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A Lesson from My Air Force Days

Yup, you guessed it, another post about the nominations for the PASS Board of Directors. If you're tired of reading such, I wanted to give fair warning. Here are some thoughts I have after thinking about things and talking with a few folks.

Remember, the NomCom Are Community Members, Too.

It's easy to think that a fix was in when something doesn't go our way. I was watching an episode of Chopped a couple of nights ago that went down that way. A chef felt he should haven't been cut. On his walk down the hallway, he used profanity to express his displeasure. What was the number one reason he was cut? Raw bacon. Yeah, you read that right. Why would any chef think they would advance when they served a meat not intended to be raw (and by his own words, he didn't feel it was raw when it was obvious that it was)? You got me. In any case, he thought it was wrong to cut him and made a comment about how it was bull*&$%, implying that he was cut because of bias or a vendetta or something related. Dude, it was raw bacon. Let's not accuse the NomCom folks of doing something maliciously just because we may disagree with the results. That's a terrible start.

Your Organization Is Perfectly Engineered for the Results You Are Getting.

And therefore I can fully believe every NomCom member who says they followed the procedures to the letter. And I believe that an adherence to the procedures produced the results it did. And I believe that Tom LaRock and Stuart Ainsworth are right in saying that you can't suddenly deviate from the results just because you want the results to be different. So let's accept the fact that they followed the procedure and got the proper results. This adds credibility to not putting malicious intent on the NomCom members.

Sometimes a Majority of One Is Right.

This is a concept given to us by Henry David Thoreau in his essay, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Therefore, let's start with the understanding that just because the majority of vocal members of a group feel something is one way, it does not make it so. A majority of physicists thought at the advent of the twentieth century that we had solved all the big questions in the realm of physics and that we were at a stage that it was all about getting greater precision. The truth of the matter is they were wrong. And thus came Quantum Mechanics, General Relativity, and QED. So I'm withholding saying things like "process FAIL" and the like because as a student of physics, I've seen a practical illustration of Thoreau's point, albeit related to science instead of society.

Great Candidates Were Put Forth.

Let's not forget that. Look at the slate of folks who did make both cuts. Now you could say that the NomCom had all great candidates to begin with. That may be true, I'm not going to debate either side of that one. But realize that we do have great candidates going forward for the board.

You Can't Publish Everything

This fails the "treat others as you'd want to be treated" rule. Think about it. If the reason a candidate didn't make the cut was because he or she bombed an interview, and you were that candidate, would you really want the community to know that you bombed the interview? Would you want a potential boss to discover that in a future web search? Now, that's not to say that those who didn't make the cut shouldn't have received better notification and an understanding of why. They should have. I've already posted a suggestion on the forums to this. Call 'em up before you publish anybody's name. Make sure they know and understand. They may not agree with the why, but I know that if were said eliminated candidate, we'd want that courtesy phone call to understand why we weren't advanced.

If There's a Perception of a Problem, There Is a Problem.

This is a saying from my Air Force days. It's valid everywhere. It was applied to the issue of fraternization, where enlisted-officer relationships overstepped proper bounds needed for good discipline. The point that was made was that even if the relationship was proper, the fact that there was perception problem meant there was a problem. And that meant something needed fixing. For two years in a row there has been a loud outcry that there's a problem with the nomination process. If there's not a problem with the nomination process, there certainly is a strong perception that there is. And that means there's, at the very least, a perception problem. Therefore, rather than saying there's no problem because the procedure was followed, we need to accept that there is a problem. The question is, where is the real problem? I think Andy Leonard did a presentation on that about leading teams. If we're not attacking the real problem, we're fighting metaproblems and they're just going to keep coming back up. So if the real problem is perception, let's deal with that. But if the real problem is the procedure, then saying the procedure was followed doesn't solve anything and attacking the perception problem doesn't, either.

So let's figure out where the real problem is and deal with it. In my not so humble opinion, looking at the names who haven't made the cut over the last few years, as well as a particular name who did make it last year, I'm of the mind that the procedure is where the real problem is. I know that's my opinion and everyone has one. But this isn't just as simple as saying, "We had too many good candidates and we could only choose a few." There was the potential for more slots last year and this one, if I remember right. And when you start looking at the ones who were never even given to the community to vote on as a potential dream team, I think that says we need to do something about the procedure. And I agree again with Tom LaRock that he's serving with a dream team. And if were a we only had 3 slots and 6 great folks I could live with the fact that 3 didn't make the cut. But that's not the case.



K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by jcrawf02 on 20 August 2010

Agree with most of your post, especially the first part about the "raw bacon". NomCom had a process and followed it, I don't happen to agree with the results, but it is what it is. We need to move forward and look to the candidates who were selected.

However, the "majority of one" I disagree with. This isn't physics, it's an election of a community member to a board position. As such, the community's voice, opinion and perception are important, and majority should rule.

IMHO, the NomCom should be in place to weed out candidates who are UNqualified, not decide who is qualified 'enough', that should be decided by the vote. The fact that they were surprised by the decision says to me that they did not think that the candidate was UNqualified.

