Things I've said about Mårten Mickos

hingo's picture

In July I wrote a blog post MySQL community counseling: talking about your feelings. It was triggered by an earlier blog post and followup threads on Google plus by Monty Taylor, Andrew Hutchings, etc... (everyone involved in that outburst have apologized and moved on long ago). I wanted to use that opportunity to highlight what I call our hidden trauma related to the Oracle acquisition of Sun, things that I still hear being discussed today, 2 years later, and things that I consider unresolved or unsolved that I see causing friction and misunderstandings - the kind of which that outburst too represented. Both before and after writing it I wondered if it was a good idea to publish it - I wondered whether I would be seen as helping to solve the problem or just contributing to it. I actually got some positive feedback about it, including from people at Oracle/MySQL (it's kind of a defense of Oracle, actually) so perhaps it wasn't all wrong. Thanks for that feedback by the way, it was really valuable to me.

A part of that post mentions three persons by name: Mårten Mickos, Zack Urlocker and Kaj Arnö. The post in general is not about any of them and they appear mostly as historical MySQL figures, while the post is about the current situation in the MySQL community and in particular how we are still dealing (or not dealing) with events related to the Oracle acquisition. Each of them appear only in a few sentences. Perhaps that brevity is also part of the problem, as you'll see, this post certainly will not be too short. But nevertheless, if you happen to focus on those specific sentences instead of the rest of the post, they do read as quite grave accusations against these persons - perhaps more than any others against Mårten.

Which is also a bit ironic, because whenever I have talked in private conversations about Mårten's open letter to Neelie Kroes, I always had only good things to say about him:

It would of course be odd for me to ever write a blog post like "what do I think about Mårten Mickos", so that's why you've never read one like that. But the fact is that in private discussions such as when I meet friends at database conferences, or even in private phone calls and skype chats, people surprisingly often want to talk about Mårten's involvement in the Oracle-Sun merger investigation. (And this is particularly the case when it is the first time I meet someone since 2009.) They ask me things like if I know about his motives, why did he get involved, why did he publicly take Oracle's side, and such. I will not list here the particular motivations that are being suggested and speculated with, but I did share them with Mårten in the correspondence leading up to this blog. Suffice to say some are quite far fetched and suggest a questionable quality to Mårten's integrity.

In those conversations I've always replied that first of all I had no idea about Mårten's motives. That he argumented for the merger was not that surprising, after all had he not resigned a few months earlier it would have been his job to support the process anyway. I was personally a bit surprised he chose to get involved at all - having left Sun some months earlier it would have been an easy choice to just keep away and not stick your neck out. So for all I know it was just something he felt was necessary and the right thing to do - Mårten is known as a man of action, after all. Now that I browse back into old interviews from that time, he in fact says exactly that about his motivations - and unsurprisingly is also what comes up in our email exchange last week.

But then I also always stress that while I don't know and don't want to speculate about his motives, I always admired both his letter and the testimony in Brussels which I was present to hear live. The reason I admired Mårten was that it was immediately clear to me he was very careful and put a lot of thought into not saying anything that wasn't true. And still he managed to make one of the best pro-merger arguments I ever heard during that process! I always thought that people who lie are either dumb or lazy, and they have to lie because they can't come up with good arguments on an honest basis. Mårten proved this true - he is intelligent enough to make an excellent argument for the position he is defending while carefully making sure every fact he cited was absolutely correct.

If you read the letter carefully you will see that there is not a single sentence where Mårten would explicitly say that MySQL didn't compete with Oracle. It was a very well written letter that addressed well the questions the Commission was looking into at that time. It says a lot of things about MySQL's business like that the web was a good green-field market for MySQL, all of which are true, but - and this is important - it never denies that MySQL would have been an Oracle competitor, despite all of those other facts he writes about.

Perhaps it's our Finnish background we have in common but in my upbringing honesty and integrity always were very important values, so witnessing Mårten put so much energy into protecting his own integrity was something I immediately noticed and admired a lot, and whenever people come to talk about Mårten and that episode, this is the angle I steer the conversation to.

