WSO2 10 Years: We are Only As Strong as the Confidence of our People

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Many folks who’ve been around at WSO2 since its inception have great tales to tell, ranging from their first impressions, long hours spent before a product release, the many challenges faced, and funny stories behind the scenes. However, one thing is clear – WSO2 has inspired each of them in many ways and challenged them enough to be able to outperform and make great strides in their careers.

Recruitment for any startup is hard, especially if you don’t have a fancy office and no great success stories to share with potential employees. Back then too, all we had to convince people to join us was the confidence we had that this business will scale and a promise to inspire, challenge, and motivate them every day.

It was perhaps a Shifu-Po situation like in Kung Fu Panda where an empty scroll (supposedly sacred and powerful) is handed over – all there is in the end is confidence and ability to believe in what you do and do it with great confidence.
“I joined WSO2 in late 2005, a few months after its inception. I still remember the moment I walked in for the interview. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I’d want to work at WSO2 as it was a very small office with less than 20 employees. All that changed when I had my ‘interview’ with Sanjiva. In fact, it was more of a friendly chat. What keeps me motivated to date is the unique culture and the pioneering work we do. Over the years, I have learnt something new everyday! Looking back I’m happy that I decided to join this company.” – Afkham Azeez – Director, Architecture

“I cherish the opportunities I’ve got while working at WSO2 – Isamisa was around when the first secured messages were sent with a C Web service engine; I was also there when PHP was used to write completely secure Web services and clients. I still remember the day the first reliable message sequence was passed between a PHP client and a service. They were all first-ever moments and all of these were witnessed within the first two years of my WSO2 life. At that time, I did not know, or imagine, that the best was yet to come. With WSO2 Carbon, we redefined the middleware space … and I was fortunate to be part of that team. More than technical skills, it is people skills that I’ve developed. While it is a luxury to play a leadership role in one of the most smart teams in the world, it is also one of the most challenging jobs. The exciting part is that life is always full of challenges – you always have an opportunity to invent something new. And that is one of two key reasons that motivates me every morning to work for WSO2.”– Samisa Abeysinghe – Vice President, Delivery

So, is there a secret ingredient to success? Like Mr. Ping tells Po, it’s nothing! Many would say it’s the open culture, environment, and opportunity WSO2 has given them to brainstorm, throw in ideas, try things out, make mistakes and learn from them, and eventually be able to move forward with the best decisions – that’s how we’ve been able to innovate and thrive. And great ideas can come from anyone, whether you’re an intern, a senior person, or a clumsy ‘Po’ in the company, hence everyone’s ideas are equally important.

Senaka“My career at WSO2 began as an Intern of the C team in September 2007. Within the first year of employment, I was able to contribute to two major product releases and also earn membership at the Apache Software Foundation. WSO2 has helped me steer my career and enhance my knowledge and offered several other employee benefits to me too. The ability to tailor my work schedule based on various deadlines is one such advantage. I’m proud to a part of such an amazing team.” – Senaka Fernando – Solutions Architect

And sometimes, we take daring to new heights – doing whatever it takes to be where we have to be!

Jonathan“Upon arriving in Colombo for meetings in May 2010, my colleague and I were informed that the road from the airport to Colombo had been closed due to the flooding that had been affecting many parts of the city for several days. I was to appear on a panel at a conference event the next evening, and nobody seemed to know precisely where the problems were or what their scope was, and whether we would be able to make it to the event at all. We booked into an airport hotel for the night.  The next morning the road was still closed to most traffic, but some trucks and larger vehicles were able to wade through. We hired a car to take us to the flooded section, where SanjivaSanjiva Jeep was waiting for us in his oft-teased purple jeep, which made it through the flood zone with water up to doorframes but without major incident. No more would the purple jeep be the butt of jokes after such a heroic performance!” – Jonathan Marsh – Vice President, Strategy

The great lessons learnt possibly by each employee at WSO2 as well as the company as a whole is to not wait until everything is just right, but to move forward with confidence and implement and make the required tweaks as we go along. We’ve learnt that things will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less-than-perfect conditions. But what’s important is to get started now. With each step we’ve taken, we as a company have grown stronger, more skilled, more self-confident, more successful, and today we’re bigger and better.

As Po (or the Dragon Warrior) says “I’m not a big fat panda. I’m THE big fat panda.”

Happy Birthday, WSO2!

WSO2 Ten Years: Conflicts Con-quered! – Tales from the Other Side of WSO2Con (as told by the Crew)

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Ten years in business and (almost) ten WSO2Cons later, you’d think we would have learnt bitter lessons from potential disasters, but we like to play cool – until some disastrous consequence is staring at us right in the face. And it happens in the nick of time too, usually on the eve of the event, a few hours before, or just after kick-off. So, yes, despite the months of planning, Murphy’s Law somehow manages to raise its ugly head and bite us in the rear-end when we least expect it.

Behind all that glamour that our conferences are better known for there definitely are some deep, dark secrets that have been tucked away and only unraveled when we need a good laugh. Most of all, they serve as a reminder that these crazy, unnerving moments have most definitely made our conferences even more memorable and fun for the WSO2 Marketing Team. Here are some of the best ones yet!

