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What I’ve learned in 15 years at Red Hat


[image credit: https://goldenageofgaia.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Spock-shades.jpg%5D

In September 2003, I was asked by Gus Robertson to consider joining Red Hat – essentially to kickstart the Red Hat office in Singapore/ASEAN. I was at that time running my own open source consultancy – Maringo Tree Technologies.

I did try to get Red Hat to acquire MTT, but that did not go far. Red Hat had just done a JV in India and was not looking to do another even as an acquisition so soon. In any case that JV was subsequently bought out fully by Red Hat in 2005.

I started at Red Hat as the Chief Technology Architect. I would not say that Red Hat was my dream company to be at, but most everything I did before was all about Free and Open Source Software.

Time Before Red Hat (yes, there was)

I had no direct interest in the notions of software licensing (see this post about the Singapore Ohio Scientific Owers’ Group from 1982 – yes, predates establishment of the venerable Free Software Foundation). Even my 1989 MSEE thesis (link to PDF) was about creating software but I never did consider the licensing of it because lots of it was given to me or copied from USENET newsgroups.

I, together with Greg Hosler, Mathias Koeber, Ng Hak Beng,  and a bunch of others, set up the Singapore Linux Users’ Group in 1993. That was about when Red Hat itself was setup. I was fortunate enough to have been in situations where I could help drive the conversation and technology forward. I helped by distributing diskettes of Soft Landing Systems, Yggdrasil, Slackware etc either via the LUGS or directly. I was more concerned with getting the code out there and people benefitting from it. LUGS even created our own distribution in 2000 called EasyLinux.

I wrote up some how-tos – IP Masquerade, IP Alias, DialD, and lots of other stuff – I can’t recall what else – but suffice to say, these efforts were unexpectedly “rewarded” by shares being offered when Red Hat was planning on an Initial Public Offering.

I recall receiving an email from Red Hat and eTrade in 1999 (unfortunately, I can’t locate that email) in which it said that I was being given some shares (I don’t recall how many) to acknowledge the contributions made to the community. The only reference to the thinking at Red Hat about this is in an article in the Linux Magazine of November 15, 1999.

July 1999: The Community

It was clear that Red Hat wanted all the open source developers who had made its success possible to participate in its public offering. Red Hat would be nowhere without the hackers, and the company knew it.

Red Hat Director of Technical Projects Donnie Barnes spent three weeks scouring the Internet, digging up all the contributor lists to all the open source projects he could find. Red Hat then had to craft a letter to this list of developers. The SEC has a complex set of rules about what companies can and cannot say when they offer shares to the public. If a company doesn’t stay well within the rules, the SEC can –
and regularly does — withhold permission to proceed with an IPO.

“I’m sure they have very important and well-researched reasons for implementing each and every one of these rules,” Young said. “But to the companies who have to negotiate these rules on their way to a public offering, they appear designed solely for the purpose of ensuring the mental collapse of anyone who attempts to navigate through them.”

For example, the SEC-imposed quiet period “was one of the more bizarre notions to a salesman like me,” Young said. “How can you sell shares in your company if you are not allowed to promote your company for three months before your IPO or for a further month after your IPO? This letter to developers could describe the offer, but not mention any reason why anyone should want to accept the offer. That would be
promoting the shares in the quiet period — a big no-no according to the rules.” Red Hat ended up with a letter which, while legally acceptable, was “sufficiently badly worded to end up alienating a significant percentage of the developers we mailed it to,” Young said.

The SEC has a set of rules governing who is eligible to purchase shares in an IPO. First, you must be a U.S.-based taxpayer to buy IPO shares that are listed on an American exchange. This eliminated about half of the developers on the list from participating in the offer, according to Red Hat.

The SEC also has a set of rules designed to protect the public from scam artists who use public stock offers to con inexperienced investors out of their money.

“In effect the SEC deems IPO offers to be extremely high-risk investments, and therefore buyers of shares in IPOs must prove that they are experienced investors who can afford to lose the money they are being asked to invest,” Young said.

