If you’re at the point in your career where you want to “join” the IETF, maybe you need more work to do.
(Dear Abbey: Why are my daughters so sarcastic?)
But if you really want to help…
The first point is that you don’t need to attend any meetings to participate in the IETF. You need to attend if you ever want to become a working group chair, or an area director, or a member of the IAB, or serve on the nominating committee, but if you don’t like herding cats, you can safely skip all these opportunities, because all the real work of the IETF is done through email.
The second point is that there is no “IETF,” at large you can actually participate in. The real work of the IETF happens in one of the 140+ working groups. Each working group covers a fairly specific are of technology —within routing, for instance, there are working groups for OSPF, IS-IS, BGP (IDR), mobile ad hoc networks (MANET), etc. Each working group has a specific charter; overlaps between charters are worked out by Area Directors (ADs), between working group chairs, and through various other processes (most of the time this sort of work takes place at the physical meetings).
The third point is the IETF could really use your help. There are over 140 working groups, and probably something around 1500 regular attendees to the meetings. As in any volunteer organization, most of the work falls on about 20% of those who actually participate, so there are really a small number of people doing a lot of work. Even well known areas end up not being as well covered as they should, so documents sometimes don’t get reviewed as well as they should, requirements are sometimes built from a narrow base, and work bogs down in general.
But how do you actually go about getting involved?
Then pick a working group, subscribe to the mailing list, read the documents, and participate.
It really is that simple.
How can you decide which working groups to get involved in? Start with the charter for each working group that sounds interesting. The charter will tell you what the working group’s goals are, what RFCs have already passed through that working group, and what they’re currently working on. There will almost always be some sort of framework or problem statement document —read those first, before you read any other documents.
Some other thoughts —try not to say dumb things on list. I’ve done it, other folks have done it —we all say dumb things on list. But it’s always a good idea, if you think you’ve found a hole or problem, or you don’t understand something, to contact the authors privately before jumping out on the list with questions. The authors of any document are always listed at the back, along with their email addresses. Most of the time, they will either simply answer, or bring the issue you’ve raised to the list.
Try to avoid ad hominem attacks and other silly nonsense, as well. There’s far too much of this sort of thing already within the IETF —discussions should be focused on technical issues, not on why someone supports a particular draft, or why someone is a jerk. Leave politics to politicians.
Finally, don’t worry about being “influential,” or getting your name on a draft. Just hang out, have fun, and see what happens. It’s astounding how much you can get done, so long as you don’t care about who gets the credit.
See you on the list.