A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Joining SkySQL Ab, back in the startup business

I swear, my intention was to go for a break. A year taking pictures, sharing them over the web, writing texts, running, kayaking, just being social. Honestly, ask my family and friends!

But this was not to be, in spite of what I said when I announced my resignation just days ago. Instead, I am joining SkySQL Ab, the startup that aims to become a new centre for the MySQL universe. My role will span Marketing and Engineering, and is like the title "EVP Products" inspired by Zack Urlocker's role at MySQL AB.

I would have preferred the company to have been called KajSQL, but have come to terms with the company having an extra phonetic "s" in the beginning. Quite a while ago, having eaten my favourite fish "Börjes fisk" in my country house in Nagu, Finland, my now-former colleague Giuseppe Maxia jokingly even suggested a logotype for KajSQL, then labelled "The database for community lovers".

Why this change of minds? For five reasons:

Reason 1: The team. Behind SkySQL Ab is a set of top people: founders, executives, and experts who all were colleagues during MySQL AB times. Our Chairman is MySQL AB angel investor Ralf Wahlsten, who found MySQL AB's first Chairman, and defined the MySQL Core Values with MySQL AB founders Michael "Monty" Widenius and David Axmark. Monty and David are investors and stakeholders, but have no operational or management roles. Our CEO is Ulf Sandberg, formerly SVP Services at MySQL AB. The co-founders include Mick Carney, formerly European Field Sales Manager for MySQL at Sun Microsystems, Patrik Backman, who worked with me on the SAP partnership and continued as Director of Engineering, and Max Mether, who set up training at MySQL AB with me, and already prior to that at Polycon Ab. Early colleagues include MySQL AB time stars such as Boel Larsen in HR, as well as Dean Ellis and Alexander "Salle" Keremidarski in Support.

Reason 2: The timing. SkySQL Ab is happening now, not when I've got my pictures sorted out. I want to support the team, and keep colleagues together, who work well together. I would hate to see an exodus of talent from the MySQL ecosystem.

Reason 3: The role. I can be back, making a difference, making decisions again. It isn't as if I wouldn't have given it a try at Oracle. I promised myself to make an attempt at influencing Oracle from the inside, explaining what the MySQL Community is, how the MySQL ecosystem works, and how it can be adapted to Oracle. Sure, like Oracle, SkySQL strives for profit, but the Oracle focus on the bottom line seemed to me to overshadow everything else, perhaps not respecting Open Source and community dynamics to the degree I would consider adequate. As listening to a Vice President from Munich wasn't high on the list in Redwood Shores, I clearly prefer having real influence in a startup than a mere title but no influence at Oracle.

Reason 4: The credibility. Like I said in the previous reason, I tried to exert influence from inside Oracle but felt I failed. What I cannot live with is conveying information I don't fully believe in myself, lending my ten years of MySQL presence to give Oracle credibility I feel it may not deserve. At SkySQL, I expect to be able to stand behind my statements for a tad longer than what happened with the ones I made in April. Referring to my resignation blog entry, The Register hints at my statements during the April 2010 keynote at the O'Reilly MySQL Conference:
The loss of another MySQL veteran in Arnö on the back of other Sun exits will counter attempts by Oracle to try and reassure users that their open-source database's future is safe on the corporate mothership.

Last year [I do think this means April 2010; my own note] Arnö had tried to convince MySQLers that nothing would change for the worse under Oracle, that their database was safe, and that concerns over the database were unfounded.

Among the facts he highlighted was a "huge talent pool" of MySQL experts inside Oracle — a talent pool that's now one member smaller. He also said that Oracle planned to be proactive in its dealings with the community and would emphasize maturing the database.

Reason 5: The opportunity. MySQL as a database hasn't seen it's apex yet, and SkySQL can contribute to the well-being of the MySQL ecosystem. The initial SkySQL Ab team collectively has over one hundred years of experience working for MySQL AB. I think this team has an excellent chance of grabbing the opportunity to build a profitable, sustainable commercial business providing MySQL related offerings, while preserving open source values.

In summary, to do the right thing, I felt I didn't have much of a choice! I continue to feel responsibility for the MySQL ecosystem and I don't want to let anyone important down.

So yes, I'll still pursue my private goals. But on top of that, I plan to have lots of fun working at SkySQL Ab, and do my best to make the company a success comparable to MySQL AB!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Thank you, everyone behind MySQL AB!

For more than nine years, I worked for MySQL AB and its successors, Sun Microsystems and Oracle. I handed in my resignation late June, two days before Sun's German legal entity ceased to exist. Germany isn't a country where you quit HP one day and join Oracle the next, so I had a long summer with plenty of so-called Garden Leave. Last Thursday was my last day, and I'm now outside MySQL AB, outside Sun Microsystems, outside Oracle.

Like all the many former colleagues who resigned before me, I did so with mixed feelings. Leaving the colleagues, finding freedom, I think you follow. The topmost feeling I have, the one I want to highlight right now, is gratitude. I'm very grateful for what MySQL AB has meant for my career, my personal development, my life experiences, my social life. Let me mention a small subset of the people that made my life at MySQL AB, and later Sun Microsystems, a truly memorable and enjoyable one.

Back in early 2000, when MySQL AB founders Michael "Monty" Widenius and David Axmark were just beginning to see the traction for MySQL, I got a proposal from Ralf Wahlsten, an old friend of Monty's and mine: Since you've done training and consulting, and Monty hasn't, why don't you create a training program for MySQL? I'm sure Monty will help you and promote it. I followed the advice. So, in my company Polycon Ab where I was an entrepreneur for fourteen years, I started working with MySQL a good ten years ago. Ralf connected the dots! And extracted the MySQL Core Values from Monty and David, and found our first Chairman John Wattin, and became an Angel Investor in MySQL AB.

