on the mailing list (or any thread that he starts) or any directly to me, I automatically ignore him on irc, and I block his posts on Planet GNOME via the AdBlock hack. This significantly improves my quality of life, and I don’t miss out on anything. Soon I will start blocking him at the my email server, so I don’t even see his name in my email client.
I will not be the one to keep him under control now. That’s up to the rest of you. If you don’t then it’s your fault.
The first time I had the Jeff Waugh experience, the board was a new idea and we didn’t all have blogs. There was no way to speak out, and I knew that I’d never be able to do anything in GNOME again if I did. In the meantime, people know me better, I’ve achieved lots and I can take it.
Various high-level people in GNOME, including myself, have decided in the past that it’s better to hide this problem than to deal with it, but we’ve already paid a higher cost than we would ever have paid in bad publicity.
I’m realistic. I know that most people won’t believe this. It’s easier to blame the messenger until you have personal experience of the problem. It’s easy to assume that it’s not really that bad. You’re wrong, but I understand that you’ll take the easiest path in the short term. I know that most people who share my opinion don’t want to have a public fight and see no way to quietly get Jeff Waugh out of the way.
I know he will probably be elected to the GNOME board again. Anyone who spends all their time on self-publicity is likely to be elected. Maybe you just like that he can say “I have lost my trousers” in many languages. Maybe that’s what’s most important to you.
However, I’m still doing people a favor:
- When someone’s first experience of GNOME is an encounter with a paranoid psycho, they might now know it’s not normal and that we don’t like it either.
- When someone needs to complain because there’s no way around him, nobody can blame the victim and claim he’s the first to have this problem.
- When someone is forced to depend on him, they might only waste a month before giving up, rather than fighting for a year.
- If the board ever decides to keep him under control and replace him when necessary then nobody will wonder why, and he can’t claim that it’s just because the chairman at the time is out to get him.
And there’s a benefit for me. Nobody will ever again tell me “It’s OK. I’m just waiting for Jeff Waugh to do it” and nobody will expect me to work with him. I feel free.