On the other hand, most people who read the letter came to the simple conclusion that Mårten had written a letter to the EU where he claimed that MySQL is not an Oracle competitor. Journalists and bloggers commented on it that way too, and since I back then was following this story quite closely I could see in real-time how Mårten diligently contacted them one by one to point out their mistake and asked them to report his opinion correctly. Here's one of those articles that now ends with: "Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the position of former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos on the Oracle acquisition of Sun." (The original article said that Mårten asserted that MySQL does not compete with Oracle, the current version obviously doesn't anymore. The updated sentence instead says "strongly believe that Oracle is within its full right to acquire all of Sun, including MySQL.") From my vantage point it was even a bit funny: unlike many other people in the process, or perhaps just business managers in general that I've seen, here was a man that put a lot of energy to maintain his integrity, but still it backfired because people read something into his letter that he didn't actually write. (Of course at that time, when the process was still ongoing, I wasn't the one to help correct those misunderstandings, I just silently observed them proliferate.)

So it is with this background we now return to what I wrote in my blog post in July.

And let me start by saying that when I wrote it, I actually did question myself - for a short moment - whether it was wise to go into mentioning people by name. FWIW I then concluded the whole point of the blog post is to openly share and highlight the issues I see and hear being talked about in private. I'm a strong believer in that open source communities live and prosper from open communication - for better or worse - and it's also said that the best ways to heal trauma is to talk about it. So it felt contrary to the spirit of the blog post itself to selectively leave one topic or paragraph out just because it felt problematic to write about it. I could have written about these topics in an anonymous fashion, but then people would have known who I was talking about anyway, so making such hidden accusations felt like a worse option. So that's how those paragraphs became part of the blog post.

The "sampling method", so to speak, why I chose to mention those specific issues (and people) was that these are topics that people have asked about or complained about in private conversations, still during the past year. I feel it is important to emphasize they were not topics or persons I wanted to attack as part of that post, or even using the post as an excuse, for any personal reasons. If nothing else, this should at minimum be obvious for the inclusion of Kaj's 2 blogs: The time those were written marks the culmination of 18 months that I spent significant amount of my free time (and some work time) in bringing SkySQL to life, including even helping Kaj get up to speed in his new job during those very days. So really, it was not something I wanted to write, but I did include it because those posts too had aggravated someone who then talked to me about it. Perhaps this is a poor defense and just means I chose to be equally unfair to everyone, but that's in any case how it was.

Ok, so now we can finally go into what went wrong in those few paragraphs. Quite a lot, when you really look into it:

The title for the section in question reads Problem #2: Not speaking honestly.

You see, I thought it would be funny to write about our shared trauma framed as a counseling session, where I broke the topics into four "problems" that could be used to psychoanalyze a dysfunctional family. Of course, you could also read it as me saying that Mårten doesn't
speak honestly. I hope my backgrounder above explains why I absolutely do not believe that! The section title is part of the joke, not part of what is being said about Mårten.

Perhaps the clearest example of something that has nothing to do with lack of honesty is the reference to Mårten's "Robin Hood" speech at Oracle OpenWorld 2010. It is of course perfectly natural if you're invited to speak at a conference, that you will say nice things about
the host and his business. And what Mårten said was not wrong or untrue in any way. The relevance of this in my July blog post is only with those people who read reports about that talk and then felt that a Robin Hood analogy didn't really correctly reflect their feelings about MySQL and what they wanted to do - and my post then goes on to argue how those people need to find their own voice. While this is the context for that sentence, it is important to stress there was nothing wrong as such in presenting such a Robin Hood analogy at OpenWorld, and more to the point there isn't an ounce of dishonesty in such an analogy.

Mårten: I'd like to apologize for insinuating that you had ever been dishonest.

