Merit never expires - but it does get stale.

A key motto at Apache is: “Merit never expires.” Some Apache committers also believe in an addendum to that: “… but it does get stale after a while.”

What this means in practice

Once you have been elected as a committer or PMC Member on any project, or if you are elected as an ASF Member of the foundation, you keep those roles even if you stop working regularly at Apache. Once elected to one of those positions, you maintain those rights forever unless you break some serious rules.

This is different from some open source projects, and is very different than the traditional corporate world. Normally when you stop working on a codebase or project, the admins or management remove you from the relevant ACL. And when you leave employment at a company, of course your employee access is terminated. Not so at Apache: once a committer, always a committer.

What does “Merit” mean in this context?

The concept of Merit appears in many places in the Apache Way, and often with a subtly different context than many readers may be familiar with. In this particular motto - “Merit never expires” - we’re really talking about two specific aspects of merit in more concrete ways:

  • Merit is recognized with committer status - or election to a PMC or the ASF Membership. These roles are a reflection of your merit, and give you specific rights and responsibilities. This is the kind of merit that doesn’t expire: once a committer, always a committer.

  • Merit is also a form of social capital: helpful committers proposing new work or asking for reviews will tend to get quicker responses from a healthy community. This kind of merit may not expire, but it may grow stale. Someone who has been away from a project for a long time probably won’t get the same community response and immediate feedback that a currently active committer does.

Why this is important

This is a default policy for Apache projects, since it’s the way that the board expects official recognition of merit (committership, PMC positions, officers, etc.) to be governed.

…it’s a good idea for any volunteer led projects, for several reasons: references

At the time of writing this, the phrase only appears on normal web pages twice, and is not really explained. There are certainly plenty of references in the mail archives in past discussions (often in private mailing lists, so they’re not accessible to most).

This motto has been covered in a number of overview sessions at ApacheCon or in Apache Way talks in many places; so it appears in numerous slides, although the real explanation only comes out in the live talks (or videos).