WMWare – 2000

A recruiter called me. She had found my resume on my website (I used to post it on my site before LinkedIn existed), and was wondering if I would be interested in interviewing for an engineering manager position at VMWare, which, at the time, had 100-200 employees and was not yet public.

Red Hat was not terrible, but it was not smooth. The product I had been managing was a commercial failure, so we open-sourced it, and shifted development resources elsewhere. The team I was managing was assigned to work with a product that was in serious trouble. The entire team hated that project. When it failed, the development team was laid off, but my team survived, and was assigned to other work.

And slowly, the main part of the business that Cygnus had built was being pared down and chipped away.

I was now managing engineers for the open-source project, gdb. The challenges were considerable, as the team was even more distributed than my previous team. And I did not know the gdb code base at all. This pretty much ended my technical contributions at Cygnus and Red Hat, and it would be a long time before I touched code on a product consistently.

The upshot is that I was nervous at Red Hat. I did not enjoy my interactions with the HR or Finance departments (Red Hat spent six weeks and $300 to reimburse my Australian engineer $40 AUS for copy paper once). My career as a manager was going fairly well. I had a good rapport with my boss, and now that I was managing our open-source engineers, the rest of the managers and I started getting to know each other.

Still, this was the Dot Com era, and there was stupid money being thrown around everywhere. So I took interviews.

The VMWare interview was for software engineering manager. I don’t remember having a techincal phone screen; I think I just showed up for an interview after the recruiter talked to me. I talked to five people. Nobody did a technical assessment of me at all; they talked about software release cycles, performance reviews, managing upwards, balancing competing interests, etc.

I thought I did well. They told me “No, thank you”.

The recruiter said that the general feeling was that I was too arrogant. Well, I am arrogant, so I guess if that was too much for them, they made the right decision. Funny thing, though, I told a friend of mine the reason a few years later, and her response, “You? Too arrogant for VMWare? They are among the most arrogant people I have worked with! What did you do?”

I just shrugged.

 

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Red Hat – 1999-2000

I first ran into Red Hat Linux when I joined Cygnus; it was one of the platforms we supported. As a matter of fact, it was the de-facto platform for developers, and as a Windows guy (no Macs at Cygnus), I was at once pleased, and aghast. Pleased because the command-line tools were real and worked and familiar. Aghast because the GUI editors sucked and the compiler was s-l-o-w to compile large amounts of code. Not Red Hat’s fault. To be fair, the people working on gcc had not made execution time a priority in a while, but still… And I hated the default window manager, but was not going to learn others. I had work to do.

A few months into my tenure at Cygnus, a software company doing products for NextSTEP went out of business. One of my employee’s spouses worked there, and he called her to collect friends, and we could come over and take whatever wasn’t spoken for. I got myself a Sun SPARCStation 5. Oh, boy!

Well, I did not have a Solaris license. Those were expensive (and there were none sitting around in the detritus of this company). But I could download Red Hat 4 (I think) for SPARC, and then find a CD burner to make a CD with (builtin burners were not a normal thing in 1998). But I found one, and I installed Red Hat Linux on my SPARC 5 and setup my own mail server. I figured that if any hacker tried to exploit any weakness, they would be sending x86 instructions and their attempts would just crash or error out.

The machine did not run for very long before it died. Sigh.

Then Red Hat started to make news. Red Hat decided to go public in 1999. Before they went public, they did something unusual. They identified several key people on the open source community who made important contributions to significant pieces of software that made up Red Hat Linux, and invited them to be investors in the IPO itself. One of those fellows worked for me on GDB. He got his invitation, and decided to participate, only to be thwarted by the investment bank’s rules about net worth and such. Almost none of those invitees actually had the ability to invest; Red Hat would have been better off just issuing them stock options.

Red Hat’s IPO was one of the stories of the dot com boom. They opened on August 11, 1999, at $14/share. It soared up very quickly to prices around $150/share, and then backed off a little.

One Wednesday late 1999, I heard a rumor that Red Hat was going to acquire Cygnus. I never paid attention to these things; after all, it was just a rumor! Of course, all rumors of this sort start somewhere… This rumor swirled around in the hallways. On Friday afternoon, about 2:30 PM, I caught one of the senior people at Cygnus painting all of the little hats on the men on the foosball table red.

Monday came, and we were ushered into an all-company meeting, where it was announced that Red Hat was indeed acquiring Cygnus.

We were given a formula for how to convert our Cygnus shares to Red Hat shares for purposed of taxes. I had some incentive stock options, and decided to buy some right after the new year, right before the merger was to complete. However, there was a wrinkle.

Red Hat’s corporate headquarters in North Carolina was an open-office plan. Everybody could hear everything going on in the office. What this meant for us was that every Red Hat employee was considered an insider for stock trading purposes, and we could only buy and sell stock during an open trading period. Furthermore, employees at Red Hat who were employed at Red Hat on the day of the IPO had a six month blackout period, and then had to wait for an open trading period.

