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Fresh perspectives from IETF Administration LLC Board

27 Sep 2021

Two members of the IETF Administration LLC Board of Directors bring deep expertise and experience from outside the realm of developing technical standards, providing perspectives about the factors and priorities important to advancing the community’s work and IETF mission more broadly.

Maja Andjelkovic, senior innovation and entrepreneurship specialist with the World Bank Group, and Peter Van Roste, general manager of CENTR, the European country code top-level domain association, have both served on the IETF LLC Board of Directors for two years, joining shortly after the LLC was formed. Both bring outside perspectives to the board, but both would also like to see a broader representation of people involved in the IETF.

The IETF Blog recently spoke to both Andjelkovic and Van Roste on a video conference call. An edited version of that conversation follows.

IETF Blog: What inspired you to become involved with the IETF?

Van Roste: On the personal level, I always wanted to be an engineer, and I ended up being a lawyer. Life can do funny things to you. This felt like a second chance to contribute to the IETF’s work. From a professional perspective, the CENTR members have been active in the IETF for a long time and it felt right to roll up the sleeves and help out too.

Andjelkovic: I have some background in Internet policy, so I was always aware of the IETF. I work in my day job with technology entrepreneurs, and some of them use IETF standards, and through professional networks, I’ve gotten to know a few of the IETFers. When someone reached out and asked if I would get involved, I thought it was an opportunity to contribute to a crucial part of the Internet, based on previous experience with early boards, and it would also be a learning opportunity for me. The IETF is a legendary organization so I was interested in getting to know the community up close. 

IETF Blog: Why are external skills and perspectives important for the board?

Andjelkovic: For any organization, it’s very important to not be too internally focused. The board is an opportunity to check with the broader technology community and society at large. It can be tempting to stay focused on the work and not lift your head up.

Van Roste: I see the role of external members of the LLC board–people who haven’t been involved in the hands-on work of the IETF–as challengers of the commonly accepted truths within the organization. We can ask the “why” questions. With the LLC board still quite new, we want to safeguard the heritage, of course, but we also have the role of asking why some things are done the way they are done. 

Andjelkovic: Yes, it’s an opportunity for conversations that might not otherwise happen. 

IETF blog: What have you learned while being involved?

Van Roste: I’ve learned about the power of the community process when managed and shepherded carefully. I’ve seen more respect for that community involvement than in other organizations. In other places, typically the argument was that things needed to move on, and we couldn’t dwell on minority views too long. My time with the IETF has changed my mind to use community input to make changes for good and not see it as something that slows down the process. At the IETF, respect for minority views is seen as a way to help move forward with caution, which is a really good thing considering what the IETF does.

Andjelkovic: I appreciate the amount of time that individuals devote to the IETF while also holding down full-time jobs. Some people get paid to participate, but many do not. Many people are doing a second job’s worth of work. Because they’re so invested, of course, they have a lot of very strong opinions, as it should be. Our job is to facilitate the community’s work and navigate between what the individuals want and our fiduciary and governance responsibility.

IETF blog: Have there been things that have surprised you at the IETF?

Van Roste: Tagging on to what Maja said, I never had expected the passion that we see in some of the discussions.

Andjelkovic: I am surprised by the lack of geographic diversity. A lot of the people involved come from high income countries. I know for a fact that there are excellent African engineers. Eastern Europe has great engineers, but we don’t see a lot of them involved. That’s partly due to the fact that things have always been done the way they’ve been done, and partly because it’s hard to recruit new people into an organization. The IETF involves a conversation about standards, and the assumptions about what devices people are using and what kind of networks they’re on might change with more diversity. However, the pandemic makes it more difficult to reach out.

Van Roste: The diversity issue is not just an issue of fairness of representation and equality among participants. But the end product that the IETF delivers is global standards. Buy-in for global standards depends on good will to accept them as the best possible solution to a common problem and technical necessity. With broader diversity in the IETF, the propagation of these standards, especially ones not strictly necessary from a technical perspective, would benefit greatly from having more diversity amongst participants.

IETF blog: What are the major items for the board in the coming year?

Van Roste: The board plan hasn’t been approved yet, but there are a couple of obvious things. The financial stability of the organization is a major focus. There’s also a large community survey that the IETF conducted, which has a significant number of actionable comments and questions that could lead to operational improvements.

Andjelkovic: Diversity is the other issue, and it came up in the survey. We’re also looking at ways to organize meetings during the pandemic. Before every meeting, the community ponders the question, “Is this the one where we can possibly have something in person?” So far, the answer has been no, but I look forward to the chance to meet more people in person in the future.

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