The Rust Compiler Team has used a co-leadership model since late 2019. This RFC codifies the expectations the team has for its leads and the time and effort we expect to be necessary to meet those expectations. It also specifies a succession plan, via which a team member can rotate through junior and senior leadership positions.

Note: this RFC is adapted from a longer document by pnkfelix. That draft was the subject of compiler team steering meeting (compiler-team#506) and has also been circulated amongst project leadership. In other words: No surprises here.


We want to enable rolling leadership, to prevent burnout for the leads themselves, and to encourage new leaders to step up and push the team towards new unexpected directions.

To enable such rolling leadership, we need to establish a shared vision for what our expectations are for our leaders, as well as the vision for what succession planning looks like.

The expected outcome is that we have healthy team whose leads will expect to only serve in that role for a limited time (on the order of 2 to 5 years), and whose members can have opportunities to take on that leadership role themselves.

Guide-level explanation

The Rust Compiler Team uses a rolling co-leadership model of governance, with a senior lead and a junior lead each serving the team as team representatives and decision owners, for a total of two to five years.

Roughly every one to two years, a new junior lead is selected, the current junior promoted to senior, and the current senior returns to being a normal compiler team member.

Reference-level explanation

The Rust Compiler Team uses a rolling co-leadership model of governance, with a senior lead and a junior lead each serving the team as team representatives and decision owners, for a total of two to five years.

Team Representative

The leads represent the compiler team by speaking with Rust users, individual contributors, or organizations seeking to support development of Rust; they also represent the team by engaging with other teams in the Rust project.

A team lead must have a rough understanding (at least) of what tasks fall under the remit of the compiler team, and which are better suited for another one of the Rust teams.

A team lead should be aware of what large scale initiatives are happening within the compiler, so that they can speak in an informed manner about what issues in the compiler are being addressed, and which issues are not likely to be addressed in the near term.

A team lead should be aware of what painpoints (technical, social, etc) that the compiler team is suffering from most. The leads should be prepared to provide advice on how others can provide support, and the leads should be prepared to reach out on behalf of the team to identify external stakeholders to the team who could drive progress forward on resolving issues that face the team.

The leads’ representation of the team should manifest itself via structured communication, such as blog posts on

Decision Owner

The leads own decisions on behalf of the compiler team.

Most choices made by the team are consensus-driven by the usual “FCP all-but-two with no concerns” process.

The leads own making decisions about urgent issues or ones with a specific deadline. For example, deciding what to do about a critical release-blocking bug should happen before the release, preferably long before. Likewise, beta-backport decisions need to be made in time for the backport to happen before the beta is lifted to stable.

Finally, when adverse events happen, the leads are responsible for reviewing what decisions or processes led to the event, and taking action to prevent future occurrences of the same event. Examples of this include the incr-comp bug that plagued the 1.52.0 release, which led to a 1.52.1 release four days later (and three steering meetings as follow-up).

Time Commitment, Expectations, and Competencies

Let us recall that any compiler team member is allowed to:

  • drive progress on backlogged work,
  • draft steering meeting proposals, and often write the associated steering meeting document to drive the meetings,
  • solicit individuals to form working groups to address important problems,
  • take on the resolution of unassigned or abandoned P-critical or P-high issues, and
  • drive larger initiatives related to the compiler.

None of that is exclusively the domain of team leads, though the team leads are expected to take part in such activities as time permits.

The compiler team leads need to do the following as well:

  • issue “unilateral approval” for decisions (such as beta backports) that are either urgent or are trivial enough to not require team discussion,
  • drive the two weekly meetings (Thursday triage, and Friday steering),
  • engage in asynchronous zulip conversations amongst Rust leadership,
  • author communication on behalf of the team (such as the 1.52.1 blog post and the 2022 ambitions blog post),
  • coordinate with each other as co-leads, either in an on-demand manner, or via periodic “sync-up” meetings.

We expect these leadership related duties may consume 8 hours per week, on average, with high variance. That’s in addition to whatever time one might spend on actual development work on Rust itself.

Any member of the T-compiler already has the technical competencies necessary to be a lead for the team. (For example, they need to build the compiler and run its test suite, bisect the git history, and post pull requests, especially ones that revert existing changes.)

A person who leads the team also needs enough social connection with the other T-compiler team members to feel comfortable reaching out for one-on-one communication when necessary.

Thus, the main prerequisites to be a candidate for T-compiler leadership are “membership in the T-compiler team” and “regularly attends the Thursday and Friday T-compiler meetings.” (A record of leadership on one or more project groups or working groups is probably a good thing to have as well, but is not a strict requirement.)

