Everything else was fun

Nearly everything about last week’s ApacheCon was great fun: spending time with old friends, talking with new Apache folk, meeting a number of members in person for the first time, and especially having meals out with people. The technical content was great as well; people were excited about a number of projects, and we had a good array of other events that week.

Just one thing turned out to be “A hell of a time” in a bad way near the end of the conference – when one member, Noirin, of the Apache community was sexually assaulted that evening. Like a few other people, my first reaction was incredulity – not at all in the fact that I didn’t believe her (I do), but more to the point: I couldn’t believe someone in our community could do something like that.

In any case, within a few hours of her posting, there were dozens of comments and hundreds of tweets about it; by now there have been several online news articles about it as well as plenty of blogs – as well as tweets in a fairly wide variety of languages.

Among all the commentary are plenty of messages of support in various ways, which are great. There are also a fair number of uncomplimentary messages about the story or about Noirin, which I won’t bother to mention here. Several other Apache members are Disappointed, Angry, and Appalled, and those are just the ones who’ve had time to post publicly so far. But the set of messages that kind of puzzle me are the ones that call her honesty into question.

I suppose I’m biased in this case, since I happen to know Noirin and consider her a friend. Although I wasn’t at the pub that night, I did spend many hours last week helping to run ApacheCon alongside her, and also spent several hours the next night suggesting fixes for her her overloaded server once the deluge began after her blog was linked all over.

I suppose it’s true that the vast majority of the internet doesn’t know Noirin, and probably hasn’t even heard of her before. And I’m sure even fewer people have heard of me. That’s fine. But have people who are doubting her story actually seen who Noirin is? When you see what she’s done, did you think it through?

Along with her technical merits and many other conference speaking engagements, Noirin is both a Director of the ASF, is Apache’s Executive Vice President, and is the VP of the ApacheCon Conferences Committee. She was elected by a vote within the very selective communities that make up the organizational side of the ASF. Apache is about Community over Code, among other things, so successfully becoming a Director or EVP or VP is not just about technical merit, it’s also about social and community merit.

Let’s put it another way. I’d bet about half of the servers in the world run some sort of Apache software. Browsed the web lately? It’s a 50/50 chance the server was running httpd. Use any Java software? You’re almost certainly using a handful of Apache XML projects among others. Use Google or Yahoo! much? Then you’re certainly using Apache projects under the covers.

Many of the core people who’ve been writing Apache software over the last decade – and who are the Members who run the non-profit Foundation behind it – are the ones who elected Noirin as one of our Directors, and allowed her to become our EVP. And as VP, Conferences, she’s also responsible for organizing ApacheCon itself – a major public face of Apache to it’s users.

So you may not know Noirin, and you probably don’t know me. But if you’re in the software business, you’re most likely connected to one of the 300 or so Members of the ASF somehow. And we do know Noirin, and we trusted her enough to make her one of the 9 Directors on our Board.

So argue about the details or the naming or whatever else people on the internet will always argue about. But realize that if you’re seriously calling her integrity into question, then… well, all I can say is there’s a fair number of alpha geeks around the world who will simply pipe you to /dev/null.