Posted by K. Brian Kelley on 20 August 2010

Here's my rebuttal to that:

Thoreau applied the "majority of one" to society and we've seen it throughout the ages. In fact, our legislative branch is built on a similar concept which preceeds Thoreau. The reason there is a Senate where every state has 2 votes is to prevent the tyranny of the majority that can happen in the House such as NY wants something but RI doesn't.

If we come to the point where we agree the process is right but a candidate the bulk of the community says they want is rejected, and the process was followed correctly, then there had to be a reason the candidate was not selected. Now, that reason may have come out during the process and it may not be something that should be revealed to the public at large. If the majority of the community can bully its way to get a candidate put on the slate even though everyone agreed the procedures were right, everyone agrees that the procedures were followed, but not everyone is privy to why a candidate was not selected (and there is reason not to reveal said information), then we're in a mess, aren't we? So "majority of one" is valid. The NomCom would consistute the "majority of one" because they know the real reason for the candidate not being selected and they've made the hard decision even though they know it won't be popular. If the majority can bully the decision then NomCom is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They either have to:

- Accept that a candidate they know is unqualified because of something that's not public knowledge is going to go on the slate and potentially be elected.

- Reveal the knowledge they have, probably to the detriment of said candidate.

Neither of those options is acceptable. So if we agree that the procedures are right and that the procedures were followed, then we've got to trust the results of said procedures.

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 20 August 2010

I appreciate this post.  This outlines the situation quite nicely.  I agree with the majority of one - but may call it something different such as "leadership."  From time to time somebody has to make a decision that may or may not be right.

I think the NomCom should have communicated more explicitly with Jack on Steve why they were cut.

It is that lack of communication to the candidates, and the misperception that they had to eliminate two of them (since they were permitted to have 9 on the slate) that is causing the firestorm.  This could be a good thing that may cause more communication to occur - where appropriate.

Posted by Mike Walsh on 20 August 2010

My question, though, is where the candidates "not qualified" or were they not "as qualified" ?

Were they ranked and the bottom n (2 in this case) had to go? If that is the case, then I think the process needs to change because who cares if we had 1 more candidate. Who cares if we had 2 more candidates.

As I said on Tim Mitchell's post about this, I really think the Nominating Committees charter should change to "get rid of the unqualified" and then assist in getting the candidates interviewed for the PASS membership to see and let the PASS membership make the choice.

Set up some objective standards that candidates have to meet. The Nominating Committee enforces these and then it is up to us. From where I stand, both Steve and Jack (and the other great candidates who made it) would pass that initial hurdle and then we can have the forum discussions, public interviews, etc. and let the membership decide.

Truly open. Truly fair. Free of any perception of some "old guard" (hard to accept that argument, especially with "fresh blood" like Tom and Jeremiah on the board) preventing candidates who would change too much from advancing. It also might generate more interest in the elections since we've had kind of a pathetic interest historically.

Posted by chuckboycejr on 20 August 2010


I respectfully disagree with your logic for this reason: it is not the NomCom's role to decide which qualified candidates the community are allowed to vote on.

I can't conclude that Adam Machanic, Brad McGehee, Tim Ford, Louis Davidson, Denny Cherry, Jack Corbett, and Steve Jones were unqualified to serve on the BOD and that therefore it would not be appropriate to allow the community to vote for them.

I do appreciate your sharing your thoughts.

Your friend,


Posted by Nitya on 20 August 2010

If you take a calm and collected approach, you post makes a lot of sense.

But Its so hard to see your idols fall. I'd criticize anything and everything for them as they've not done anything. I thought I wanted to be associated with PASS as its heading north. Controversies like this make one thing otherwise

Posted by K. Brian Kelley on 20 August 2010

Chuck, I didn't say anything about the role of the NomCom. :-) I did say I can believe that procedures were followed to the letter and that just because a majority thinks something is wrong, that doesn't immediately make it wrong. Sometimes the majority is wrong. Yes, I'm intentionally taking the high road with this blog post. But I also said I thought the procedures were wrong because of who never made it to the vote. So I think we reach the same conclusion.

Nitya, I can't tell you what to do with respect to PASS, but I would encourage you to be an active part of the overall SQL Server community even if you decide PASS is out. Because the community is bigger than PASS. Brent Ozar made that point well in explaining to a poster over on the election forums that SQL Saturday and #SQLHelp didn't originate with PASS. Neither, for that matter, has Exceptional DBA or SQL Cruise.

Posted by Tim Mitchell on 22 August 2010

Brian, a good write-up, and your thoughtful insight is always refreshing.  I'll certainly agree that the majority is not always right, but as you observed, it seems that we've got some work to do in evaluating whether the current qualification system still works for us.  

Like you, I find nothing to indicate wrongdoing - I believe the NomCom did their job according to the rules currently in place, and I applaud them for sticking with the decision they felt was right.  It's the rules, not the committee or its members, that should be questioned.

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