Since Sunday afternoon, I’ve been in a whirlwind of meetings, discussions, and calls about IBM’s plan to acquire Red Hat for $34 billion. My mind has been racing but, after some consideration, I’ve decided to share my thoughts as a narrative timeline. Trust me when say that I have given this format considerable thought. It is likely the safest way (regulatory-wise) to deliver my thoughts on the topic.
I would like to point out that I have updated my disclaimer and this site’s terms. My views do not reflect those of my employer or entities I’m affiliated with. Names are withheld for obvious reasons.
“At least it wasn’t Oracle”
On Sunday, October 29, 2018, I was watching my two older nephews play with Max at my youngest nephew’s baptism party when a Bloomberg alert popped up. My phone was on a coffee table, while I could make out that the alert was Bloomberg I couldn’t read what it said. “Bloomberg? On a Sunday? Huh.” I thought to myself. Picking up the phone I immediately notice it says something about Red Hat. I see the headline, IBM to Acquire Linux Distributor Red Hat for $33.4 Billion.
I opened the story, skimmed it, and got up to go find my wife, Julie. I show her the story. Julie knows IBM from living in Raleigh for a decade (not a good decade for IBM either). I don’t recall exactly what she said or did but, it made me start looking for more information. While opening Inoreader an alert from Reuters came in, IBM nears deal to acquire cyber security company Red Hat: sources.
I opened Gmail so I could see what Red Hat’s stream of consciousness (aka memo-list) is saying; it was calm (only four e-mails, some wondering if it’s a hoax). Then Business Insider broke their story, IT’S OFFICIAL: IBM is acquiring software company Red Hat for $34 billion.
It was an odd feeling. Like, maybe I could have said something knowing it wouldn’t have mattered. It was a sensation of not even getting a chance to do something. In the span of 24 minutes, I went from having a pretty great day to having what was akin to a panic attack.
“I have to get home,” I thought to myself. I made a hasty goodbye to the family and walk out the door. I sent the IBM press release to my boss to make sure she knew. I didn’t know why I was driving home but, home was also the office and it felt like the right thing to do. If push came to shove I could get people up to speed as they popped up online.
The drive home was filled with nausea and worry. “I should get home and go straight down to the office and login,” I think to myself. My boss texts back, “Holy Shit!” I get home to a lot of notifications. My boss and I go back and forth for a minute vis text as I’m walking inside. But, there wasn’t much to be done. I took some anxiety meds and laid face down for a little bit on my bed.
A friend at Red Hat texts me asking if I’d seen the news. I responded back that I had and wasn’t feeling too great about it. You have to understand my experience with IBM. In 2015, I worked for a few weeks at a healthcare company that was a $1 billion dollar IBM acquisition. It was a total dumpster fire and IBM knew it. But, Watson Health was the future of IBM, a friend elsewhere in IBM had told me. Long story short, I saw a ton of cracks in the business that was bought for a ridiculous sum of money. I had to make a decision real quick and got out of Dodge. Earlier this year, IBM’s Watson Health had huge layoffs and I felt very justified in my decision. My rash decision making might have hurt my career a little. But, I dodged a huge bullet in my first run in as an almost IBM employee. At the end of the brief discussion with my friend, he said, “At least it wasn’t Oracle.” My response, “Yes… I really would have driven off the road then.”
Monday Morning Quarterbacking
“In 2018, dreams don’t die slowly and fade away into nothing. They’re nuked from orbit.” —Chris Short to a friend
memo-list was a dumpster fire. I stopped looking at it altogether overnight. Monday morning brought a slew of meeting and all-hands calendar invites. A friend who went through a gnarly acquisition at NetApp calls. But, his Monday morning quarterbacking was pretty accurate. He gives some sage advice that calms my nerves but doesn’t completely put me at ease. It was a start to calming down so I’m incredibly thankful for that.
The Jim Whitehurst-Ginni Rometty all-hands was critically important for both Jim and Ginni to nail in front of the world. Their CNBC Squawk Box spot was decent but who knew how an auditorium full of Red Hatters would respond.
Jim walks out in his familiar jeans and crisp, white button down. Ginni walks out in purple. Turns out that later on in the presentation Arvind Krishna, IBM’s SVP of Hybrid Cloud and Director of Research, said he was wearing purple to show cohesion because red and blue make purple. Ginni said she didn’t even realize she had done it (but was sure to point it out on CNBC’s Mad Money that night). It was a very human moment.
The all-hands itself was good. Ginni donning a red fedora was a very nice touch. Also, whichever Red Hatter wrote “fuck you” to Jim in the chat during the global all-hands, I’m beyond disappointed in you. I pretty much had to close Twitter and avoid memo-list after the event. There was a lot of data and opinion to sort out. A snarky text comes in from a friend afterward, “Never thought I’d see the day Chris Short worked for IBM.” I muted notifications for a while too.
My next all-hands was with my business unit leadership. They were very open, honest, and a smidge too excited. Long-time Red Hatters probably have a lot of stock that’s going to vest at a nice premium (even after the acquisition news triggered a 50+ point bump). For those of us still reeling from the news itself and what the future may hold I decided to write an e-mail the BU’s leadership.
