Off to Europe: coming to a city near you, and looking for beers!

As mentioned in my previous post, I am off to Europe this coming Saturday, visiting four countries in six days (yikes!). More specifically I will be:

  • In Milano, Italy, Sunday 30th, Monday 31st and Tuesday 1st. Would love to hang out for beers and some great pizza (have been missing that) on Monday. Anyone?
  • in Munich, Germany, arriving Tuesday 1st and leaving the day after. I’m on an early flight and I count to hit downtown for food and beers – make yourself heard!
  • in London, UK. arriving on Wednesday 2nd, leaving on Friday 4th. Planning a serious pub crawl on Thursday, care to join?
  • and finally in Brussels , Belgium on Friday and Saturday. I plan to attend FOSDEM of course, but I’m also considering checking out how the Brussels venue of Amadeus compares to their Ghent counterpart. Anyone up for a real man serving of spare ribs?

It will be quite a trip, packed full with meetings and a lot of plane hopping. Looking forward to coming back and meet old friends on the other side of the pond!

Three months in the whirlwind

Well, hello world! It’s been quite a while since my last post, and every single day since then has been a crazy, exciting and furious whirlwind. Since October 18th, my life has al been about relocating the family to the US and getting acquainted with my job in Microsoft. And that makes two crazy tasks rolled into one: relocation has been overall smooth – and the Microsoft relocation team are nothing but angels – but still it has been a humongous list of big stuff and gory details, from preschool arrangements to getting SSNs and driving licenses, from buying a car to getting used to “italian sausage” with fennel seeds. Luckily enough we just found a house and our goods should be on a ship by now, so if everything goes as planned it will be housewarming party time sometimes in early March. That will be a huge load off my back.

Work-wise it has been even crazier. I cannot even begin to describe how this company is huge, multi-faceted and incredible in many ways. For this Italian guy coming from small and medium companies, adjusting to the different pace and level of interaction has been a very interesting journey. It is still striking after three months to see how Open Source is all over the place. When I first joined, I was given the task to meet the people in the company with a stake in Open Source: three months have come and gone, my agenda has been beyond ridiculous, and I’m not done yet. By far. It seems that every single time I meet someone, I am given at least two more names of people I should talk to. I am now about to pack for a trip to Europe (will write a separate post shortly) and I know that will mean a few more notebooks packed with information, and another pile on the todo list. The good news is that all of that will be interesting stuff.

I sure hope to see a lot of you in person as I travel the world in the upcoming months. In the meantime, if you fancy a nugget of what I am here about, here is a short video of a roundtable that has just been posted on Channel 9:

Redmond, here we come

This will be a very short post, as life is incredibly hectic here. Let me just confirm that indeed I am joining Microsoft, and I am overly excited at the idea.

On top of an incredible amount of warm wishes and kind words, I have been asked a number of questions I really want to answer, and generally speaking I really should find some time and dump my thoughts. Just bear with me for a little more, while I frantically try to wrap up 41 years of Italian life and get ready to move across the pond. You will hear a lot from me, promise!

Time to move on

Now that the important news is out (and starts sleeping at night), the time has come for another announcement: as of May 4th I have left Sourcesense.

To many this might come as a shock, and I have troubles believing it myself: after all, I founded the company five years ago, so my departure has special meaning and lots of emotional baggage. It was not an easy decision by any means, yet a number of factors made me realize the time had come to move on and start looking for my next endeavor. And, in the meantime, enjoy my newly enlarged family: I am now a quasi-full-time dad, looking forward to spending the summer with my beloved ones, and I have never been happier. Sourcesense remains a cool company to work with and for: it is now in the capable hands of Marco Abis and you should definitely get in touch if you are looking for kick-ass consultants or a great place to work.

What’s next for me, then? Truth is, I don’t know and, in fairness, I haven’t been hunting for jobs in any serious fashion thus far: I do have a few very interesting talks, and I’m expecting some of them to turn into actual offers, and I am also toying with a few ideas to start something afresh (gotta love that new startup smell). But I do intend to take my time, and some rest as well. And yes, I will keep this blog posted with my progress: in the meantime, please update your addressbooks and know that g.rabellino@sourcesense.com isn’t going to last, so if you need to get in touch the safest bet will be gianugo@rabellino.it. More to come!

And the winner is… the Apache License!

Hell must be a jolly bone-chilling place today, as Matt Asay himself causes quite a stir on Twitter and the blogosphere by arguing that Apache [is] better than GPL for open-source business.

It’s good to see Matt, a long time GPL die-hard, considering switching sides. I can’t resist, however, noting how I happen to disagree. Or, actually, to just partially and conditionally agree.

I contend (and teach, and consult) that a license is only a tool and, as a former colleague of mine (and now Matt’s) likes to say, “a fool with a tool is still a fool”. As a tool, a license serves an ultimate purpose which might or might not be what the original creator designed it for. In the past few years, the so-called Commercial Open Source has butchered the GPL spirit, forgetting about how it was originally meant to set the software free forever and using it to ensure the biggest possible grasp and control over IP that Open Source could provide. As such, the GPL has become the ultimate stronghold against appropriation from third parties – something to make VCs happy, or a way to guarantee that the “vendor” was to remain in the driving seat.