Unfortunately a significant percentage — about 15 percent — of the developers to whom Red Hat offered shares were either students or otherwise inexperienced investors by the SEC’s standards.

“And of course this offer was not being made by the SEC — it was being made by Red Hat and E*TRADE. So when members of the development community that we had extended the offer to found themselves declared ineligible, they initially naturally blamed Red Hat and E*TRADE,” Young said.

The final result was that well over one-fifth of the developers on the list were interested, eligible, and able to participate in the Red Hat IPO.

(extracted from http://www.linux-mag.com/id/348/)

I accepted the shares from Red Hat and I guess I was part of the 1/5th.

For the record, I think I did sell the shares later (along with the shares that I later received from VA Linux when they IPOed). It was a very nice gesture on both Red Hat’s and VA Linux’s part and I am thankful.

When Red Hat offered me a position in 2003, I was very aware that this is a business that is trying to do the Right Thing.  While I was trying to figure out the value of such a move, I was provided with the relevant employment documents to sign. In one of them, a particular paragraph stood out for me.

In the Red Hat Code of Business Conduct and Ethics (a PDF from https://investors.redhat.com/corporate-governance/governance-documents), this paragraph was pivotal:

Participation in an open source community project, whether maintained by the Company or by another commercial or non-commercial entity or organization, does not constitute a conflict of interest even where you may make a determination in the interest of the project that is adverse to the Company’s interests.
(from the bottom of page 2 of the PDF)

I did not, then, have to think twice. I signed.

With that stoke of the pen, my tenure at Red Hat started officially on 8th September 2003. I still had Maringo Tree Technologies and I had to find a way to exit it and eventually I did.

Fifteen years is a significant amount of one’s lifespan to be spent with a single entity (assuming a 30-40 year work career). Red Hat is the 7th organization I am with: CSA Group (1st job, employee, Singapore), Microsoft (intern, employee, USA), Sembawang Media (management Singapore), Brokat (technical management Singapore/Germany), Inquisitive Mind (co-founder/management/technical Singapore) and Maringo Tree Tech (founder/management Singapore),

Each stint provided experience and exposure to different aspects of the business/technology world. Perhaps the most challenging was to be your own boss at Maringo Tree Tech. While the time spent at MTT was relatively short, I am proud of what I was able to achieve. I suppose the work at MTT  was the lead-in into Red Hat for I had approached Red Hat as my own business even though, technically, I was an employee.

The thought process that says that the place you are employed is your own business, instead “it is just a job”, is a very powerful and empowering mental state. I want to make open source wildly successful and I was using Maringo Tree Tech as the vehicle to make that happen. When Red Hat came knocking on the door, it made immense sense to me that I should hitch on the Red Hat branding to drive my conviction forward.

I, had, at the back of my mind (and perhaps still valid today), that should I ever decide to part with Red Hat, I will still be doing the exact same thing but under a different label. That would be just fine.

What does 15 years at Red Hat mean for me? First, it is testimony that it is a growing organization and will continue to define how technology should be created, curated and consumed. That, the pursuit of fiscal goals has to be in congruence and cadence with ensuring the health and wealth of the commons. The commons comprise people from around the world who, once empowered by technology, are able to display and benefit from their talents and skills that can only but move the needle forward positively.

My early years at Red Hat were spent making sure the ONE product we had, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (2.1 and 3) were being made available to customers. I was tech support, sales, order entry, delivery person, spokesperson, evangelist, keynote speaker, community pointman and the go-to-for-everything-open-source-and-Red-Hat in South East Asia person.

It was not until late 2004 that Red Hat decided to re-draw the sales organization for Asia Pacific in creating an APAC HQ in Singapore for sales and marketing, Red Hat Brisbane to be the APAC engineering HQ, and to create six regions within APAC (ASEAN, ANZ, India, Korea, Japan, China). This change meant that we will have new Red Hatters focused on the selling of products and services but who might not have cut their teeth in free/open source software but were from the dark side, aka, proprietary software vendors. This is a necessary “evil”, but something that can be managed with the right amount of training and exposure. That was what happened when Red Hat University was setup in 2006 and I was asked to head that up for APAC, or more specifically the Sales College (which was the only college under RHU in APAC then).

