Why Pivotal Labs

May 26, 2013


It is a time-honored tradition for Pivots to blog about their first few months at Pivotal. A typical day at Pivotal is strong work. It’s different from any previous job. It’s exhausting. After six weeks or so, however, the Pivots find their rhythm. I’m not going to write any more about that. I’ll include some links, below, so you can read them for yourself. I’m here to write about the two-years-later; When most developers are itching to move on to the next big thing. I’m still happily learning new stuff every day.

Making Better Developers, One at A Time

But first… some true stories

I was a dot.com’er in the 90’s. I was on a planned sabbatical when the dot.bomb hit and lots of people got laid off. I became a SCUBA instructor in Hawai’i; I couldn’t get any tech work and I just happened to be in Hawai’i at the time. It is the hardest job I’ve ever had. Nothing else comes close. Yes, I got to dive in near-tropical waters (Hawai’i isn’t technically in the tropics, did you know that?), but I also had to haul 2,000 pounds of gear up and down slippery steps, comfort the deathly sea-sick on the calmest of days, wash dive gear reeking of urine, and smile, even when the rain is pouring, the water is pea-soup, and the tips are scarce. All for an AGI of $18K in my best year. A walk in the park it ain’t, and yet there were other rewards.

I have certified hundreds of divers. Industry-wide, only a very small percentage become lifetime divers. Most finish the basic course and never dive again. If I dwelt on the number of divers who didn’t continue, I would be quite depressed, but I don’t. I look back on all the ones who are still in it and I smile. I take deep satisfaction in all the lives I changed during those years. That’s why I did it. No paycheck compared with seeing someone’s eyes get this big at their first sight of a sea turtle, up close. If I could have survived without an income, I would have done it anyway just for the joy of it. I told my friends I was making better divers, who in turn became better human beings.

At Pivotal, I’m making better developers, one pairing session at a time.

When Paul Vixie put MSN on the RTBL

Paul Vixie and I crossed paths a few times in the late 90’s, when I was a sysadm (predating devops). Paul Vixie and Dave Rand created MAPS to combat spammers. Among other things, a lot of mail servers, open source and otherwise, had open-relay turned on by default, making trouble all over; any mail client, anywhere, could connect to port 25 and the mail server would blindly forward it on to its destination, even outside of the domain.

In early 1998, MAPS received complaints about msn.com. Following protocol and after a lot of calls from MAPS and silence from MSN, msn.com was placed on the RTBL. Suddenly, thousands of customers were faced with mysterious error messages about SPAM and their e-mail was not delivered. You can search for the event; you’ll see a lot vitriol against Paul and MAPS over the incident. I remember Paul recounting how, in a tense meeting in Redmond, when the MSN management (finally) admitted that yes, there was a problem but they had a plan (already in place) to fix the problem, Paul opened up his laptop and took msn.com off the RTBL right then and there. The MSN management was shocked. For Paul, it was obvious.

I don’t hate spam, I just want to make better sysadmins.

Pivotal Lab’s Mission

To transform the way the world builds software

Heady stuff. But how do we do it? We engage with clients, build product and show them, by doing, that our methods really are better. We don’t lecture, we don’t offer certifications, there’s no Pivotal University. We “do.” Does every client leave transformed? No, not really, but like my divers, all of them have been affected, and some are transformed. They go on to do great things after the engagement is over. (And, no matter what else, every one has built something valuable along the way.) Like Paul, we’re not haters. We want to make better developers.

After 30 years, I’ve worked at more than a few jobs; I’ve been a dishwasher, a sysadmin, and a SCUBA instructor, my .emacs file dates back to 1982. Even so, working at Pivotal is still the best job I’ve ever had.

Why Pivotal Labs - May 26, 2013 - Ken Mayer