Thursday, May 18, 2006

Wanted: People with Taste

Paul Graham wrote a good book a couple years ago, Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age. I wrote a review of it shortly after it came out.

One of my favorite chapters in that book is titled "Taste for Makers." (Hackers and Painters is a compendium of some of Paul's web essays along with some new material. You can read Taste for Makers on his web site.) Paul begins his essay with:

I was talking recently to a friend who teaches at MIT. His field is hot now and every year he is inundated by applications from would-be graduate students. "A lot of them seem smart," he said. "What I can't tell is whether they have any kind of taste."

Paul goes on to say:

Taste. You don't hear that word much now. And yet we still need the underlying concept, whatever we call it. What my friend meant was that he wanted students who were not just good technicians, but who could use their technical knowledge to design beautiful things.

Indeed. Taste is one of those elusive qualities that never shows up on a resume. Sure, everybody lists the jobs they have held, uses action sentences like "grew revenue from $0 to $1B in six months," and ends with a list of university degrees and that ever-important "References available upon request" (would anybody not provide references if they were requested?). What's always missing is some indication of whether that person has any taste.

I'm not even sure I could provide a good definition of taste, but I think Paul has something when he associates it with the ability to design beautiful things. I think I'd relax that definition a bit and say that taste is the ability to recognize beautiful things. You can't design what you can't even recognize and there are actually many people who can do the design of beautiful things that somebody else has specified.

In the world of products, taste is what separates the truly-special from the increasingly-ordinary. Taste is what makes an Apple iPod "better" than the hundreds of other MP3 players on the market, even the ones that arrived on the scene before it. Taste is what makes a Tivo DVR better than the other DVR alternatives. In these and countless other products, taste is what turns nearly-identical physical components into very-distinctive user experiences.

And unfortunately, taste is both in short supply and difficult to find when reading resumes.

I wrote this blog entry because Vyatta thinks that taste is important. It's something to be sought after and valued when it's found. If you think you have it and want to work with people who value it, send us your resume and include a cover letter telling us why you think so.

We need software engineers, testers familiar with network products, and product managers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Caffeine deprivation

Startups run on caffeine. A week or so ago, Vyatta almost came unglued. The coffee maker broke. Nobody knows what happened. It was a nice, expensive, Cuisinart model and it simply wouldn't brew anything or heat up when we hit the switch. We can't quite figure out whether it's the switch that has the problem or the heating element. We called Cuisinart tech support to see if we could get a replacement shipped out (overnight, of course). The Cuisinart representative said we had to have an original receipt. Naturally, Robert had expensed it to the company when he bought it, and the receipt is in the bowels of an accountant's filing cabinet somewhere.

Dave (Newman), John, and Mike (Larson), shown in the picture, seemed to deal okay, even if they were a bit edgy. Tom, just about came unglued. Remember that guy, Shane, who was a contestant on the last season of Survivor (the season that ended last week), the one who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day right up until he left for Panama and then went through level-10 nicotine withdrawal in front of millions of viewers? Well, Shane was a bit more composed at the height of his withdrawal than Tom was when he found out the coffee maker didn't work.

John made an emergency Starbuck's run for everybody. That staved off the immediate effects. Tom went on a mid-morning search for a replacement coffeemaker at the local Target. We now have this Mr. Coffee thermal carafe thing that only brews 8 cups at a time. It makes pretty good coffee, but the volume just isn't there. It's a stop-gap, I'm sure.

Note to other entrepreneurs: it's probably wise for all startups to keep a spare coffee maker in the supply cabinet just for emergencies like this. The loss of productivity from a failure could be as great or greater than losing the email system, broadband connectivity, or source code repository. You have been warned.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

All I remember... that it was 4:00 AM and we were still at Studio 54.

Okay, I'll call that a party.

We started off the night at 9:00 PM at the Foundation Room at the top of the Mandalay. The view, shown below, was awesome.

Unfortunately, I had to miss the Joe Satriani concert at the House of Blues earlier in the evening. Serious bummer. Satriani rocks!