I think, my time with the Sales College and especially in running the week-long Sales Boot Camp, was a very important personal challenge. Through the Sales Boot Camp, I helped transform a whole lot of open source migrants to become champions of open source. Not all of them got to their open source a-ha moment, but those who did, were sold on it. They could not do anything else as the fact that we are not shortchanging our customers by promises and handwaving but with solid and independently verifiable technology was not something to be walking away from.

In the meantime, our product portfolio started to grow. JBoss came on board in 2006, Qumranet in 2008, Makara and Gluster in 2010, CEPH in 2014, Ansible in 2015 and CoreOS in 2018 just to name some major acquisitions.

My sales quota in 2003 was US$100k and Red Hat’s revenue then was about US$126.1 million. Today, 2018, revenue is at US$2.9 billion. That’s a whopping 23x growth in revenue in 15 years. In the 60 quarters I’ve now been with Red Hat, every quarter has been better than the previous.

While the business grows with a plethora of products and service, where in the scheme of things does Red Hat understand how the open source community of projects are faring? These projects become open source products that our customers consume (via a subscription). The incredibly fine balance of open source projects and open source products is something that I’ve speak about because there is still an insufficient appreciation of what an open source project is when it become a product that a corporate entity has to be held accountable for.

Wtih the fine balance of project vs product, it is just as important to be able to gain insights into the open source projects that feed into the products. This was what lead me to start an internal project “Prospector” project in 2012. In 2017, Prospector became part of the CHAOSS Project of the Linux Foundation. Much work continues to be needed and I am working on many fronts to make that happen.

Which in a meandering way, brings me to today, 8th September 2018.

What would the next 15 years bring? What I know for sure is that it will be based on a widely distributed and decentralised world built on free/open source software and open hardware.

This will be a world that will bring the remaining unconnected 3+ billion members of the human family into the digital world, The tech flavours of today (AI, Machine Learning, Distributed Ledgers), having been built on free/open source software, will blaze the trail into new applications to better the human condition and the planet’s health.

The future is so open and bright, I need shades!

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My updated GPG keys: 0x61AFA27B


I have just updated my GPG keys.

The fingerprint is: 0x61AFA27B

And my public key is:

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-----END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----

You can check my keys at any of the key servers. Here are two:

a) https://keys.fedroraproject.org

b) https://pgp.mit.edu

I am updating my keys to 4096 bits and that is the reason for doing it now.

You can also use keybase.io if you prefer – this still has my previous key, and it will be updated to the new one.

Seeking a board seat at OpenSource.org


I’ve stepped up to be considered for a seat on the Board of the Open Source Initiative.

Why would I want to do this? Simple: most of my technology-based career has been made possible because of the existence of FOSS technologies. It goes all the back to graduate school (Oregon State University, 1988) where I was able to work on a technology called TCP/IP which I was able to build for the OS/2 operating system as part of my MSEE thesis. The existence of newsgroups such as comp.os.unix, comp.os.tcpip and many others on usenet gave me a chance to be able to learn, craft and make happen networking code that was globally useable. If I did not have access to the code that was available on the newsgroups I would have been hardpressed to complete my thesis work. The licensing of the code then was uncertain and arbitrary and, thinking back, not much evidence that one could actually repurpose the code for anything one wants to.

My subsequent involvement in many things back in Singapore – the formation of the Linux Users’ Group (Singapore) in 1993 and many others since then, was only doable because source code was available for anyone do as they pleased and to contribute back to.

Suffice to say, when Open Source Initiative was set up twenty years ago in 1998, it was a formed a watershed event as it meant that then Free Software movement now had a accompanying, marketing-grade branding. This branding has helped spread the value and benefits of Free/Libre/Open Source Software for one and all.

Twenty years of OSI has helped spread the virtue of what it means to license code in an manner that enables the recipient, participants and developers in a win-win-win manner. This idea of openly licensing software was the inspiration in the formation of the Creative Commons movement which serves to provide Free Software-like rights, obligations and responsibilities to non-software creations.

