To be honest, commenting on personnel moves is not something that I enjoy doing. While I’m happy to weigh in on strategic directions, product launches and the like from vendors that I cover, the movement of people is generally something I try to leave to others, uncomfortably close to gossip as it is for me.
But in certain cases, I consider personnel moves to be material to their employers, and at such times I feel obligated to comment – whether I like it or not. Such is the case with the recent defections from Sun of Mårten Mickos most recently, and Monty Widenius a week or so distant.
Before I proceed, a few caveats: both Sun and MySQL prior to its acquisition were longtime RedMonk clients. Of the departing individuals, I’ve met Monty and know Mårten personally and have a great deal of respect for him. I have not spoken to anyone involved here, however, because I was concerned that were I to learn things that I must hold in confidence, it might compromise my ability to freely discuss the departures. Following the publication of this note, then, I’ll be looking to discuss the situation with those folks who are might provide me with insight into the plans.
With all of that in mind, my opinion is that there is no supportable conclusion regarding the departures of Mårten and Monty but that they are significantly damaging. Not strictly with respect to the obvious PR implications – most of the coverage I’ve seen to date of the news could be considered Sun negative – but within the community. Already I’m seeing questions raised, whether they’re legitimate or no, ranging from Sun’s stewardship of the project to the future of MySQL itself.
The behaviors here are, it must be said, far from uncommon. Founders and high level executives of acquired firms might best be viewed as short-timers, because their exits are frequently triggered either by their own dissastifcation with the new environment or said environments’ antibodies working to expel them. What the case was here, I can’t say, for the reasons discussed above.
But I do believe that this situation is different, and more problematic for Sun because the MySQL employees and Mårten in particular were not viewed as the typical acquired staff. Indeed, many of the conversations I had around the MySQL acquisition related to the vital importance not just of the code but the people who created it and provided it room to grow. So it was that a great many eyebrows were raised industry-wide when Mårten was not tabbed for a more visible leadership role in the recent breakup and realignment of the software group into component pieces.
Whether that had anything to do with his departure is a matter for Mårten and Sun to comment on, as far as I’m concerned. But as I’ve said, the departures are an issue at a minimum because they are raising questions of a product that once had to answer none, or virtually none. More, they represent the loss of significant rational, open source experience and visibility.
That’s the bad news for Sun.
The good news is that the project itself will survive these losses, in spite of the current coverage. I do not share the opinion I’ve heard from several mouths since the exits that these put the project in immediate jeopardy of being forked and coopted. First, because the risk of forking was present already, and needed no help from Mårten, Monty and co. Second, because with all due respect to the project’s co-founders and CEO, it’s bigger than a few individuals. As Savio points out, projects like JBoss that iconic heads have gone on to survive – and in many cases thrive – following changes in leadership. Last, because it remains a project with massive usage and sustained momentum. If Sun can but find a way to finally begin leveraging that installed base with some of the network connected infrastructure I’ve recommended in the past, they’ll regain what interest has been bled out to forks from Percona and OurDelta, because network effects trump code in my experience.
What of the new MySQL leadership? Zack Urlocker, who I also know and respect a great deal (and who, in a related matter, has a new role), has good things to say about Karen Padir, the new Vice President, MySQL & Software Infrastructure. Obviously Mårten’s shoes are big ones to fill, and that would be a most unreasonable expectation, but again, MySQL has never been about one person.
Either way, it will be interesting to see where MySQL goes from here. As PostgreSQL’s Josh Berkus reminds us, there’s a new community-based MySQL and these moves – small though they might appear – could have a significant impact on the balance between it and its commercial parent.