We took over the swanky Buddha and Ganesh rooms at the club and filled the joint with Secret Society members. When we started planning, we figured we might have 50 people show up. By the end of the night, the Foundation Room had given out more than 150 wrist bands and people told us that a bunch of people had been turned away because of the dress code (no sneakers!).

For schwag, we did hats. This ended up being a bit of a problem. Note to self: don't give out hats at a swanky club where the dress code prohibits hats.

One of the funniest moments of the night occurred as Tom Grennan, our VP of engineering, and I were going into the club. We were both carrying 50 hats each from my hotel room up to the club. I was wearing one. We walked up to the bouncer behind the velvet rope at the bottom of the private Foundation Room elevator.

Dave: "We're here for the Vyatta party at the Foundation Room."

Bouncer: "Okay, great. Let me get you guys wristbands. Oh, but you'll need to take off the hat. We have a dress code."

I look at Tom. Tom looks at me. I take off the hat I'm wearing and place it on top of the huge mass of hats that I'm carrying in my arms. The bouncer then lets us through the velvet rope and we go into the elevator. Tom and I start busting up, thinking that there are about to be 100 people up in the club all wearing hats.

After the party ended at the Foundation Room, we checked out Mix in the Mandalay. It wasn't exactly hopping, so Robert suggested we try Studio 54 at the MGM. We piled into a limo and off we went.

Studio 54 is, ahem, interesting. Different crowd. Check out the pictures.

I posted a few of them (the least incriminating ones) at Flickr:

Thanks to everybody who attended this year's Secret Society event. We made a lot of new friends and were able to connect with a bunch of old ones. Here's to next year's party!

Monday, May 01, 2006

The cost of change...

Ouch! I was just reading the article "Cisco phases out 1700, 2600 and 3700 series routers" by Phil Hochmuth at Network World. It seems Cisco recently announced that it has marked the 1700, 2600, and 3700 series routers for end-of-life. Can you say "costly upgrade?" I thought you could.

I'm often asked by press, analysts, potential customers, etc., about the cost difference between a Vyatta OFR and a closed-source soluition. People seem to understand that open source provides an up-front cost savings in terms of using commodity hardware rather than proprietary hardware, but people frequently miss the costs associated with ongoing change.

If you're an organization that just bought a Cisco 3700 series router last year, you will probably be upset today. I would be. See, after March 2007, you won't be able to buy a Cisco 3700. If you want to do something like upgrade the system after March 2007, you'll be forced to scavenge your parts from the used market (eBay, et. al.). And we know that Cisco looks down on anything purchased from the used market. In March 2012, you won't be able to get Cisco to support you at all. That sounds like a long time from now, but last week Cisco just relegated your $8,000 to $12,000 box (base price, more with options and interfaces) to a status just above that of a paperweight. Read the article for some descriptions of the organizations that are having to buy all-new replacement 3800 routers today. Also note that a 3800 is more expensive ($9,500 minimum). If you have a large deployment, Cisco just forced you into a large purchase.

Note that if you had purchased an open source product you probably would have saved more than half right off the cost of the initial purchase, and even if your particular hardware model had gone obsolete in a couple years, you'd still be able to buy all sorts of things to plug into it for quite some time. Things like individual x86 processor models and even PCI busses may go by the wayside, but the Vyatta OFR will continue to support those things for a very long time indeed (as long as the Linux kernel does) and you have the whole ecosystem of commodity hardware vendors from whom to purchase additional products in the mean time. Thus, if a PCI Ethernet card fails 7 years from now, you'll probably still be able to buy a replacement from somewhere.

Note that Cisco isn't the only bad-guy here. All the closed networking companies obsolete hardware from time to time. The Network World article is just a timely example. As a product manager working for some of those companies, I'm very familiar with the EOL drill and with the costs to the company of supporting old hardware models. The benefit of an open platform to users is that a whole ecosystem exists to support all the various pieces of gear. Even if a single vendor stops shipping something, you can much more easily transition to something from another supplier. You aren't held hostage.

So, what's the price difference between a closed solution versus an open one? For many organizations right now, it's at least $9,500 times the number of new 3800 routers they need to buy.