I feel that we are now at a very critical time to make sure that there is increased awareness of open source and we need to build and partner with people and groups within Asia and Africa around licensing issues of FOSS. The collective us need to ensure that the up and coming societies and economies stand to gain from the benefits of collaborative creation/adoption/use of FOSS technologies for the betterment of all.

As an individual living in Singapore (and Asia by extension) and being in the technology industry and given that extensive engagement I have with various entities:

I feel that contributing to OSI would be the next logical step for me. I want to push for a wider adoption and use of critical technology for all to benefit from regardless of their economic standing. We have much more compelling things to consider: open algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning etc. These are going to be crucial for societies around the world and open source has to be the foundation that helps build them from an ethical, open and non-discriminatory angle.

With that, I seek your vote for this important role.  Voting ends 16th March 2018.

I’ll be happy to take questions and considerations via twitter or here.

The Value of being Heard and Consulted


Some of you would know that I am employed by a company called Red Hat since September 2003, it will be nine years with the organization. That’s longer than I have been with any of my startups (Inquisitive Mind and Maringo Tree Technologies) combined. In many ways it is not about Red Hat per se, but about Free Software (and Open Source for that matter) and how the culture of Red Hat very much reflects the ethics and ethos of the Free Software movement.

Yes, Red Hat has to earn its keep by generating revenues (now trending past US$1 billion) and the magic of subscriptions which pegged the transfer of significant value to the customers by way of high quality and reliable software and services, ensures that Free Software will continue to drive the user/customer driven innovation.

All of this is not easy to do. When I joined Red Hat from Maringo Tree Technologies, I went from being my own boss, to working for a corporation. But the transition was made relatively easy because the cultural value within Red Hat resonated with me in that Red Hat places a very high premium on hearing and engaging with the associates. I was employee #1 in Singapore for Red Hat and my lifeline to the corporation was two things: memo-list and internal IRC channels. Later as the Singapore office took on the role of being the Asia Pacific headquarters, we hired more people and it is really nice to see the operation here employing over 90 people.

But inspite of the growth in terms of people, the culture of being heard and consulted is still alive and thriving. It is a radically different organization which will challenge those joining us from traditionally run corporations where little or no questions or consulting is done and all decisions are top down.  I am not saying that every Red Hat decision is 100% consulted, but at least it gets aired and debated. Sometimes your argument is heard, sometimes it is accepted and morphed, sometimes it is rejected.  I think this interview of Jim Whitehurst that ran in the New York Times is a good summary.

Change and Opportunity


Change and evolution are hallmarks of any open source project. Ideas form, code gets cut, repurposed, refined and released (and sometimes thrashed).

Much the same thing happens with teams of people.  In the True Spirit of The Open Source Way, people in teams will see individuals come in, contribute, leave. Sometimes, they return. Sometimes, they contribute from afar.

Change has come to Red Hat’s Community Architecture and Leadership (CommArch) team.  Max has written about his decision to move on from Red Hat, and Red Hat has asked me to take on the leadership of the group.  We have all (Max, myself, Jared, Robyn, and the entire CommArch team) been working hard over the past few weeks to make sure that transition is smooth, in particular as it relates to the Fedora Project.

I have been with Red Hat, working out of the Asia Pacific headquarters based in Singapore, for the last 8 years or so. I have had the good fortune to be able to work in very different areas of the business and it continues to be exciting, thrilling and fulfilling.

The business ethics and model of Red Hat resonates very much with me. Red Hat harvests from the open source commons and makes it available as enterprise quality software that organizations, business big and small can run confidently and reliably. That entire value chain is a two way chain, in that the work Red Hat does to make open source enterprise deployable, gets funnelled back to the open source commons to benefit everyone. This process ensures that the Tragedy of the Commons is avoided.

This need to Do The Right Thing was one of the tenets behind the establishment of the Community Architecture and Leadership team within Red Hat. Since its inception, I have had been an honorary member of the team, complementing its core group.  About a year ago, I moved from honorary member to being a full-timer in the group.

