Platform for Wouter Verhelst


I'm running for the position of DPL again. I have done this before in 2007 and 2010; this would be my third time.

While I have never won an election, looking at the election outcome I don't think this was ever because people disliked me as a candidate; rather, I think it was because there were simply better candidates.

So, here's for hoping that third time's a charm.

Who am I, and why am I running?

I have been a Debian Developer since early 2001. At the time, I was still a student at the 'Karel de Grote-Hogeschool' in Antwerp, Belgium, the city where I grew up. In the years since then, I've been involved in many parts of the project: as m68k porter, buildd administrator, AM, member of the NM frontdesk, and of the installer team, apart from of course also maintaining my own packages. Over the years, I grew up, but so did Debian. I'm no longer a student; I'm a self-employed consultant. And though I'm mostly happy with the state of things as it is today, there have always been some cases where things in Debian didn't go exactly as I'd wanted, or hoped.

In 2007, I ran for DPL after one of the more controversial DPL terms in the history of the Debian project. It should come as no surprise that this election was also the most crowded one in the history of the project.

Many things have changed since then. DPLs since Anthony have been much more reluctant to propose changes. This could be a good thing; but though I think Anthony did make some mistakes during his term, I don't think such reluctance is always the correct answer to avoid controversy. A DPL shouldn't try to push his way or the highway, but should also not be afraid to propose changes when and where necessary. Of all the things one can say about Anthony Towns as DPL, one cannot say that he did not attempt to lead. His biggest mistake, in my view, was to try to proceed in the face of obvious and significant opposition.

As a result, In 2010, I ran for DPL in a completely different atmosphere. There was nothing of the controversy that was such a major part of the 2007 vote; there was not much disagreement about where the project was headed. Whereas the 2007 campaigning period featured many quesitons in the style of how will you react to this kind of situation, the kind of questions that I remember from 2010 was more of the practical kind, things like how much time will you have for DPL work. Almost as if the job of DPL doesn't require any personal input; as if it's a dull thing that involves nothing more than just a bit of administration.

This came to a head in last year's vote, where for the first time in the history of the project we had an uncontested DPL election. I was unhappy about that; but because I didn't have the time, I didn't run, instead trying (and failing) to motivate other people into running. While that probably reflects well on Stefano's performance as DPL, I'm not so sure how it reflects on the project.

I think it is clear these days that Stefano Zacchiroli, our current DPL, is loved and respected as DPL by many Debian Developers, including myself. Stefano has accomplished what seemed to be the impossible for DPLs before him: to strike that perfect balance between being transparent as project leader, without throwing things that should be kept secret out for everyone to see.

But I think it's unfortunate that under Stefano, the position of DPL seems to have been relegated to little more than an administrative job: a person who is the first point of contact for many people outside the project, only to then forward incoming communication to other people. A person who will just ACK payments of Debian money.

I think the position of DPL should be more than that. It is true that our Constitution does not grant the DPL many powers, but that doesn't (or shouldn't) mean the DPL can't take the lead in anything. As an elected representative, the DPL is a leader who works under the assumption of agreement of the project as a whole. When past DPLs have posted their 'bits from the DPL' to the debian-devel-announce mailinglist, I have always (unconsciously) given those more attention than other mails to that same mailinglist. Not because I like the DPL more, but I have an expectation that a mail from the DPL will contain more important and more interesting information than other mails.

I suspect I am not the only one for whom that is true. This, then, is the real power of the DPL: the power to be listened to. As the DPL, I think it would be my job to formulate a vision; to lead the project by suggesting where to go next.

I do think that Stefano's innovations in clarity and transparency in the position of DPL have been truly wonderful, and I do intend to talk to him to understand his day-to-day activities as DPL, in an effort to try to copy as much of his modus operandi as possible. But I also think that the simple fact that a particular person was innovative as DPL shouldn't mean we should keep him in that position forever. Not because he's a bad DPL, but because one person can't bring new things to the job forever. I think it is time for Stefano to step aside for someone else. I hope to be that someone else.

Where do I intend to go from here?

If I say I think the DPL should promote a vision, then the obvious first question would be what that vision for the project would have to be; which direction I think we would need the project to take.

My vision for Debian's future hasn't changed much since the previous time I ran for DPL. This should come as no surprise; the project hasn't changed all that much in two years. I still think we need to make sure Debian is and remains a welcoming place to work on free software. It has been so for the past few years, for which I am grateful; but it's important that we don't take that for granted. I don't intend to make sweeping changes to the project—I couldn't do that if I wanted to—but I do intend to keep a watchful eye so that the project does remain the welcoming place it is today.

Related to this is something that's been bothering me for a while. In talking with visitors to FOSDEM (that I am a co-organizer of, now) and with customers, I has become clear to me over the years that Debian has a reputation of being somewhat oldfashioned and stale. That if you want to run the latest technologies, you should use something else. This reputation may have been deserved when we were having trouble releasing sarge, over half a decade ago, but it's entirely undeserved today, and I think it's well past time that we do something about that. I will try to work on this issue.

In closing, I'd like to thank you for bearing with me this long, and urge you to vote for the candidate you think most deserving of the position.


Before starting, I should say that I don't find that much to disagree with in the candidates of this year's election—at least not when I limit myself to the goals of the other candidates. Gergely, like myself, wants to focus on motivating people to join (and remain in) Debian. Stefano wants to continue fighting the good fight. But that doesn't mean I don't see any problems.

In Stefano's platform that beyond prepare for those who come after me, I don't see anything new. He mentions some ideas that he's wanted to work on for two years now but which have never worked out; while his persistence is admirable, I don't think that if it couldn't be done in two terms, third time will be charm. Additionally, while preparing for the next DPL is a worthy goal, this isn't necessarily something you need to be DPL for—and I would hope it doesn't need an entire third term to do so.

So, while I think the project could be far worse off than to have Stefano for DPL, I do believe that electing him for a third term would equate to a standstill; more of the same. I don't think that's a good idea.

In Gergely's platform there's only room for some nitpicking. First, he mentions himself he doesn't have much experience as a leader. While his honesty is nice, it doesn't inspire much confidence. Second, Gergely mentions he's left the project for some years. I'll honestly admit that there have been times when I seriously considered resigning myself; but I never felt I could do that. Not because of an undue sense of duty on my part, but because there's always been a passion inside me, even during times when the project seemed to turn against me, that meant I found it emotionally hard to turn my back on the project. It is this passion, this fire within me, that I hope to bring to the post of DPL; and it may be that Gergely's flame does not burn as brightly.

But like I said, it's somewhat nitpicking. Think this year's candidates are again strong as ever, and I can only hope that the best candidate may win; I would like to wish my opponents the best of luck.