Also, while this blog post is based on recent correspondence with Mårten, this seems like a good moment to pause and say that I also didn't mean to insinuate that either Zack or Kaj have been dishonest in the things I mention under this section title. All in all what they wrote are fairly minor issues whichever way you look at it - I've certainly written publicly much worse things many times over. And certainly - whatever other small faults they may have included - it's not even remotely true that those writings represent dishonesty in any way.

Zack and Kaj: I'd like to extend to you the same apology about questioning your honesty.

I wrote: "The letter is then seen as mostly, or among other things, arguing that MySQL didn't compete with Oracle."

It seems I fell here into the same trap as Mårten before me: I was very careful not to write that I believe Mårten said that MySQL didn't compete with Oracle - because I paid very close attention and he never said that - I just state a fact that this is what many people thought. On the other hand, the casual reader may have thought that is what I claim here (especially if they already believe that to be true from before).

Mårten: I'd like to apologize for being careless and allowing the same misunderstanding - which I always knew was a misunderstanding - to propagate also through my blogging.

I wrote: "MySQL employees whom for half a year have been unable to say what they think can't take this anymore so someone then publishes on Wikileaks an internal slideset called "Project Peter" laying out the strategy by Mårten and his team for, you guessed it, compete with Oracle."

The next sentence is equally carefully constructed: If you follow the link to the Wikileaks article you'll see that this is a summary of the commentary provided with the leak. On the other hand, if we build on the misunderstanding already made in the previous sentence, then here you see me "present proof" that Mårten was lying.

Mårten: I'd like to apologize for juxtaposing events and arranging my words to make it appear that you are a liar.

I wrote: "just generally helping Oracle with the process"

This may feel like a minor thing amidst all this, I mean as far as I could see Mårten's contribution was in any case of great help to Oracle. But Mårten pointed out that apart from the publicly known events of writing an open letter and appearing twice in Brussels as a witness, there was no other activity and no other help from him to Oracle. I have no reason to doubt this. His involvement came at a time Oracle was also engaging some other people to join their team, and due to that coincidence in timing or for whatever reason I assumed also Mårten was part of that process.

Mårten: I'd like to apologize for saying something that wasn't true, whatever other stupid things I may have done, that is something I really didn't want to do.

I wrote: "These are the charismatic executives of MySQL AB we were supposed to trust and respect. If this was a family, no wonder the kids grew up all messed up..."

Like the section title, this last paragraph is again a return to the joke of analyzing a dysfunctional family. The insinuation that these executives are dishonest and cannot be trusted is plain wrong.

Mårten: I need to repeat the apology I started with.

When writing the above apologies, I couldn't help but ask myself: Why did I then allow myself to write such problematic sentences? Why didn't I put more effort into formulating sentences in a way that didn't include so much risk for misunderstandings and hurt feelings?

The thing is, the blog post actually does contain criticism. It contains criticism about the current state of the MySQL community and how we got to that state. And that criticism is carefully worded, softened and anonymized because I wanted to highlight an issue and avoid attacking any specific persons. Persons still active in the MySQL community, whom I continue to work with. But for these three persons who are not at all the main point of the post, I didn't excercise such care - I handled them mostly as historical figures and with different standards than how I acted towards people still active in the MySQL community. So...

Mårten: I'd like to apologize that I had stopped caring about you and what you might think.

Writing these apologies also brought back many personal memories from 2009. The great thing about being a Sales Engineer at MySQL and Sun was that I got paid for working full time with helping customers switch from a proprietary database to an open source database. I enjoyed it and couldn't have thought of a better job. I'd like to think I was pretty good at it, even. When the Oracle acquisition was announced, all of those migration projects were canceled across the board. It was frustrating, a few of them were just weeks from signing the deal. (I only later realized how much money we lost in sales bonuses, that was never the main driver for me...) So it became my mission to make sure that one day MySQL could return to conquering that space. And there were others who felt the same way, but for myself I then got an opportunity to actually resign Sun and work on that mission more effectively from the outside.

