Matthew Szulik : Paraphrased Sound Bites

As I mentioned before, I had the opportunity to see Matthew Szulik speak this morning. I also brought up his intense, tribal intro video, which can be seen here. (Interestingly, while the video is apparently not in a proprietary format, it was played on Windows Media Player…but we won’t hold it against Matt. 🙂 )

While the “Open Source Hippy” part of me has a bit of a “grudge” against Red Hat – after all, they “sold out”, didn’t they? why would I listen to him talk about “community”? – Mr. Szulik said a few rather interesting and poignant things having to do with the “new way” sort of approach of open source in general, and linux in particular. He also tempered this by saying things like,

[The linux desktop] is a little like teenage sex; everyone’s talking about it, but nobody’s really doing it”

Put in those terms, I guess that makes me one of the “cool kids“. 🙂

Another topic of note was the difficulty of enabling creative, smaht young kids with brilliant idears (it turns out that Mr. Szulik is a New Englander). The difficult part is setting up a management and advancement hierarchy that allows these “creative types” to be creative without either complete anarchy or stifling beaurocracy. An interesting facet of this problem that I had not considered was the issue of promotions. In an organization that relies on the creative collaboration of brilliant youngsters, the typical advancement scheme of Peon->Lower,Middle,Upper Management->VP isn’t necessarily desirable, as the talents of any given engineer in a management position are really wasted. It’s not clear, however, that the solution to the problem is to stick all engineers into permanent peon-itude. (Being an engineer, I can positively say that this latter approach is not The Way).

An additional piece of this problem was brought to my attention by a friend who actually worked for a dot-com during The Bubble at its high point. Like all the rest of the wildly successful dot-coms, her particular company was drunk on VC funds and hemoraghing cash; everyone working for the company became a millionaire, more or less overnight. The difficulty then basically boiled down to this: How does one maintain a collaborative community of dedicated, idealistic, young individuals…when all of those individuals are driving Beemers? Say what you like about “Money isn’t everything”…that kind of differential in means brings about a drastic change in the way in which people think. I’m willing to bet that if every developer on every open source project were to inherit a million dollars overnight, the open source movement would come to a screeching halt…as it necessarily should in that situation, were it to occur. After all, it’s hard to be a “starving artist engineer” when you’re…err…not at all “starving”.

At any rate, these are the sorts of thoughts that came to me as I think about Matthew Szulik’s talk. I’d like to get a chance to talk to him some more about some of these things – in particular, I’d like to ask him how he responds to the attitude of the community toward Red Hat as a “traitor”. Maybe I’ll ask around and see if he’s still in Charlotte…

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One Comment on “Matthew Szulik : Paraphrased Sound Bites”

  1. […] Again, I’m a bit behind the times, but last week the 2006 Red Hat Summit took place in Nashville, Tennessee. I didn’t get to go – my boss and a co-worker did – but the web site has blog and video links that I’ll be checking out this weekend. I’m particularly interested in Matthew Szulik’s keynote; I remember being pretty impressed with him when I saw him speak previously. […]


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