James Beal is a systems administrator with over 26 years of professional experience. For the last 8 years he has been specialising in high throughput computing, and lately this has been expanded to implementing private clouds. James lives in the UK with his wife and two teenage sons. Fandom life probably started with Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Today in media he favours Elementary, Doctor Who, Person of Interest, Steven Universe and Sherlock. His favourite authors are Seanan McGuire, Diana Wynne Jones, Diane Duane, Philip Pullman and Ben Aaronovitch. He joined the Systems committee as a staff member in January 2011 and became the Systems technical lead in March 2013. Later in 2013 he joined the Accessibility, Design & Technology committee as a member of staff rather than as a Systems liaison.
1. Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?
I do not want to be a Board member. I hope there are plenty of other people who would make better Board members than I in this election. I have been a manager in my professional career and I find being responsible for people to be much more stressful than being responsible for machines. I decided to run for election to the Board because I want to ensure that there is an election and the only way I can practically do that is to run as a candidate. I believe that having unopposed elections is harmful to the org and I want to help ensure we do not get into the situation where the Board is completely out of touch with the membership. If I was elected and it is possible to allow the seat to be contested at the next election and still stand as a candidate, given that the term would not be complete (to reduce the likelihood of having an unopposed election) I would do so. If I do become a member of the Board I would endeavour to bring the relevant skills I had to bear to do the best job I could.
2. What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?
I am a technical person who has been part of the teams that ensure that the Archive, Fanlore and the Journal keep running. As one of the few Archive “database admins” I act as a third line for Support trying to fix issues which cannot be fixed with the normal Support tools. I therefore understand some of the issues our users have. As a coder I have concentrated on either performance or stability work although I have tried to add features to the Archive such as a move to allow the interface to be internationalised. My only experience in non-profits was as a member of the Board of Directors of the nursery my children went to many years ago and as a secretary of my archery club around 3 years ago, neither of which are significant experience.
3. What goals would you like to achieve during your term?
As a member of both Accessibility, Design & Technology and Systems I know that these teams do need more resources, while the Systems team has become significantly stronger in the last year. I think both teams will, as the Archive continues to grow, need full-time employees. I understand that this is not practically possible today, I think the Board should further support the idea of part- or full-time contractors for these groups. We should not be afraid of considering this kind of agreement for other committees that need the support. I think current volunteers if they have relevant skills and experience should be given consideration in preference (although not overwhelmingly so) for such posts and that such posts should be paid a fair market wage. I believe that there would be some agreement in the current Board with these ideas.
Given the aftermath of the 2015 elections I think we need to have a way of recalling members of the Board. At the minimum we need to codify the rights of membership to call upon the Election Committee to hold a vote of no confidence in one or more of the Board members.
4. What is your experience of the OTW’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them? Please include AO3, TWC, Fanlore, our Legal Advocacy work, and Open Doors, though feel free to emphasize particular areas you’re interested in.
As a member of Systems I have worked with the Archive, being one of the people who have been woken up in the middle of the night to get things back online. I have upgraded the software that runs TWC in the last year. Fanlore have had their own specialist for the last 4 years, but we do work for Fanlore on occasion. As a member of the Systems committee I have asked questions of our Legal group and always found them to be helpful and quick to respond when there are possible issues.
As a member of Accessibility, Design & Technology I have helped formulate answers for the Legal team around the practicalities of potential issues. I act as a third line for Support trying to fix issues which can not be fixed with the normal Support tools. My contact with Open Doors is usually limited to uploading graphics.
5. Choose two topics/issues that you think should be high priority for the OTW, both internally and externally. What do these topics mean to you and why do you value them? How will you make them a part of your service?
Sustainability: We need to start migrating from a purely volunteer organisation to one where we have a number of contractors and over time to one where we have a number of employees. This is difficult and tricky migration, we need to ensure that current volunteers are not disheartened but see it as an opportunity to quicken advances in our projects while still ensuring that mundane tasks are not forgotten.
Internationalisation: I can only communicate in English and so I value being able to use the Archive in my native tongue. I want us to try and move forward so that the Archive at least could be used in multiple languages. This is a huge project that involves many coding hours and many hours of translator time and many hours of testing. We have made baby steps; however, we are not moving as fast as I wish because we are swimming as hard as we can just to stay afloat.
6. What do you think the key responsibilities of a/the Board are? Are you familiar with the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors?
I believe that the key responsibility of a Board is to make decisions in the best interest of the organisation. The duty of care, loyalty and obedience are corollaries of that. The Board members have a responsibility to steer the org by setting strategic goals, to ensure we act in way that secures our future financially.
On a practical level I understand that a Board member needs to respond to requests in a prompt manner, to be willing to speak on behalf of the org and represent the org to its users. I suspect Board members have to do a number of tasks as yet unknown to me.
7. How would you balance your Board work with other roles in the OTW, or how do you plan to hand over your current roles to focus on Board work?
I really do not want to become a member of the Board, I truly hope there are at least two good candidates who can win seats to the Board. I would have trouble finding more time to spend on OTW activities and therefore I would have to scale back on other work I do for the organization. I would have to reduce my coding efforts to a minimum amount and see if we could move some of the “database admin” work to one of the few other people who do that work; however, they are busy with their work as well.
Edited August 14 to remove a typo in the first Manifesto response, with candidate permission.