Tuesday, 24 July 2012

My journey so far

July marks my sixth month working on the OpenStack project for HP. Over the past few years I have had people ask me about my journey to where I am now, especially students working on the Drizzle project. So I decided to write it today.

Back in 2007 I worked as a freelancer developing PHP code, doing DBA work and administering Linux systems. One of my biggest clients was an online magazine called The First Post, I was doing so much work for them they hired me as a full time employee under the title Technical Architect. We made great strides whilst working there and I even got the site running from a MySQL Cluster installation.

Towards the end of 2007 the magazine was in financial difficulty and there was a real risk of everyone losing their jobs over Christmas. As luck would have it one of our biggest fans was a guy called Felix Dennis who owns a magazine empire called Dennis Publishing. They bought our magazine business and my responsibilities grew from maintaining one site to many. Dennis paid for me to get several certifications including MySQL DBA and developer.

One of my friends in the PHP community called Ligaya mentioned that Sun Microsystems who had recently purchased MySQL AB was hiring MySQL support engineers. This is a cross between a customer support role and developer role since we spent a lot of time debugging MySQL source code and suggesting patches to the developers. Spending lots of time in tools such as GDB was a fun challenge, especially on platforms such as AIX.

At one of the MySQL user conference I woke up very early on the first day, switched on the news to see that Oracle had agreed to buy Sun. I thought I was still dreaming but it turns out it was very real. What followed was several very difficult months for us, the regulators were trying to make sure everything was above board and every day we waited meant more job cuts and uncertainty from the public. We were censored from replying about what was happening which was very hard for a team of very vocal people. Eventually the sale was completed and things started to change.

Oracle had a very corporate attitude way to a lot of things which made things like getting paid correctly very difficult. Several of my friends had left or were leaving so I decided it was time for me to move on. A few friends had been hired by Rackspace to work on a radical fork of MySQL called Drizzle and they offered me a place there. It was a fantastic job, real open source the way it should be, the development was very rapid and well tested. Unfortunately it wasn't to last, a couple of days after we released the first GA of Drizzle we were told that Rackspace was no longer going to fund its development. This came shortly before the MySQL user conference where I was booked to give around 8 hours of talks.

I don't remember much of my talks at the conference but I'm sure they were poor. What I do remember was the stress and depression I felt at the time caused my hair to start falling out whilst I was at the conference. We had to give the impression that all was well at the conference despite knowing that it wasn't. I saw a good friend on the project go through similar things to me. It led in the end to me losing half my hair to alopecia and being on anti-depressants for the rest of the year.

Some of my friends that left Oracle had moved on to a company providing MySQL products and support called SkySQL. I joined them providing L3 support and developing new products. I was still going through my spell of depression at the time and came to the decision that I needed a complete fresh start away from MySQL and the 'community' around it.

Whilst on vacation in the USA I was called up to interview with HP's cloud department in Seattle. Working on real open source again sounded like a fantastic opportunity and I jumped at the chance. It has worked out great so far. I am getting my own team soon, am off the medication and my hair has grown back! I work on the developer continuous integration and tooling with many great people (several of whom have had similar journeys to mine).

I often get job offers to work on MySQL again but I think it very unlikely an adventure I would ever continue.