Term Length and Leader Selection

“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.” – Octavia E. Butler

The Rust Compiler Team uses rolling co-leadership model of governance, with a senior lead and a junior lead. After serving in their positions for one to two years, the leaders, with input from the team, select a teammate who is not a current lead, and that teammate becomes the new junior lead. The old junior lead becomes the new senior lead, and the old senior lead is again a normal compiler team member.

The specific term length is left variable since the timing for when a shift in leadership makes sense will depend on context.

In code:

enum Level { Senior, Junior }
struct Member { lead: Option<Level>, ... }

fn roll(curr_senior: &mut Member, curr_junior: &mut Member, incoming: &mut Member) {
    assert_eq!(curr_senior.lead, Some(Level::Senior));
    assert_eq!(curr_junior.lead, Some(Level::Junior));
    assert_ne!(curr_senior, incoming);
    assert_ne!(curr_junior, incoming);
    curr_senior.lead = None;
    curr_junior.lead = Some(Level::Senior);
    incoming.lead = Some(Level::Junior);

Selection process

When the senior co-lead decides that they are ready to step down, and have confirmed that the junior co-lead feels ready to take on the senior co-lead role, then the two tell the T-compiler team privately about the intention to have a rollover in leadership.

Then the T-compiler team members can nominate their teammates to serve as the new junior co-lead. We here follow the model of our FCP process: The leads should provide a ten-day window for nominations to come in, unless they get confirmation that the set of nominations is complete.

After nomination is completed, the outgoing senior and junior co-leads discuss the set of nominees, and also, if desired, have short discussions with the nominees. Then, the senior and junior co-leads select the new co-lead from the set of nominees. And that’s it! Then current leads just need to publish a blog post saying that the leadership is scheduled to roll over, who the new junior lead is, and the date that it takes effect.


Why should we not do this?

Committing to specific term lengths puts pressure on the leads to identify new leaders earlier than they might otherwise. Note that if the leads fail to identify any suitable candidates, then we will have hit a (hopefully exceptional) situation where we will need to ask the current leadership to stay on board for longer than expected. At that point, the leads’ ongoing goals must include the proactive seeking of the next generation of leaders.

Rationale and alternatives

Rolling, not Rotation

We specify here a rolling leadership process, where we will see a shift in leads, but not every team member is required to serve as a leader at any point. An alternative model is a true rotating leadership, where every team member will eventually become a lead.

Our rationale for this is that we do not think every team member is interested in becoming a lead. If we adopted a true rotation and forced someone to become a lead who did not really want the role, then that probably be bad for that individual, and probably would be bad for the team as well.

Selection, Not Election

We specify here that the new junior lead is selected (from a set of individuals nominated by the compiler team) by the current leads. An obvious alternative would be a pure democracy where the electorate (either the compiler team, or some superset thereof) gets to vote for who the new junior lead will be.

When it comes to co-leadership, the two leaders need to be able to work together effectively; we believe they need compatible working styles and complementary sets of skills. Therefore, we currently are choosing a system where the current leaders have final say on who the next junior lead will be, in order to optimize for healthy intra-leader communications.

Do Nothing?

If we stick with the status quo, where no protocol is specified at all, that would not be the end of the world. We can certainly emulate any model we want; the original doc argues that the process described here matches what the team has already informally employed.

However, there is value in setting down formal expectations. It is healthy for us to tell our teammates: We want each of you to have a chance to perform in this same role, if that appeals to you, and we want it to happen in a time frame that is within sight, not some far off future.

Prior art

Obviously the Rust governance RFC specified aspects of project leadership:

pnkfelix isn’t sure what other Programming Languages or Projects have adopted a formal structure for rolling or rotating leadership. Many use a BDFL model instead.

Python did have a formal abdication of BDFL from Guido van Rossum, but it explicitly chose not to establish a successor.

Unresolved questions

  • What parts of the design do you expect to resolve through the RFC process before this gets merged?

Are the term-lengths anywhere near appropriate?

Wesley asked this question on an earlier draft of this:

Given the flexible time commitment, a tenure of this length basically requires the lead to be somebody that works on Rust as part of their job. I’m not sure we want to limit our pool of candidates to just those people.

Future possibilities

Should other large teams look into adopting this model?

Many small teams do not have sufficiently large membership to justify two co-leads; can this same system work fine there, and just rely on calibrating new leaders amongst all the participating members (which, since we’re talking about small teams, would be a relatively small set of people)?