When the first phase of the EU investigation into the merger began, we participated and perhaps made some good points even, but I didn't expect much from it. But then the EU announced they would open the so called second phase, a deeper investigation specifically into MySQL. Experts in EU merger regulation told us that there was now a 50% chance that Oracle would have to spin off MySQL (..."divest", as they called it) and an additional 3% chance the whole merger would be blocked. This was at a time when both Drizzle and MariaDB were still far away from a GA release, and Percona Server was yet to be announced. To me those sounded like pretty good odds for "saving MySQL", so after that I became very engaged in the process. It wasn't the end of the world when those scenarios didn't come true, but of course it was disappointing once you actually had spent some energy on it.

As much as I admired your actions in the process, I'm sure a small part of me was also frustrated for us being on opposite sides. (And particularly with you, as your argument actually was quite good!) As much as I've always tried to be careful not to accuse you of anything that wasn't true, I'm sure a small part of me got satisfaction from knowing how people would misunderstand what was written and see you as a bad person. I'd also like to apologize for that.

Finally, I'd like to thank you for the correspondence leading up to this blog post. When I worked for you at MySQL and Sun, you would sometimes engage in a private email conversation with me, about business models, open source community, MySQL history, whatever... I always felt very privileged that you'd spend time on such conversations, after all I was quite far down from you in the chain of command. There are not many people that are as intelligent as you are - at least amongst the people that would have a conversation with me - which is why I really enjoy such conversations. So I want you to know how much I again appreciate the openness and trust you've showed towards me in our conversation this past week, never mind the time spent which is a valuable resource in itself.

With lots of respect

(This post has been pre-read by Mårten Mickos.)

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Baron Schwartz's picture

Thanks Henrik

I've always held you in the highest esteem, but it just got higher.

I would like to say that when I read your original blog post, I did not leave your website with the negative feelings you've feared. Whatever mistakes you made when writing it, the bulk of the material canceled out and left me with positive impressions. I understand Mårten's concerns on a close reading, but perhaps my experience is a reassurance to both of you that a close reading of your post ends with no harm done.

Mårten Mickos's picture

appreciate it


Thank you for your posting. I appreciate it very much. I am glad for the corrections, and to the degree an apology was called for, I accept it.

More importantly, thanks for an open and honest discussion. It's great to see that the MySQL community, with its new and old players, is as vibrant as ever. I look forward to more discussions - on the core principles of open source and on other interesting topics.

And thanks for maintaining a great blog!


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Kaj Arnö's picture



Thanks for yourself "doing the right thing" towards Mårten. It certainly feels good to hear that you've had an exchange of thoughts behind the scenes, and your public apology to Mårten (as well as his acceptance thereof) seems to me a worthy outcome of that interaction.

And while I deservedly play a lesser part in your blog entry, I certainly accept your apology towards me as well. We didn't trade emails after your July blog that implied my blog entries when I first announced my retirement from Oracle [1], then immediately afterwards my joining SkySQL [2] a year ago weren't entirely truthful. I hope and believe it's our many earlier discussions that lead up to your "extending the same apology about questioning my honesty" towards me as towards Mårten.

I think it's no coincidence that many of the best discussions on ethics and integrity I've had, have been with Mårten or you. Thanks for living and spreading the values of openness and honesty!



hingo's picture

Thanks Kaj

Hi Kaj

Thanks for checking in here! Yes, so while the background to this blog is an email exchange with Mårten, and it is long enough as it is, it was obvious that extending a short apology to the other two persons named by name was the right thing to do too.

As you mention, in your case I of course knew very well about your original plans of taking a long leave and work on your summer house and running and whatever, because I remember well you sharing those dreams in your sauna. So like I share here, the background to mentioning you in the July blog post wasn't a personal opinion of mine, rather just one of a list of unhappy comments I've heard from others. Which is an understandable comment from anyone who had just read your blog posts without the benefit of personal conversations.

This angle of how the three of you came to be mentioned by name - the "sampling method" - was perhaps not entirely clear in the original post, clearly something I could have given more thought to.

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