Thank you for taking the time today to talk and answer our questions. I asked flat out what my number one concern was for Red Hat and that is its people. I know that there is a large chunk of Red Hat, myself included, getting e-mails, phone calls, DMs, etc. this morning. Some of these are congratulatory, more are condolences, and others are flat out, “Are you going to be okay?”
The metrics alone show this is a monumental event that could be life-changing. I’m already feeling myself become less open as a result. Contra to Red Hat policies, I am self censoring more so than I have through other acquisitions because this is IBM. I’m sharing press and stories but, I’m not commenting, at all, where normally I would. I have thoughts and opinions on the topic and I’m hesitant to discuss them as I don’t know what IBM’s reaction will be.
Please keep in mind, IBM has been building, for a decade or more, negative thoughts in peoples minds. Their own actions have affected friends and family negatively. I know companies exist to deliver value to investors. But, we live in a very different world. Red Hat was this shining beacon of hope for people. Peoples’ hopes and dreams are on uncertain footing now.
Some of us now have this fear of an IBM blue washing of Red Hat. Google has shown for years that, psychological safety is important to effective teams (https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/). Being as psychologically safe at a company as I am at Red Hat has never happened to me before. It has been liberating. I don’t feel safe being as open as I was last week and this is the first twelve hours. Please help folks try to feel safe through this acquisition.
Last week, I told a friend I finally found a place to call home in Red Hat. That friend is now trying to recruit me away from Red Hat. As I’m sure you’re painfully aware, the industry moves way faster than this acquisition ever will. Please keep that in mind
Thank you for your time and leadership.
This e-mail captures the reality of Monday. Yes, my natural instinct to self-censor was working overtime. That was likely more legalities, fear, and doubt fueling that anxiety. It was an emotional and raw morning. A lot of folks around Red Hat were fielding calls on Sunday evening to jump ship. I know what it’s like when people are trying to lure you away. It’s easy to be lured away from uncertainty (we are humans after all).
The day was pretty much derailed at that point. There wasn’t much me or many others could do but respond to calls from folks, deflect recruiters, and side-eye the bejesus out of memo-list.
Reaching Across Divides
I had taken the mind overnight that the messaging seems to indicate that nothing earth-shattering was going to change for a while. Tuesday started off answering some DMs, texts, and e-mails. I mention this because of the time it takes to proofread every response. My modus operandi is open. Suddenly a restriction is put in place and it made me hyper-aware of what I was writing. It might have been unnecessary but, some messages were prying and others weren’t. Never too careful.
During a Marketing all-hands things seemed to quiet down a little. Then a funny thing started happening. IBMers started reaching out. They shared what their life at IBM was like. So I started reaching out to some IBMers I know. We all started talking. I spoke with one IBMer working from their home office in Virginia. One person spoke of a co-worker getting ordained to officiate a wedding of another IBMer. There were no folks reaching out from IBM saying, “Psst. Hey, man. RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! GO GET HELP!”
This spurred me to reach further out to see what other folks thought. I was reading journalist and analyst opinions but, I wasn’t reaching out to other tech folks to see what they would do or what they thought. One Googler remarked it wasn’t a great time to be at any big tech company. Microsoft is playing JEDI, Google is getting walked out on, Facebook ruined democracy somehow, Amazon doesn’t treat its workers well… The list went on and on. If you’re not in turmoil and you’re at a tech company consider yourself lucky. Of all the situations the IBM/Red Hat situation was the best one to be in.
Wednesday War Planning
“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” —Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
By the time Wednesday rolled around my anxiety was gone. The plan was to sit tight, ride things through the acquisition, and try to turn IBM into the next Microsoft. On Sunday, when I announced to the family my company was being bought by IBM the looks on folks faces were different based on generation. The older the person, the happier they looked. I know my grandfather would be so happy to hear this news too. I think IBM wants to truly turn things around and fast. Microsoft Has Come a Long Way after all in becoming a place people want to work.
But, I need a way to figure out if there are canaries in the proverbial coal mine that will indicate to me it’s time to dust off the ole resume. Here are some scenarios that would be a red flag for me:
- Jim Whitehurst or Paul Cormier moving to anywhere but the IBM C-suite within twelve months of the acquisition closing
- A re-org of Red Hat within twelve months of the acquisition closing
- If IBM’s Open Source Participation Guidelines are not conducive to Red Hat’s way of business (especially if it somehow gets in my way somehow)
- A handful of people (whom I will not name) leave between six months prior to or up to six months after the acquisition closing
I also need to start figuring out what I want to be doing, day to day, in two years (y’all… I’ve been winging it since 2011). Indeed, I needed to figure out what I wanted to accomplish in 2019. This makes that exercise a little more urgent. It also needs to include a potential job move in early 2020. I hope it doesn’t. I hope this is as good as it can be for IBM and Red Hat in their entireties.
In the short term (six to eighteen months), I’m likely not going anywhere. There are always two or three companies that, if came calling, I’d probably leave Red Hat before that. Red Hat is awesome and is still my dream company to work for. IBM has some incredibly smart people in the company like Red Hat does. It makes sense to stick around and work with a few of them if IBM does what they say they’re going to do.
A huge thanks to all the wonderful people I’ve talked to this week. You’ve made a jarring change easier for me to manage mentally. I am forever grateful.
Make no mistake, this is a historic moment. Whether it’s the beginning or the end of a history is the big question.