In the early days of open source, one of the primary goals of the open source community was educating people about the benefits of open source and why they should use it. Today, open source is ubiquitous. Almost everyone is using it. That has created a unique challenge around educating new users about the open source development model and ensuring that open source projects are sustainable.
Peter Guagenti, the Chief Marketing Officer at Mesosphere, Inc., has comprehensive experience with how open source works, having been involved with several leading open source projects. He has been a coder, but says that he considers himself a hustler. We talked with him about his role at Mesosphere, how to help companies become good open source citizens, and about the role of culture in open source. Here is an edited version of that interview.
The Linux Foundation: What’s the role of a CMO in an open source software company?
Peter Guagenti: The role of a CMO in a software company is fundamentally different from that in any other category. We have a really interesting role in marketing and technology, and it’s one of education and guidance. There used to be a place 20 years ago where, as a marketer, you would come up with a simple pithy message and buy a bunch of advertising and people would believe it.
That’s not true anymore. Now we have to position ourselves alongside the architectures and the thought leadership that our customers are interested in to prove our value.
The Linux Foundation: Can you explain more about this approach?
Guagenti: I love that instead of focusing on marketing taglines, you really have to know the technology so customers have the confidence that they will get the support we promise. Since this space is changing so quickly, we spend probably half our time simply on educating and informing about the market and the challenges that customers face.
I don’t think about talking about DCOS, for example; I think about how connected cars are really important but nobody really knows how to build them. We serve six of the largest car makers in the world. So getting them to talk about how they’re approaching this problem — what they think about Edge computing, what they think about computing in the car, or what they think about data and moving that data around. These are the real exciting things.
The Linux Foundation: Can you talk about other work you have done in open source?
Guagenti: I’m a long-time open source advocate. I’ve been in open source for over 10 years. I built an open source services practice in a large digital agency called Razorfish when I was at a client services there. I’ve spent time at three open source companies: Acquia, which is in the Drupal open source project; Nginx, which is the world’s most popular web server and application delivery controller; and now I am at Mesosphere, the container company.
The Linux Foundation: Open source has become the de facto software development model — almost everyone is consuming open source these days. That creates a new challenge as many new consumers don’t fully understand how open source works, which can lead to problems like not being part of the ecosystem and creating technical debt. Have you come across this problem?
Guagenti: Open source has evolved dramatically over the past 20 years. I would argue 10 years ago you were crazy if you were a Fortune 500 company and you were the CIO and said I’m going to integrate open source everywhere. But now open source is the default. I’ve worked in large state and national governments around the world. I’ve worked in the Fortune 500, and they all have adopted open source. But how they adopt open source successfully is different. If you look company by company, if you look at projects, there is a difference.
There are community-driven models, there are corporate-driven models, and there are things in between where you see things like Kubernetes, where you’ve multiple companies contributing at scale. There is a great mix, but companies don’t always know how to make the best use of that. It becomes critical for them to find the right enterprise that helps them understand how to use and deploy it. More important than that is to help them ensure they are making good decisions with that software and driving the roadmap forward by contributing or at least by being a voice in that.
We take for granted that open source exists, but open source requires involvement—either contribution of code or cash—to keep those projects healthy. We are at a point where open source has been around long enough that we have seen early open source projects just die because they didn’t have core maintainers able to earn a salary.
I was told that every great technology company needs a hacker and a hustler. I was a good coder early on, but I wasn’t great. I’m more of a hustler. I loved being able to see businesses build around open source and then have have that really be the heart of a healthy ecosystem where everyone is able to benefit from that code.
The Linux Foundation: What role does culture play in open source adoption?
Guagenti: It matters. Look at the digital transformation that we have been going through for the last 20 years. Look at the companies that have done it best. You will notice that the old stalwarts have now reinvented themselves in a meaningful way. They are continuing to evolve with the time and are competing effectively. They had a culture where they could embrace and accept a lot of these things.
If you look at hiring the great technology talent, what’s the number one thing great technology talent expects? They want to work with the tools they want to use. They want to do it in a way that fits their pattern of behavior, their pattern of building these things. It’s not the money, it’s not the stock options, it’s not the fancy work. It’s about the kind of work I want to do everyday and and the way I want to do it.
I work with some of the largest banks, I work with some of the largest government entities. What I have noticed, with some of the most successful ones, is that they have a culture internally where they understand this stuff. They understand what it means to not just use open source but to be a part of an open source community. Sometimes you do run into hurdles. I work with a lot of large companies that are either not comfortable contributing code back or just simply don’t feel they have the time to do it. But they do their bit in a different way; they may do things like contribute financially to projects, send people to to events, or actually go and tell their story.
That’s what we do a lot at Mesosphere. Since this space is changing, we love having our largest customers talking about what they’re doing with open source. Their culture matters because it’s not just the culture of open source and using open source. It’s a culture of innovation. It’s a culture of understanding change. And that’s what open source is all about. It’s about evolution as a group.
Learn more about best practices for sustainable open source in the free Open Source Guides for the Enterprise from The Linux Foundation.