Posted on Tue 31 December 2019 in blog • 5 min read
This is my look back at the decade we’re just finishing up.1
Besides managing to grow 10 years older, in this decade I founded 1 company, sold 1 company, left 1 company, joined 1 company, folded 0 companies, bankrupted 0 companies, raised precisely €0 of VC, provided an income to a growing family, kept the bank accounts in the black throughout, spent 836 days (2 years, 3 months, 2 weeks and 2 days) on the road, traveled 947,000 kilometers (that’s about the length of a circumlunar free return trajectory), visited 144 cities in 32 countries (including airport stopovers), and gave about 72 talks (on average a little over one every two months) at conferences and events.
More than half the decade (6 years and 1 month, to be precise) is occupied by my tenure at hastexo, the company I co-founded and led from inception to acquisition by City Network. Coming off an excellent stint at Linbit — where I worked for 4.5 years, and which I’m pleased to report is still around, alive, independent and kicking (a rare feat in this industry) — my co-founders Martin, Andreas and I bootstrapped a company that operationally broke even in its third month, and earned its founding cost back in six (while providing us a livelihood out of operational revenue). Though we never went through any kind of meteoric rise or exponential growth — hardly a thing in professional service companies devoid of hockey sticks — we did make good calls in gaining a foothold in the Ceph and OpenStack communities early on, and quickly established a reputation as technical experts.
We parted ways three years in, and if we follow the analogy that that sort of thing is something like a divorce, this was a particularly amicable one. All of us are still on good terms, and even occasionally have the opportunity to collaborate.
hastexo also enabled me to meet my brilliant colleagues Adolfo (with whom I still work) and Syed (who has since done a career pivot and works in a completely different part of our industry).
Making the decision to sell hastexo to City Network in 2017 is something that I’ve never regretted. I generally get along very well with the Scandinavian approach to work — something that I had learned 10 years earlier when I had the pleasure of interacting regularly with then-independent MySQL AB —, and City Network is no exception here.
Obviously an integration into an acquirer is never entirely devoid of friction,2 particularly when a fully distributed team meets a previously fully office-driven company, but our colleagues turned out to be an excellent bunch and I’m on a very good working basis with my CEO Johan.
At City Network I’ve also finally succeeded in doing something I’d always failed at in the years prior, which is to have built a gender-balanced team. Namrata and Elena are fantastic assets in a highly professional, highly functional, and generally awesome group.
Apart from the excellent people I get to work with on a daily basis, I have met an astonishing number of utterly amazing folks in this decade. In fact, many of them have had so much influence on me that I find it hard to believe I didn’t even know them a decade ago. It’s straight-out impossible to list them all, so I’ve representatively picked three people here.
Sage Weil of Ceph fame is possibly the strongest pairing of brilliance and humility you’ll ever encounter. How many people do you know that made fuck-you money from something they thought up in their PhD thesis, then took some of that fuck-you money as a donation to their alma mater where it endows a professorship that their PhD advisor now holds?3 It’s an absolute privilege to know this guy.
Marco Ostini is, and will always be, the face of linux.conf.au for me, and I need to mention him here for his own sake and that of the community he is a part of. When I arrived for my very first LCA in 2011, as a completely inexperienced traveler, fatigued, jet-lagged and bleary-eyed as all hell, there was this wonderful Aussietalian with a beaming smile giving me the warmest of welcomes at half-past midnight and cheerfully gave me a lift to the accommodation. LCA 2011 was my best conference up to that point, ran what still appears to be my most popular conference talk (largely thanks to Tim Serong’s live cartooning), and kicked off a series of LCAs for me that were always a warm fuzzy shot-up-the-arm of Aussie and Kiwi hospitality in the middle of the dark European winter. Not to mention the talks. And Pac-Man. And hugs.
Sharone Revah Zitzman has been my constant and unbroken link to the Israeli cloud, open source, and DevOps community. Sharone is basically a conference organizing committee on two feet, and an incredibly nice and welcoming person to boot. I’ve forged many friendships in the Israeli developer community that would never have happened were it not for her, and I love coming back to her neck of the woods for that reason.
Honestly, I really dislike reading old emails (whether I sent them in private or to public mailing lists) from the early 2010s, because they remind me that more than occasionally I was abrasive to the point of being an outright jerk. I hope that that has improved somewhat.
I think I did pretty well in the “immersing myself in new technology and keeping current in it” department. At the start of the decade I knew next-to-nothing about Ceph, OpenStack hadn’t even started, and Open edX wasn’t yet under the AGPL. Today I feel kinda-sorta-OK in two of those, and not-quite-an-idiot in the other, which is about as happy as I’ll ever be with my limited knowledge of anything.
I’ve also finally allowed myself to feel reasonably comfortable about what I do as a manager, even if it means deviating from conventional wisdom or established precedent.
So let’s see what the next decade holds. Happy new year, everyone!
Yes, I know. It’s arbitrary. Gregorian calendar yada yada, plus the discussion whether the decade ends at the end of 2019, or the end of 2020. I don’t care. Now is as good as any time to look back and reflect. ↩
I should really do a conference talk for startup founders on what to expect when you’re being acquired one day. ↩
That’s pretty awesome academia bragging rights for the professor, too. ↩