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Various Anniversaries

This week, ten years ago, I was in London for MySQL AB‘s first “train the trainer” course, also meeting (for the first time) my first boss at MySQL Kaj. I’d been hired mid August as employee#25, also doing training but actually primarily as tech-writer for the MySQL documentation (taking over from Jeremy Cole, and essentially I was the documentation team for quite some time ;-). So from this you can deduce that yes, I was hired without meeting either Kaj or anyone in-person! I don’t think we even had a phone call, only email. Oh the days 😉

The training week itself was of course disrupted quite a bit by the events in New York. We had Jeremy who had come on a UA flight from the US, and others from all over the place… it also taught some students a lesson about browsing the net while in a training course, it can end up very distracting.

The oddest event I remember about that particular trip happened upon departure from Heathrow: someone with a clipboard went round the long queues asking whether anybody was carrying eyebrow tweezers. No other items/questions, just that.

I stayed with MySQL for about 6 years, until with a brief break, I started my own company Open Query in 2007 (about half a year before the Sun acquisition). So this September marks the 4-year anniversary of that event already. I spotted an old business card earlier, reminding me that early on we did not just MySQL consulting and training, but also (OSS) business advice – that’s now essentially spun off to Upstarta.

The MySQL side of my business has changed quite significantly as well, going from the usual reactive consulting to proactive subscriptions, in part based on Pythian‘s successful model. A key difference has been that we don’t do emergencies. This disruptive shift happened somewhat by luck, after a talk at Linux Users of Victoria in April 2009. Ben Dechrai made a video recording of this interactive “Relax! A Failure is not an Emergency…” try-out. It also mentioned the BlueHackers initiative/stickers.

While some people including competitors regard our “no emergencies” approach as nuts ;-), it has worked out very well and apart from making customers happy it’s created the sane lifestyle I was looking for (so I could spend more time with my daughter), and enabled contracting others as well. We’re still growing organically, having adapted our internal tools and processes for the proactive service approach along the way – obviously, it’s now more about project management than handling incident tickets.

Like my time at MySQL AB, my journey since then has so far proven interesting, educational, and mostly enjoyable. Later in the year I aim to once again buy a house with a modest garden. And it’s the independence that’ll have made that -and my other explorations- possible. Who knows what lies ahead – most fun when you create your own future!

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Oracle Blamed for Laws of Nature

A catchy headline, and I believe more accurate than Oracle Puts the Squeeze on SMBs with MySQL Price Hike (Network World) and MySQL price hikes reveal depth of Oracle’s wallet love [MySQL Jacking up MySQL Prices] (The Register). Slightly more realistic is Oracle kills low-priced MySQL support (again The Register).

First, let’s review what Oracle has actually done: they ditched the MySQL enterprise Basic and Silver offerings. For Oracle, that makes sense. Their intended client base is “enterprise” (high end, think big corporates) and their MySQL sales and cost structure reflects this. It’s not a new thing that came with MySQL at Oracle, because MySQL at Sun Microsystems and MySQL AB before it had the same approach.

A company simply cannot operate below its market – that is not simply a matter of choice, instead it is dictated by their processes and cost structure. Smart people like Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School have done ample research on this, here I’ll just give one simple example:

If you hire a sales person on commission and their quarterly quota is $100k, then they have to talk with clients that have at least a $10k-$20k potential (qualified leads), and they need to close (sign contract) with at least 10 within the period. They simply cannot spend any time on talking with potential $1k customers.

We may lament this state of affairs, but you can see how, given the choices made (sales person hired, commission system, quota), it’s as inevitable as an apple falling when you drop it. The way I describe this at Upstarta: if a company wants different results, they need to make sure that their business processes and cost structure lead them in that direction. But the simple fact is that most companies don’t have an internal feedback cycle that keeps an eye on these things, so they just go with the flow of consequences of common choices: aim for large(r) clients, grow turnover, get higher operational costs along the way – that in itself is a cycle and the only direction this particular one can go is up. As a natural consequence, over time old low-end offerings and clients need to be jettisoned – one way or another.

I say horay for Oracle to finally acknowledge this, since Sun Microsystems and MySQL AB before it did not (for whatever reason). This is years overdue. Whether the original MySQL company should have aimed to also serve smaller clients also is an entirely separate topic – and one which I covered at length previously (including internally in my time at MySQL AB), but it’s very much a station long passed. Once you float upward in the market, you can’t operate or move downward.

