Tuesday, August 4, 2015

WSO2 at 10

Today August 4th 2015 is WSO2's unofficial official birthday - we complete 10 years of existence.

I guess its been a while.

Its unofficial because not a whole lot happened on the 4th of August 2005 itself. Starting a global set up like WSO2 had many steps - registering a company in Sri Lanka (in early July 2005 IIRC), registering a company in the US, getting money to the US company, "selling" the LK company to the US company etc. etc.. We officially "launched" the company at OSCON 2005 in Portland, Oregon the first week of August.

However, I gave a talk there on the 4th on Open Source and Developing Countries. The talk abstract refers to the opportunity that open source gives to "fundamentally change the dynamics of the global software industry".

That's what we've been up to for 10 years - taking on the enterprise middleware part of the software industry with open source and Sri Lanka as the major competitive weapons. We can't claim victory yet but we're making progress. Getting into nearly 20 Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves as a Visionary is not a bad track record from zero.

This is of course only possible because of the people we have and the way we do things (our culture) that allows people to do what they do best and do it well. To me, as the person at the helm, its been an incredible ride to work with such awesome people and to have such an awesome work environment that births and nurtures cool stuff just as effectively as how well it chews and spits out stupid stuff and BS.

We're now somewhat sizable ... just about crossing 500 full time employees globally on August 1 this year. I am still (and will be for the next 10 years) the last interview for every employee .. no matter what level and no matter what country they're in (yeah that means Skype sometimes). I don't check for ability to do the job - its all about what the person's about, what they want to achieve in their life and how well I think will fit into our culture and approach and value system. I have veto'ed many hires if my gut feeling is that the person is not the right fit for us.

Here's a graph of how the team has grown:

(The X axis is the number of months since August 1, 2005.)

A key to our ability to continue to challenge the world by taking on audacious tasks is the "so what if we fail" mindset that's integral to our culture. Another part is being young and stupid in terms of not knowing how hard some things apparently are. When I started WSO2 I was 38 .. not that young but definitely stupid in my understanding of how hard it is/was to take on the world of IBM/Oracle owned enterprise middleware market and ultimately stupid about the technical complexities of the problems we needed to solve. BUT what has worked for us so far is the "so what if we fail part" being used by young people who are regularly put in the deep end to get stuff done. I am still utterly stupid about how hard certain things are supposed to be - and I love that. Most of us in WSO2 are very stupid that way - but we're not afraid to try nor are we afraid to fail. Shit happens, life goes on (oh yeah and then we all die anyway at some point .. so why not give it a shot). I have little or no respect to the "way things are done" or the "way things work" - we've challenged and re-envisioned almost every part of our business from the way a normal software company works and I'm very proud of my team for having done that over and over and over again. And I'm of course grateful that they still talk to me for all the grief I give them daily on various little to big aspects of every side of the company - from colors to cleanliness to marketing to architecture to pricing to paying taxes.

The amazing thing is after 10 years we've managed to become slightly younger as a company over time! How is that possible? This is the average age of employees of WSO2 over time (same X axis as above):

We apparently had some old farts (like me) hired at the beginning and then again a few more around 3 years in .. but since then the average age has hovered between 30 and 32! Not bad for a 10 year old company where very few people leave ...

To me the actual physical age is not the issue - after all I'm now 48 years old but I don't hesitate to think and act like a 25 year old either mentally or physically (come and play basketball with me and lets see who hurts more at the end). Its all about how you think and act and accept "experience". I view experience and assumption as things to question and assume as false until proven true in our context. That frustrates a lot of senior people but that is exactly what has allowed WSO2 to keep growing and keep challenging the world of middleware and getting to its front. I view any assumption (e.g. "this is the way others do it") as a likely point of failure until proven otherwise. My challenge is to keep WSO2 "young" - in thinking and in age as much as possible (without age discrimination of course). I love this Jeff Bezos quote:
If your customer base is aging with you, then eventually you are going to become obsolete or irrelevant. You need to be constantly figuring out who are your new customers and what are you doing to stay forever young.
Technology will never stop - it maybe SOA, ESB, REST, CEP, Mashups. Cloud, APIs, IoT, Microservices, Docker,  Clojure, NodeJS, whatever ... and more will come. We need to keep on top of every new thing that comes along, be the ones to create a bunch of these and still deliver real stuff that works.

If we as a team continue to challenge every assumption, continue to treat each other with respect but not fear, continue to fight for doing the right long term thing instead of hype-chasing then we will never lose.

WSO2 is nowhere near the goal I set out to do for us - take over the world (of middleware!). But 10 years later, we're now on a solid foundation to build WSO2 into a much stronger position in the next 10 years. Thank you for all the wonderful people who are still in WSO2 and to those that have moved on but did their part, for helping us get there. Its been my honor and privilege to lead this incredible bunch of crazies.