The team’s charter is to ensure that the practises and learnings that have helped Red Hat to harness open source for the enterprise continues to be refined and reinforced within Red Hat.  The team has always focused on Fedora in this regard, and will continue to do so. We’ve been lucky to have team members who have had leadership positions within different parts of the Fedora Project over the years, and this has given us an opportunity to sharpen and hone what it means to run, maintain, manage, and nurture a community.

The group also drives educational activities through the Teaching Open Source (TOS) community, such as the amazingly useful and strategic “Professors Open Source Summer Experience” (POSSE) event.  If the ideas of open source collaboration and the creation of open source software is to continue and flourish, we have to reach out to the next generation of developers who are in schools around the world. To do that, if faculty members can be shown the tools for open source collaboration, the knock-on effect of students picking it up and adopting is much higher. That can only be a good thing for the global
open source movement.

This opportunity for me to lead CommArch does mean that, with the team, I can help drive a wider and more embracing scope of work that also includes the JBoss.org community and the newly forming Cloud-related communities.

The work ahead is exciting and has enormous knock-on effects within Red Hat as well as the wider IT industry.  Red Hat’s mission statement states: “To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.”

In many ways, CommArch is one of the catalysts. I intend to keep it that way.

Open Source Java all the way


I am really pleased to see that the IcedTea project doing so well that for all the sites that need Java enabled in the browser, icedtea is more than sufficient.  It used to be the case that I needed to download from java.com the RPMs for my installations before I could get access to http://www.dbs.com, http://www.cpf.gov.sg and more importantly, for my sons, http://www.runescape.com.

I’ve just moved to the latest Fedora 15 on my Dell Vostro V13 laptop and my well-worn practise, check that I could get access to DBS, CPF and runescape. And they all worked.

How does one know if Java is installed on the machine?

Start the browser (Firefox or chromium), type in “about:plugins” in the URL section.  On Chromium, you will see among other plug-ins, a section that says:

IcedTea-Web Plugin (using IcedTea-Web 1.0.2 (fedora-2.fc15-x86_64))

The IcedTea-Web Plugin executes Java applets.
Name: IcedTea-Web Plugin (using IcedTea-Web 1.0.2 (fedora-2.fc15-x86_64))
Description: The IcedTea-Web Plugin executes Java applets.
Version:
Location: /usr/lib/jvm/java-1.6.0-openjdk-1.6.0.0.x86_64/jre/lib/amd64/IcedTeaPlugin.so
MIME types:
MIME type Description File extensions
application/x-java-vm IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.1.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.1.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.1.3 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.2.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.2.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.3 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.3.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.4 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.4.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.4.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.5 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.6 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;jpi-version=1.6.0_50 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.1.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.1.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.1.3 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.2.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.2.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.3 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.3.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.4 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.4.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.4.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.5 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.6 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;jpi-version=1.6.0_50 IcedTea
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application/x-java-vm-npruntime IcedTea
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If that section does not show up, you do not have Java enabled for the browser. In which case, in Fedora, for example, you can choose the Add/Remove Software option, search for icedtea and install it. Once the icedtea is installed, you should restart your browser in order for the browser to pick up the new plug-in. That’s it. Open source Java FTW!

Managing open source skepticism


I had an opportunity to speak to a few people from a government tender drafting committee on Wednesday.  They are looking at solutions that will be essentially a cloud for a large number of users and have spoken to many vendors.

I was given an opportunity to pitch the use of open source technologies to build their cloud and I think I gave it my best shot. I had to use many keywords – automatic technology transfer (you have the source code), helps to maintain national sovereignty, learning to engage the right way with the FOSS community, enabling the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs and preventing vendor lock-in.

By and large, I think the audience agreed, except for one person who said “yeah, now it is open source, but it will become proprietary like the others”. Obviously this person has been fed FUD from the usual suspects and I had to take extra pains to explain that everything that we, Red Hat, ships is either under the GNU General Public License or GNU Lesser/Library General Public License.  The GPL means no one can ever close up the code for whatever reason. I am not entirely sure I managed to convince that member of the audience. In a lot of ways, this is the burden we carry as Red Hatters in explaining our business model and how we engage with the FOSS community etc.