Now, are SMBs using MySQL actually getting squeezed by Oracle? They are not. There is no lock-in. This is about service contracts, not licensing. As we all know, MySQL is GPL licensed and internal use (even on a website or SaaS offering) is well within GPL parameters. There are a number of different companies offering service for MySQL, different types of service and delivery models and a corresponding wide range of pricing. So SMBs and anyone else has a choice, each can pick the type of service most suited to their needs. Let us celebrate and promote that freedom within the MySQL ecosystem, rather than being outraged about dropped apples falling!

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Announcing Upstarta Camp – Brisbane Tue 24 Nov 2009

When: Tuesday 24 November (afternoon before first OSDC day), 12pm-5pm
Where: Brisbane, Mt Coot-Tha / Bardon area (near OSDC venue)

What is it? A picnic in the park. Yes, literally! It’s a workshop, but we’re doing a barbecue beforehand. The afternoon (including the barbecue) is $10 for members, $20 for non-members. We haven’t set a firm cap on numbers but we will have to limit it somewhat.

After a joint introduction to get everybody tuned in, we’ll split the attendees into smaller groups, each utilising the Upstarta principles and related strategies to accomplish tasks.
Among other things, we’re going to develop (fictitious but potentially viable) complete products/services including surrounding aspects such as business model, market positioning, pricing, distribution, marketing, etc. Then we’ll recombine, present and discuss what each group came up with.
It’ll be educational, challenging, and fun!

For more info and registration, go to the Upstarta Camp page.

It’s the day before the Open Source Developers’ Conference starts at the nearby Bardon Centre, so if you’re travelling to the conference you have an opportunity to join the Upstarta Camp also. Simply pick a flight earlier in the day!

It’s separate events, but you will want to (also) get to OSDC, earlybird registration ends this week!

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OSS Ability to Accept Contributions

Clayton Christensen has some excellent insights on Modularity vs Integration in “The Innovator’s Solution”. I wrote about this for Particularly in the realm of Open Source, modularity is regarded as a panacea – a product, service or design must be modular. But  modularity is not better (or worse) than integration. Like tools, they each have their place, depending on the state of the market/ecosystem where the process/product/service operates. Part of a system can be in a modular phase, where another part of the same system needs integration!

In this context, think of an Open Source project or company’s ability to handle contributions. If the process of interaction between a contributor and the core is not (for whatever reason) clearly defined and predictable, it won’t work. Jamming an additional [in this case external, but that’s irrelevant to the issue] interface for contributions somewhere in existing business processes can be doomed to fail.

We see the results of this in many projects that are Open Source, but find themselves unable to process contributions, or just don’t get any contributions. It’s quite likely that the underlying cause is not apathy (from the contributor’s end) or malice (from the receipient’s end), but it’s important to understand the underlying processes at work. It’s not necessarily the modularity of the software itself that’s an issue (tightly integrated code can receive contributions too!), but the surrounding business processes.

I had this realisation while camping with my good friend Steve Dalton and our kids this weekend. So a big thanks to Steve! I think it may help with understanding why Sun/MySQL (and MySQL AB before it) have had such difficulty dealing with contributions. And proper understanding could help resolve the problem. Good intent on its own does not suffice, otherwise it’d have been highly effective long ago!

Posted on – doing it differently

I’ve found that exchanging ideas and asking questions, even with people some might consider to be direct competitors, is more valuable than risky. Enter… logo is the home of a group of people who run, or are interested in running, their business according to a set of Principles that make them more people friendly (both to clients and self), resilient to recessions, (potentially) better for the environment, and more. A buzzword compliant mission statement could be something like “Business strategy incubation through co-mentoring”.

While being particularly suited to on-line, ICT and Open Source related endeavours, it is by no means limited to that. In addition, the guidelines also apply well to non-profits and other organisations.

The group’s monthly membership fee is currently set at a nomimal AUD 5, sufficient to cover cost and creating a sense of commitment that a gratis service would not have. When you think about it, that’s cheaper per year than many static books! Members actively participate by contributing on the wiki (like a dynamic book) and mailing list, mentoring fellow members, and (where possible) attending live meetings for face-to-face interaction.