In February 2001, after a good half year of working with MySQL, it became obvious that I was experiencing something which was going to be big. My last doubts were removed when, at the outset of a boys' trip to Rio de Janeiro, I understood Mårten Mickos (whom I had known since the early 1980s and respected for his leadership and judgement) had signed on as CEO. I asked Monty (whom I had known since the late 1970s) whether he was interested in me selling out the MySQL training operations of Polycon and formally joining MySQL AB. He was. Monty was kind enough to have me, and welcomed me with open arms. And created MySQL the product and the MySQL community.

In May 2001, I formally joined MySQL AB, together with my Polycon colleagues Bertrand Matthelié, Max Mether, and Sylvia Arte, soon to be joined by Olivier Beutels. There was a good dozen of employees before us. My initial title was VP Training, and Mårten invited me to join the management team, together with Monty, David and others. In the years to come, I was to get a number of other roles, VP Consulting, VP Services, VP Engineering and CIO, before becoming VP Community Relations in 2005. Mårten gave me all these opportunities, trusted me, and supported me as his reportee until he left Sun. And made MySQL AB into a company, grew it from a dozen people to 500 people, created a success story, and was a role model for how to do business with Open Source.

During the many years until the Sun acquisition, I had the privilege to work with some members of the MySQL AB Board of Directors. I learned a lot from you. John Wattin, our first Chairman, successfully guided us through financing rounds and growth pain. I fondly remember John referring to me as a "fireman", given that I swapped roles so many times through the ride. I also had the pleasure to work with Fredrik Oweson of Scope Capital, Kevin Harvey of Benchmark (our second and final Chairman), Danny Rimer of Index Ventures, Bernard Liautaud (then of Business Objects), and Tim O'Reilly. Later on, at Sun, the board connections were replaced by contacts with Sun executives, where I most of all appreciated working with David DouglasRich Green and Alain Andreoli, and where all of us MySQLers got some unforgettable help from Rich Lang and Julie Ross.

MySQL AB opened the doors for learning to know many brilliant minds. Co-chairing a GPLv3 Committee with HP senior counsel Scott K. Peterson, I experienced Software Freedom Law Center's Eben Moglen first-hand. Through a combination of intelligence and diplomacy, he tamed a conference-call-ful of the seniormost US corporate counsels, who all bought into Eben's plans for the next generation of free software licenses. In 2005, I supported Florian Müller's successful efforts to (at least for a while) save the EU from the software patents. I think Eben, Florian and I all agree swpats are obsolete legal tools, used to protect incumbent players against having to innovate. Sadly, Eben and Florian have since had some disagreements. Speaking of brilliant minds, the SAP negotiations in 2002 and 2003, and MySQL AB's subsequent relationship with SAP AG, introduced us to people like Shai Agassi and Rudi Munz. Other memorable events was introducing MySQL Conference guest speakers, such as Guy Kawasaki and Mark Shuttleworth. I left the stage for Mark and his Ubuntu presentation on a MySQL conference by cheering him with "Поехали!" (Poyechale, Off we go!), a retired cosmonaut as he is.

Perhaps most rewarding was learning to know and appreciate the colleagues from nearly 30 countries. Yuri Gagarin's exclamation when he left into space was something I learned to know from Alexander Barkov and other Russian and Ukrainian colleagues, whom I've had the pleasure to work with since 2002. I learned so much about sales and customer relations from Larry Stefonic, Kerry Ancheta, Joe Pen, Mark Rubin, Mark Burton, Mick Carney, Magnus Stenberg, Richard Mason, Philip Antoniades and Ivan Zoratti. I learned about Services and Support from Ulf Sandberg, Dean Ellis, Tom Basil, Alexander "Salle" Keremidarski, and Sinisa Milivojevic. I had the privilege to work with top engineers like Serg Golubchik, Kostja Osipov, Jan Kneschke, Igor Babaev, Georg Richter, Georgi "Joro" Kodinov, Heikki Tuuri, Kent Boortz and Brian Aker. I enjoyed working with my Community Team members, such as Lenz Grimmer, Jay Pipes, Duleepa Dups Wijayawardhana, and Colin Charles, and with management team colleagues, such as Zack Urlocker, Dennis Wolf, Clint Smith, Jeff Wiss, Tomas Ulin, Hans von Bell, Maurizio Gianola, Jeffrey Pugh, and Boel Larsen. And my sanity was saved through being excellently supported by some of my longest-time reportees, Patrik Backman and Giuseppe Maxia. And now having gone out on a limb by mentioning names and thereby most certainly having omitted at least a dozen people absolutely worth mentioning, I would like to thankfully highlight Edwin Desouza for labeling me as diplomatic, although this blog post is bound to fail on that account.

What next? As I resigned from having worked for and with MySQL for nearly ten years, I decided to give myself some time to spend on matters not directly related to IT. First, I enjoy expressing myself in writing, mostly in Swedish, German, and English. Second, I appreciate the beautiful things in life, and for me, aesthetics go hand in hand with photography. Third, I think there are opportunities to combine these into some experiments in the social web. Let's see how long the break will take, before I return to more conventional duties, such as developing a startup, evangelising technology or devoting myself to Venture Capital.

What I want to do today, though, is simply to express my gratitude. Thank you, everyone behind MySQL AB!