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ICANN dreams

This week ICANN announced its three new board members for 2006 to 2009: Persistent readers of this column will know that I put my name in for the job. I'm not one of the three. They are: Robert Gaetano, Steven Goldstein, and Rajasekhar Ramaraj, and I know about them approximately what's written by Kieren McCarthy, a journalist who has spent more time than anyone documenting ICANN.

ICANN had 90 applicants for the open jobs – three for the board of directors, and four for various subgroups. I'm told that in Asian countries it would be a terrible loss of face to be on the short list and then not get chosen, and that this could be the reason the names of those on the short list have never been made public. But no statistics have been released either, so we don't even know how many made it that far. Nominating committee members are unlikely ever to divulge even that much; they were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I know only this: I was on the short list.

Because so little is known about the ICANN selection process, it seems worth recounting what happened. Shortly before the nominating committee's late September selection meeting in Frankfurt, I got email from the chair, George Sadowsky, asking me to supply a phone number where I could be contacted on Friday, the first day of the meeting. If they wanted to speak to me they would call that number and schedule a phone call for Saturday. I should not draw negative conclusions if they did not contact me. But they did, working around a transatlantic flight, and the phone call was scheduled.

Now, I'm a writer, and kind of a literalist with language. I also have pretty much never applied for a job, and don't work in either the corporate world or academia. Therefore, when his email said they wanted to talk to me for "clarification" I assumed they meant they wanted to ask me questions about what I'd written in my statement of interest. So I reread it. I also spent an hour or two before the phone call reading news and other items on the ICANN site. One of these was the then newly released LSE report (PDF) on the Generic Names Supporting Organization.

None of that helped, because what Sadowsky, who conducted the 20-minute call with utter silence behind him, asked me were things like, "What, in your view, is ICANN's mission?" And "What are the three areas of ICANN you most want to be active in?" The first question made me think I was taking a test; the second seemed more like a job interview, or perhaps a theatrical casting call. You know, the kind where the director and his minions are all sitting, invisible, out in the theater where you can't see them because the stage lights are blinding you. When I asked who else was sitting around the phone they wouldn't say. (They did refer me to the Web page listing the committee's members, but I wasn't sure who might or might not have made the actual meeting.)

"What," the last question went, "would you want to say you had accomplished that only you could do" if I were chosen. I said I wanted to see ICANN become a more trusted and accountable organization.

There's no point pretending otherwise: I sounded completely lame and unprepared. Hardly surprising, because I was. I did manage to suggest that one reason I didn't know more about ICANN – enough, say, to know what they meant by "three areas" (countries? subcommittees? policies? "What are the choices?" I asked, and was referred again to the Web page) – was, as the LSE report agreed, the difficulty of navigating their Web site. It, like the European Union government sites, is perfectly understandable if you are already an expert on its content, but otherwise not so much.

In this sort of endeavor I have a second problem: journalists learn to deadline and forget everything the second they send the article in. In any given year I probably write 200 articles on dozens of topics. There isn't a single one of those topics where I don't have to reread what I've written to know what I said, even if I wrote it yesterday (I also reread my own work because I trust the research).

So, yes, I should have had the sense to be better prepared, but it was all, as I say, so unexpected. I serve on other boards. None requires anything like the effort the ICANN board does; and arguably none of them is as decisive in determining what the organizations do. In all cases I joined because I was asked; I never went through a selection process like this one.

As a reject, I can't really comment intelligently on how ICANN went about making its choices. I merely tell the story here in case my experience can help another applicant, somewhere down the line, be less confused than I was.

Thanks to all those who emailed or posted messages of support, and especially to my three referees.

Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, at her personal blog, or by email to netwars@skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).

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Comments

Here's how they did interviews at University of IL at Urbana-Champaign:

1) Hire an expert interviewer. When this step is done, usually you have about 10 companies who have all hired the same person.
2) Send in somebody to do a 1/2 hr presentation about the company to the interested applicants. At this time, they schedule interviews.
3) The person from step 1 will change t-shirts, depending on which company he's interviewing a candidate for. He'll go through a bunch of candidates for a bunch of companies in the given day.
4) He asks the candidate a bunch of questions. He then assigns numerical scores to each answer: did the candidate a. describe the situation, or task b. describe what s/he did c. describe the result?

When all's said and done, candidates with the greatest score are the ones who "passed" the interview.

Rest assured, if you are planed to a company instead of being interviewed on a college campus, and people who actually work at the company interview you, the person interviewing you will have been trained to evaluate you in a similar method.

And then I said, the hell with it, and I got a decent job with a family-run company that only has 30 employees.

Yes, there's a lot to be said for small companies. I try to do business with them wherever possible.

I think it's a very different situation, though, when you're talking about a volunteer position on a relatively small board with, however, prospectively great influence. Obviously you have to be careful. But you are recruiting a colleague, not an employee.

wg

I went through the NomCom process last year and was successfully appointed to ALAC.

What I can say is that I didn't have an interview on the phone (that I remember), but I was extensively checked out - I had to provide addresses for years, places I worked, identification information (passport # etc) and they were all checked.

I did ask about the data policy and I was assured that the material was destroyed after the decision was made.

Another friend who was going through at the same time was very upset and nearly withdrew over what she saw as the gross invasion of her privacy, especially since we didn't get a copy of the report to see what was reported about us! But she didn't and now is "happily" serving on one of ICANN's committees.

But if I go up again for a position via NomCom, I'd probably have to go through the background check again.

Interesting. And in fact that tells future candidates something: if by a month or two before the scheduled announcement date they haven't been asked for all this background information for vetting, they haven't been picked.

wg

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