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.