Guess what? The GPL works fine, but with notable side effects that are ultimately business-unfriendly. Back to the tool metaphor, you can definitely turn a screw with a pocket knife, yet that would be suboptimal at best and dangerous at worst: using the GPL as a protection mechanism kinda works at the beginning, yet falls short in the long run. My few faithful readers already know where I’m getting to: there is little to no point in open source without a Community (note the capital C, which means a community of committed people who feel ownership and pride in a project), and you don’t build a community with a license that is actually used to disallow collaboration, as people know they are playing with a ball which isn’t theirs and could be taken away any minute (yes, there is the right to fork: point noted, yet mostly as irrelevant as vTiger and Unbreakable Linux).

The Apache License is definitely better yet it’s still just a tool: there is little point in giving your software away in the most liberal possible way if you are not ready to reap the rewards by building a successful ecosystem around it, which requires much more than a change of license. Moving to the Apache License (or anything in between – I happen to think that the EPL works almost just as fine) is a great first step towards greater adoption and an extended and sustainable ecosystem based on Open Development, but it requires some serious follow up in terms of community building. Take the license alone, and all you have is a different piece of legal gibberish.

Whenever customers confront me with the issue of choosing a license, I feel obligated to enter lawyer mode and start my answer with “it depends”. Neither the GPL, the EPL or the AL are jacks of all trades: what kind of screw do you want to turn?

Of Oracle, Sun and Open Development

Time for shivers in IT as the big news of Oracle buying Sun is more than likely to have someone worried. It’s too early to know whether Oracle will disembowel Sun and sell its mortal remains, butcher MySQL into Oracle CE (Children Edition, that is) or just see the light and do something truly innovative, yet I’m sure there are a few of those “good riddance Oracle, hello MySQL” corporate players who thought the Oracle sales man was gone for good, and who could really do without him reappearing fresh from a new tooth-sharpening session, and ready to chew IT budgets to shreds.

My sympathy goes to all of them who fell into (yet another) Commercial Open Source trap: the lesson is potentially hard indeed, but it could be argued it’s well deserved. Companies are bought and sold all the time, and it would have been nothing short of myopic to ignore that Sun (and henceforth MySQL) was ripe for acquisition, with Oracle being a potential buyer. All of a sudden, corporate eggs are likely to need the same old, worn-out and horrendously expensive data basket anyways, and that will not feel good to many out there. Yet, they could and should have seen it coming or at least account for it.

I’m sure someone will note that even in the worst case scenario of Oracle ditching MySQL, there is still the right to fork and all the Free Software mumbo-jumbo (MySQL will always remain free, anyone can innovate on top of it, yadda-yadda). The sad truth is that forking is an extreme measure, and extreme measures are, well, extremes and difficult to undertake. And let’s not forget how the GPL in this cases tends to turn into Saturn’s child-eating mode, as it makes extremely hard to gather a successful and diverse community: when there is no motivation to contribute except from freedom for freedom sake, there is no way to build a community that cares for something more than freedom itself. Also, I can hardly imagine anyone building a real commercial alternative to now-Oracle’s MySQL: with Larry Ellison owning and controlling the IP in such a strict way, why should anyone but long-tailish small shops take such a huge risk with very little reward? It’s likely that the answer is “no one”, unless some big guy wants to return Oracle the “Unbreakable Linux” favor – and fail at it, of course.

As I pointed out in the past (ironically, in a conversation with MySQL), diversity matters: if MySQL was a project governed by a neutral and diverse community, with a liberal license taking commercial interests into account, we might have seen a different story today. Maybe this is an opportunity for more open (and sustainable!) alternatives such as PostgreSQL to shine despite being constantly ignored by analysts and press? Maybe next time corporate buyers will take sustainability and open development into account instead than focusing on Open Source smoke and mirrors? Or, at a very least, understand that the Open Source vendor they are dealing with is on the market and likely to be ripe for an acquisition by God knows who, and plan accordingly? Maybe analysts will finally understand that the Open Core module is just a remix on stuff companies around established communities such as Apache have been doing for ages, but without the sustainable bit coming from healthy communities? Or will we just chug along, waiting for the next rude awakening?

Unfortunately, I’m afraid I know the answer.

Open Source and Agile – oil and water?

My $DEITY, BarCamps are fun! I spent a great Sunday in Oxford, together with a bunch of fellow Apache-ans and my new colleague: the venue exceeded my expectations by far, with loads of informative content, great fun and amazing views of Oxford during the post-lunch walkabout.

I took the liberty to set up a session to talk about Open Source and Agility, which was actually a lame excuse to drag Marco to the stage and see if we could make sense of what seems to be a conundrum where Agilists and Open Source developers share the same values of openness, transparency and technical merit, yet we don’t seem to be able to come up with a way of working together (as in running Open Source communities with Agile practices, or opening up Agile teams to Open Development processes).

