That Time I Almost Got Elected to the .NET Foundation Board of Directors

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The .NET Foundation Board elections recently took place, and I was the last one eliminated, one of my proudest accomplishments to date.

I thought I’d share some reflections and lessons learned from my candidacy.

It’s a little bit of a weird post to write, but I figure reflection is part of this whole blogging thing; can’t just be how-tos all the time.

Mistakes were made (the value of learning in public)

I learned a great lesson right out of the gate, even if a painful one to learn in public. Wanted to jot it down here because that’s how it goes and I think it was the biggest point of growth for me throughout the process.

My original candidacy statement echoed Jon Skeet’s in that it preferred a board to be made up of diverse members so that the board would function with diverse backgrounds. I’d mentioned that I didn’t want it to be a board made up of all white guys. But after listening to the feedback on these points from folks all over the community it became clear that it was problematic for several (obvious in hindsight) reasons:

  • It’s half-assed. It was a way for me to express my thoughts that things should be diverse without, you know, dropping out of the race to make room for diverse candidates.
  • I hadn’t done enough of the work. Without the public work of encouraging others to run (which I did do but was not necessarily visible), it seemed like a hollow statement
  • It was reductive. It read as reducing the contributions of those who aren’t exactly like me to be about identity, rather than contributions. That’s not at all the intention I had but is the outcome just the same. I wanted to convey the opposite but focusing on identity was a super incorrect way to go about that.
  • I didn’t act the part of the board member I wanted. If I wanted the board to respect diverse viewpoints, I didn’t have to talk about diverse candidates only, especially if I was still going to run. I could have talked about how it’s a board member’s job to seek out and spotlight diverse perspectives, to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. I could have talked about my ideas around (and actionable plans for) that. It seems obvious in hindsight. I should have shown folks how I would advocate for everyone.

I can’t find the specific Twitter threads and conversations here, but I’m so grateful to those few who took the time to point these things out in a loving way. It was a great (if slightly embarrassing) discussion and I’m so happy to have a community where folks communicate about these things well.

The value of feedback

I owe a ton of thanks to Khalid Buhakmeh as well. While I’ll talk about him a little bit in the next section too, he offered fantastic feedback on my candidacy when I asked for it upon seeing his other contributions.

I believe I could summarize it briefly as “every single candidate is passionate; tell me what you’re going to do.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. Of course! Show, don’t tell. Basic advice I’d given folks when serving as a writing tutor. I ended up rewriting my whole candidacy with a number of detailed proposals and approaches, which I think is what allowed me to come so close in the end.

He provided a lot of great feedback to a number of folks out there, and we owe him a lot. That he took the time to provide it despite not being a candidate is a testament to his care for the entire community. Thanks Khalid!

Don’t wait for other people to make things better

One way I think I was successful in showing instead of telling was that I saw a need for election support and I jumped in to make some pull requests and suggestions to help move things forward:

  • I saw that we needed a forum for candidates to ask questions, and the election would be coming to a close soon. It seemed there was uncertainty about which apps to use for questions. Rather than requiring Jon to set up yet another app, I proposed a system to allow candidates to answer questions via GitHub.
  • I knew Jon was swamped adding members but needed to send some important emails around the election. So, I created a draft of the email in a PR so that candidates and Jon could submit edits. He was then able to send it out with only minor tweaks.
  • I knew with questions we’d need the ability to mention the candidates, so I collected everyone’s github handles so that Jon could add them to a group within GitHub.

I’m proud of these things because they removed logjams and moved things forward, which is what I wanted to do for the Foundation as a potential board member.

I don’t mention these things just to toot my own horn. I wanted to highlight that:

  • Orgs often need practical help in these situations
  • Pull requests don’t always have to be intense coding
  • Writing an email can be just as helpful as code
  • A community that welcomes — and accepts — contributions is so much better off for it.
  • There are always people willing to help. The helpers are the future.

I was by no means the only person pitching in on these things. Again, Khalid saved the day with some awesome pull requests to help randomize the picture order for candidates so that nobody would stay at the top the whole time. And Dave Glick went through to capture every single candidate’s information so that we could create a Twitter list for folks to follow. Spencer Scheidenbach even created a quick interview process for candidates who were at the MVP summit and Andrew Hoefling carried this process on for those who couldn’t attend. I’m sure I’m likely forgetting a bunch of great contributions off the top of my head, too.

It takes a village, as they say, and we’ve got a great one.

Why name recognition matters (and doesn’t)

Okay, so I lost. Why am I so happy?

I think I can sum it up this way: In the election chat room afterward, someone ran a quick analysis on Twitter followers and noted that everyone who won appeared to have several thousand. But then they said “who’s this Sean Killeen guy? He appears to be an outlier. He almost made it and doesn’t have this same huge following.”

That sentence was so beautiful to see. Name recognition matters in an election, and the folks who won earned that name recognition via fantastic accomplishments in and contributions to our community. I’d never begrudge them that; it’s exactly the kind of thing I hope to emulate.

I’m grateful that my passion and detailed ideas resonated with so many people, enough to get me within one position of a board seat.

What I hope comes next

This is a tough one, as I’m not directly in the drivers seat. So from my current vantage point, what I hope we’ll see is:

  • Regular, detailed information radiation from the Board around its initiatives and direction it’s taking
  • Outreach to all sorts of constituencies in the .NET community so that they know they have a voice
  • The rolling up of sleeves to accomplish something quickly for the community, so that the community sees the board is invested and the new energy and momentum doesn’t dissipate.

I’d love your thoughts!

Questions? Insights? Sound off in the comments!

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