by Colin Dodd
“The only people for me are the mad ones. The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved. Desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes awwwwww.” — Jack Kerouac
After almost a decade of leading Red Hat, I have decided to transition my CEO and President role for the personal reasons I have already discussed. It’s my privilege to continue serving this great company in the role of Chairman of the Board. Red Hat will be in the capable hands of a world-class executive team under the leadership of Jim Whitehurst as President and CEO.
My first week at Red Hat, freshly hired as a writer in the Brand Communications department, Matthew Szulik passed along to my group a Kurt Vonnegut short story, Harrison Bergeron, as inspiration/fodder for a video we were trying to make. A few days later, it was suggested that Matthew had said in passing that it didn’t have to be a video, it could be a very short one-act play, if that was a better way to tell the story we were trying to tell. That story we had to tell, more or less, was the emergence of open source software as a ubiquitous, robust, mature, sustainable successful technology that had already changed the world and the best was yet to come.
I read the short story and, honestly, being new to Red Hat and “tech writing,” I was utterly and completely baffled. The letters W-T-F? crossed my mind a few times. I wondered if I was being hazed.
But being paid to read and think about Kurt Vonnegut? For my job? Sure, I’ll do that. Thanks, boss.
I spent the next week re-reading Vonnegut, reading up on “the open source movement” and trying to figure out how to write a one-act play, and yes, it seemed odd to me, I admit it. But there was something obviously great about it, too. Maybe it was the blend of being trusted with a difficult, important task, provided with actual intellectual inspiration instead of a pep talk, all the while being ardently encouraged (badgered?) to come up with something completely new. You should always feel that way at work, right?
Shortly after that, Vonnegut passed away, and Matthew eulogized him in a company-wide email. That was also pretty cool. Very cool, actually.
That’s the story I will tell when I tell people about Matthew Szulik.
Thanks to Wikiquote, I found another Kerouac quote I half remembered from 20 years ago that seems fitting tonight.
What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? -it’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.