I used to blame Agilists for that, as their strong position on classical unities seems to be one of the major blockers: as long as the team has to be co-located, there goes your clash with any Open Source development model. Co-location has also been a major pet peeve of yours truly, as I believe it’s a model that doesn’t scale and is not fit to today’s work environments who are clearly moving towards asynchronous and disperse teamwork. Thanks Marco for reminding me how I was just being the classical fool that looks at the finger pointing to the moon. In Marco’s words:

I see little value in mapping exercises (being it mapping XP or Scrum practices to CMMi or Open Development or whatnot). I see value in discussing commonalities and differences in values and principles and drive everything else from there.

Or, to put it differently, there is little point in arguing practices and processes, which should always be means to an end. He conceded that I’m actually in good company, though, as a large majority of Agile/XP die-hards have long since been sticking to practices for the sake of practices (“no pair, no party”, anyone?), ignoring the tenets of Shuhari, where practices are considered drills you should adopt and rehearse so that you can pick, choose and evolve on what works best for you. With this in mind, it might be a good time to see what are the commonalities in the “ends” and if there are incompatible differences.

Marco points out how the biggest problem might be the lack of a customer to satisfy in Open Source communities, something I could subscribe to but only if I’m allowed to note how there are usually many customers around a successful Open Source project, with every member of the community reporting to a different patron – herself included – with different needs and different priorities. The standard Open Development response to what could potentially be a serious stopgap in terms of different interests acting in the same project and pushing in different directions is clear, though: on one hand, do-ocracy and his French-speaking twin JFDI does the trick, and on the other keeping discussions and basing decisions solely on technical matters help tremendously as well. At the end of the day, this means that the customer is there – it just happens to coincide with the community as a whole.

Is that enough? Not sure, but I subscribe to what Ross Gardler writes on slide 26 of his thorough Agile and Open Development wrap-up. There just has to be a way to make Agile and Open Development sing in harmony: Agile has enormous potential to deliver, and Open Development can provide amazing peer review and long-term sustainability. Losing either would be just foolish: as long as there is room for middle-ground, openness and flexibility, I’m sure we can make it happen. More to come.

Hiring better than myself

While I have mixed feelings about Guy Kawasaki, I find some of his advice absolutely crucial to running a successful company. One of my mantras has always been the “hire better than yourself” motto, and this pragmatic yet effective advice guided me into building an incredible team in Sourcesense, where I am constantly amazed by the quality, diversity and general coolness of people involved. The side effect is that I am the crappy one, but I can live with that. :-)

The very latest example is our new hire, who has just been announced. I knew Marco Abis as one of the founders of the Italian Agile Movement, the father of the Italian edition of the Agile Day and a guy who successfully managed to climb the ladder to directorship at nothing short than ThoughtWorks: an amazing set of credentials indeed. I had the pleasure of meeting him in person one year ago during my shorter-than-expected London stay, and I was thoroughly impressed.

Fast forward a few months and when he approached me early this year asking some information about Sourcesense and how we are building a great stance in the Agile community, I just couldn’t resist pitching him a position in London as I was convinced he would be the perfect fit to take over my interim position as the next person in charge for the UK market. We soon found out we spoke the same language and actually didn’t have to bother speaking too much as we had a lot of shared neurons. I am now just overjoyed in seeing him sitting beside me as the brand new Managing Director for Sourcesense UK: we are now going through an impressive list of business opportunities which will keep him busy for years to come, yet I’m positive Marco will do a lot more good to this company than just business.

I will be spending the whole month of April in London with Marco, visiting existing and new contacts, recruiting new staff and making sure he’s able to hit the ground running. If you’re about, we will be both available not just for business meetings: lots of beers and party will be in order!

A blast!

I’m slowly resurfacing from the Sourcesense day, our first (and highly overdue!) all-company meeting where we celebrated our third birthday and took the chance to finally put names to faces, enjoying an off-site day with presentations, brainstorming sessions, great food and a wine tasting contest, a big party in downtown Milano with many friends showing up, and a hackathon day in the Milan office which has been extremely productive in mixing together our impressive set of expertise and skill, learning from each other and finding lots of common ground.

Adrenaline has been keeping me up to what have been two very intense and gratifying days and, as any organizer, I have been completely blown up by the end of the meeting, looking forward to a week-end full of sleep to recharge batteries. I’m still in recovery mode, but I would do it again tomorrow and I am indeed looking forward to the next venue; I think I have learned more from these mere two days than in three years’ worth of hard work in creating a diverse, international and kick-ass team. It was just amazing to see how people coming from different backgrounds have been able to come up with a common vision, a set of shared values and a clear direction for the future.

The Sourcesense management will have a lot to digest in the upcoming weeks to keep up with the very high expectations from the team (my plate is now full with many action points), yet I’m confident this meeting has been a turnaround point to all of us, and a way to sit down and admire the impressive achievements we managed to score during the past three years. I still don’t know – though I’m going to find out soon – what parenting means, but I have to note how filled with pride I have been in seeing how we managed to grow from a guy, a rough plan and a DSL line to a room packed with people coming from all over the world and working towards a common goal.

Thanks to all who attended: it’s been a real blast, and I can’t wait to do it again.