Well, we weren’t part of that blackout, but we were subject to the open trading period. We found out that the deal was going to close on a Thursday, and the open trading period, which was a couple of weeks, would have been already open when that happened, and the trading period was going to close on Friday. The Board of Directors extended it one day to give Cygnus people a chance to trade. Wow. 3 business days.

I wanted to sell as much as I could. Here is what had to happen:

  • I had to call some bank in New York somewhere and get them to fax me a form to fill out requesting my stock certificates.
  • I had to get that form notarized.
  • I had to FedEx that back to the bank in New York. No faxes here.
  • They had to print the certificates, and Fed Ex them back to me.
  • I could then deposit said certificates with my broker, and then I could trade.

Some people got their certificates in time to sell on Monday. I did not. Mine came Tuesday morning. At the time, the stock price was about $120.

But I could not sell according to Red Hat. I could be fired if I did. What I should have done was walked into my boss’ office with my cell phone in my hand, said “I quit!” to my boss, and “Sell” to my broker on the phone, and then asked for my job back. If my boss said “No”, the proceeds could keep me going until I found another job. What I did instead was wait until the next open trading period.

It was in April, and Red Hat stock had fallen to about $40/share.

Sigh.

I made money, but still, leaving $80/share on the table….

And I was now working for Red Hat instead of Cygnus.

Untitled Startup #2 – 1999

Subject: You are THE only one

I have been searching for a great Mac/Win software engineer for my best
client – a privately-held, pre-IPO software company with 18 patents on
their own technology, and YOU are the only candidate that I have found
that comes close to what my client is looking for in terms of skills.  I
would welcome the opportunity to talk with you about your current
employment and if you would consider this opportunity:

MACINTOSH and WINDOWS SOFTWARE ENGINEER

RESPONSIBILITIES:
This individual will be a key developer in a small team of software
engineers designing and developing MS-Windows and Macintosh based vertical
applications and tools that allow digital watermarks to be embedded in and
read out of digital images.  The candidates selected will work closely
with the core digital watermark R&D team as well as the marketing and
business development groups.
SKILLS:
* Working knowledge of Macintosh architecture, MacOS, Macintosh
application and systems software programming.
* Working knowledge of PC architecture, WIN32, MS-Windows application
and systems software programming.
* At least 2 years experience developing C, C++ software with
Metrowerks CodeWarrior and PowerPlant required.
* At least 1 year of experience developing C, C++ software with
Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) required.
* Demonstrated ability to deliver robust, high-quality end user
products on time.
* Experience developing digital imaging software (including image
filtering and compression) highly valued.
* Experience developing graphical user interfaces highly valued.
* Ability to work in a fast paced, dynamic small company environment
* Demonstrated creativity, problem-solving skills.  Demonstrated
ability to work in a team as well as individually.
* Excellent oral / written communications skills are required.
* BS / MS in Computer Science, EE, Physics, Mathematics or equivalent
a plus.

Please send me an email and let me know when would be a good time
to talk with you further about this.  I look forward to hearing from you.

I am certain I could got this job, despite lack of C++ knowledge. C++ had really come into its own by 1999, but I stopped programming before learning it. I responded that I was happy as a manager. I was also missing working on digital imaging software, but I hit enough of the requirements….

But once again, an anonymous company. They were de riguer during the dot com boom. I am not a huge believer in software patents, and having 18 of them is much less impressive than a revenue stream.

My best guess is that this company was acquired by somebody else in 2000 or 2001.

However, once again I missed the clue that I should have stayed in development.

 

Unknown Startup – 1999

Got an email:

Subject: Gui tcl/tk programmer position in Campbell

I have sent you an email before if you recall, I am a recruiter who found you on the net and I am wondering if you might be interested in this position at a pre-IPO software company in Campbell?  What is your salary expectation?  Could you send me a Word version of your resume?

Thank you

A few things:

  • I don’t have a previous email from this person, but I was not really good at archiving email before 1999, so I did not recall.
  • I do not like it when they don’t tell me the company name.
  • I do not like it when they don’t have a full job description.
  • By this time, I was (foolishly) only considering management positions.
  • It would have taken an really good offer to get me away from Cygnus. (Of course, that changed a few months later…)
  • I really hated the “Word version” of a resume; at the time, my resume was online, and people could just look at it. (I actually had one admin ask for a fax of my resume. I told her that it was at the URL it was at. She said, “Great! Could you fax us a copy?” I said, “You are looking at it in your browser right now?” She said, “Yes”. I said, “You could print it and give it to who needs it easier than I can find a fax machine.” I never heard from her again…)

I apparently sent this person a “not what I am looking for” response, because a few months later, I got this:

I talked to you a month or so ago and I remember you saying that this position is not what you are looking for.  Could you help me and let me know if there is anyone that you know of that does GUI tcl/tk programming in C under unix? I would really appreciate any info, a name, an email address, I won’t mention your name if you don’t want me to.

Now that we have more an internet, and we have LinkedIn, I don’t get asked for other names all that often. But this was pretty standard 20 years ago.

I somehow doubt whatever company this was lived passed 2001.