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K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

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

Thoughts about the PASS BoD Nomination Process

I know I was one of the more vocal ones these past two years when the set of nominees were revealed. To the point where I jokingly recruited a bodyguard for SQL Saturday #48 - Columbia, SC since Stuart Ainsworth is going to be there and he and I have gone back and forth this year. And I previously came out and said I thought the process was flawed. It's more transparent, and I've been told it's been improved, but there are a number of people who disagree with the exclusion of at least one of the candidates, just like last year. Here are my thoughts on how to improve it:

Objective Criteria and Scoring:

The scoring this year was very subjective. Case in point, how do you rate references? Even in criteria that could have been objective, such as education, there wasn't a set standard that said Bachelor's gets you 2, Master's gets you 3, and Ph.D. gets you 4, or anything like that. It was left to every member of the Nominating Committee (NomCom) to determine how they would score each category. Obviously, there is always going to be some subjective thought put into a score unless you can get every criteria like education. That's not realistic, but there should be clear guidelines as to what is a 2, what is a 3, and what is a 4. Looking at the documents, there was that sort of guidance provided. And here I have to admit to fault, because the documents were provided to the community and I didn't look at them beforehand, or I could have raised the issue then. Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I'll raise it now.

Business vs. Community:

In the aftermath of the selection has been a discussion of what PASS is all about. There has been a lot of talk about needing business savvy on the Board of Directors. I agree with that. However, there has to be a strong community presence as well because this isn't just a business, it's a professional organization. There are some seats on the board which belong to the founding partners of PASS (CA and Microsoft). Those should provide business leadership to the board. There probably should be some slots dedicated for the business side and some dedicated for the community side. The criteria used for selection should be different. That would give a mix of business savvy and community leadership, which should bring about interests and understanding from both sides.

A Limit to What the NomCom Does:

I'm looking at our current electoral process for the President of the United States. Basically, it comes down to the vote of the people who make up each political party to determine which candidate makes the ballot. There are obviously qualifiers for what makes a person eligible to be President. Those are well-defined in the U.S. Constitution. There are some other qualifiers that have been put together to keep the ballot manageable, but effectively, the folks that make up each party determines who gets on the ballot. I said that twice, because I think it's important.

One of the cries this year was to let us vote on all the candidates. No one in the community has really found fault with any of the names that were up for nomination, at least not that I've seen. Not all the possible slots for nomination were filled. All of the candidates could have been included. I'd like to see the nomination process change to do two simple things:

  1. Verify all candidates have a minimum set of criteria. These need to be defined based on the type of seat. For instance, someone who has not run a business, been involved in financial transactions, marketing, or the like, shouldn't be eligible for a business seat on the BoD. Likewise, someone who doesn't work with SQL Server in some way shouldn't be on the community side.
  2. Use the criteria to rank the candidates. If there are more candidates than there are slots for nomination, pick the maximum number of candidates allowed, starting from the highest score and working down.

Vet the candidates to make sure they're minimally qualified and then put them out there for the community to decide. I think a combination of having set seats on the board as well as doing a minimal level of paring down the candidates would successfully avoid the drama of the last two years. A business seat would be an appropriate spot for a marketing guy. And only doing a minimal qualifications check would have ensured that the candidates the community thought should be up for a vote would have gotten there.

Move the Interview Process to the Forums

After the candidates were selected, the forums were opened up for the community to ask its questions. This is a good forum because it allows the community to get to know each candidate better. Instead of having a private interview process that involves recordings, etc., do something similar to what Brent Ozar did last year and Andy Leonard did this year. Come up with a standard set of questions. Email each potential candidate that list of questions and set a deadline for them to respond. Then post as separate threads in the forums each candidate's response to the questions. Discussion based on the answers can be initiated by the community and the responses are out there for everyone to see.

Comments

Posted by Andy Leonard on 6 September 2010

Excellent post Brian. Good thoughts and practical advice.

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Posted by Andy Warren on 6 September 2010

Nice post Brian. I don't know if I'm sold on the distinction between seats yet. I don't think we can or should rely on MS/CA to provide business knowledge, ultimately all Board members have to vote on a budget and help make the decisions that shape the budget. At the same time, I think we've under valued the community side of things in some cases.

Great conversation to have.

Posted by Dave Schutz on 6 September 2010

Brian,

I agree with you especially the point about A Limit to What the NomCom Does. Just like you I'd like to see that once the candidate meets the minimum requirements they are put up for the voting. We can show the NomCom's rankings, but let the membership decide on who gets elected.

I'm all for moving the process to the forums, let the community have more input to the election process and maybe more of the community will get involved with voting.

Posted by Matt Cherwin on 7 September 2010

I completely agree with the idea of making the nominations process err on the side of inclusion - if there's any question as to whether a candidate is qualified or not (and there's an available slot on the slate), assume he is. If a situation crops up where there are more candidates than slate slots, then the NomCom has some potentially hard decisions to make - but I think the community at large would understand the "it was a tough call, but we couldn't include everyone" reasoning.

All that said, I'm not entirely convinced that holding the entire interview process in the forums is a good idea. I'd love to see that included in the process, but not to the exclusion of the private interview - I think a private interview allows pertinent questions and answers to come out which a fully public airing might suppress.

As an example - it might be valuable for the NomCom to know if the candidate is planning a career move, which might have implications on available time for BoD business. Or information about the total budget an IT manager is responsible for, which would possibly speak to financial/business acumen.

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