[Foundation-l] Erik's New Job

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Wed Dec 19 08:52:01 UTC 2007

On 12/19/07, phoebe ayers <phoebe.wiki at gmail.com> wrote:
> I find the lack of public search less worrying than the complete lack
> of public discussion over what the position might do and why we might
> need someone as Deputy Director in the first place. One difference
> between WMF and other organizations is historically we *have*
> discussed things like this.

I don't believe that hiring and staffing decisions are something that
belongs on a public mailing list. This is not a question of
transparency, it's a question of competency and knowledge.

- Competency: Wikimedia has a strong culture of "everyone can do
anything and comment on everything". It's a culture of self-selection
and free association. A 14-year-old may make as meaningful
contributions to an article about the British nobility as a
50-year-old tenured professor (or someone pretending to be one,

And that's fine when you are dealing with a self-correcting
encyclopedia that is built through a process of deliberation and
consensus-building, and where it's an acceptable characteristic that
any given article may be rubbish at any given time.

But an organization cannot function under the same parameters. You
cannot "revert" a bad hiring decision; you cannot "rollback" money
that's been spent. So you want to make sure that you have a competent
core team that makes these decisions. Not every decision benefits from
a scattershot approach of asking hundreds of self-selected interested
individuals what they think: you end up spending too much time
separating noise from signal.

- Knowledge about the needs of the organization will typically be
concentrated among a fairly small group of people. This is also not a
question of transparency: Our meritocratic systems of volunteer
participation make it relatively easy for anyone willing to spend
enough time to be in the loop on almost anything. [It could & should
be easier still!] But only a tiny number of people have a full-time
role in Wikimedia or can afford to spend a near-equivalent amount of
time _caring_ about the needs of the organization. And even among
these, knowledge and interests are specialized: into technology,
chapters, administrative work, fundraising, etc.

It's the _job_ of the Executive Director to have a high level view of
the operational needs of the Foundation. And if she is any good at her
job, then she will concentrate and process in her mind a fairly large
amount of knowledge on this topic: more so than anyone else.
Increasing the number of people involved in the decision does not
necessarily increase the quality of the decision; unconnected
additional bits and pieces of information do not self-assemble into a
hiring strategy.

The Foundation has gone through many dramatic transitions and
disruptive changes throughout its history. What it needs at this point
in time is a little bit of harmony and trust: We're trying to do
something amazing, and we need to pull together to get it done. And
whether we're paid or not, we all appreciate support, kindness and

Sue & I will try to be transparent about what we're doing & why.
Though I haven't officially started yet, I am volunteering on a number
of important fronts -- so much so that I won't have much time to spend
on mailing list conversations. But I hope that I'll be able to give a
reasonable length update about  what I've been up to after the
holidays. And once I'm officially on the job, I'll try to post updates
on a regular basis. :-)


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