Wi (without the Fi) on name tags

wso2con tagsIf you attended this specific conference (and no, we’re not telling you which one it was), we hope you didn’t save your name tag because it had what we term a ‘classic typo’ that’s unforgivable on many levels. How and when did we discover? The night before the conference, the crew, as usual, gathered to painstakingly insert each name tag into the plastic pockets and attach the chords. While chatting over pizzas, one of the crew members was in hysterical laughter and just continued to say “oh gosh, oh gosh, there’s nothing we can do now!” And then it was revealed – the back of each card had the WiFi code written

Wi – <code> (and no Fi). Because we couldn’t fix it, we had a backup plan to counter this major oversight; quickly distract all attendees when they attempt to turn the tag over and shout out the WiFi code, and make sure all attendees wear the tags showing the side with their details and not the other. We’d like to think our counter plan worked well.

Keynote speaker goes missing

Nope there were no abductions or kidnappings, but we were having spasms trying to locate wso2con missing keynotethe next keynote speaker (due to speak right after our opening keynote) who had mysteriously disappeared and wasn’t contactable either. The clock was ticking fast and, as a last resort, and thanks to one of our team member’s ability to combine miming and ballet skills, we were able to non-verbally communicate to Sanjiva (founder, CEO, and chief architect of WSO2 who was on stage delivering the opening keynote) to do whatever he had to do to keep going until we located our next speaker. The missing speaker magically showed up just in time. And no one dared to ask where he was (even though we had assumed at least a dozen reasons for his sudden disappearance), but the show went on.

Sri Lankan devil mask dancer trips on steps of the stage

For those of you who are familiar with Sri Lankan traditions, devil masks are typically used inwso2con dancer many ways to ward off evil. In this instance, however, there was a moment when we feared that the devil himself had dawned on us to ruin the opening act and cast a bad spell over the entire event. While everyone’s eyes were on what we hoped would be an unusual and interesting opening act, the crew was standing at the back with our hands to our hearts and praying that our good luck charms will overshadow this devil’s evil plan. It’s a good thing that opening acts last only about five minutes and the worst was soon behind us; we sent the devil back to where he belongs.

Failed effort to live stream another opening act

wso2con backstageThis was yet another attempt at showcasing ‘papare’ – a very lively genre of music encompassing a type of clarinet and drums, and popular at sports events in Sri Lanka. We weren’t able to find a good opening act in time in London, so we decided to let the famed papare play in Colombo and live stream the music. The last-minute plan would have been fantastic if we had paid a little bit more attention and hooked up the correct microphone to stream the sound too! Instead, there was a deafening silence in the room with video footage of a group of guys playing a bunch of instruments. And that was an epic failure. Sigh!

Fashion faux pas

wso2con talk2We don’t expect tech folks to be fashionistas, but when you have a techie with a not-so-great sense of fashion and feels the need to flaunt, you have a problem. And if this diva is your opening keynote speaker, it’s a much more serious problem. It’s a good thing that the crew can also double as the fashion police and avert a would-have-been major fashion disaster by rejecting and confiscating scary clothing and directing the individual to the nearest clothing store on the eve of the event. Or else the audience is sure to have been distracted by either a weird shade of pink that looks like someone barfed after eating a really bad strawberry mousse or the green goblin was melted in the ocean and splattered all over. Trinny and Susannah would be so proud of us!

Banner arrives after tutorial session

When we look back at this episode, we think of the phrase ‘that ship has sailewso2con bannersd’; however, that’s not what we told the person who had painstakingly wrapped the banner and hand-carried it on a flight all the way to the US from Sri Lanka because the item seemed too fragile to check-in and too important to risk losing (as per our brief to him). Well, what we hadn’t considered was that the extremely cooperative and helpful person was in fact flying in the next day. Was this revealed at the time of reclaiming the goods? Of course not. Who’d want to upset a completely jetlagged individual who needs to catch up on much-needed sleep after travelling halfway around the world. Again, we had an awesome backup plan; we picked our most alluring crew member to stand at the entrance and greet the participants with an inviting smile – better than a boring banner right?

Speaker booked to fly back home before his talk

And if you thought the late arrival of the banner was bad, here’s another episode of packingWSO2Con crowd off a speaker even before he makes an entrance. So, we’d like to blame our awesome travel team for the blooper, but we had to eat humble pie this time and write an apology to the irate speaker and explain the mix up and cancel and rebook him (and incur an additional cost plus a good telling off from the bosses). We’re generally pretty good at giving fantastic reasons and explanations for such screw ups and somewhat soften the blows (we’re the Marketing Team after all); however, we couldn’t spin a good enough story around this one so we bit this bullet and moved on. We also had another incident where the speaker showed up at the airport (for departure) a day after he was supposed to fly out. This was way beyond our borders, and thus beyond our control, but we had to make some quick amends to the agenda to fill the vacant spot.

Possible use case for WSO2 Connected Bathroom Manager

Remember this April Fool’s prank that was suppose to help enterprises implement more effective “swipe before you wipe” bathroom use policies? Well, we now have a great use case to showcase to our engineering folks and convince them that they have the first potential customer in-house! The Marketing Team’s requirement is very simple – alert individual to finish up ‘business’ (and wipe of course) ten minutes before they need to introduce the next speaker in the technical track they’re responsible for. The speaker had to intro himself in the end, but at least an unpleasant emergency at the session was averted. Phew!

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See more on our road to ten years here

WSO2 Ten Years: It Takes Two to Tango!

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Co-founder (and former Chief Technology Officer) Paul Fremantle knows how to party. The word around WSO2 is that Paul literally dominates the dance floor with his swift jive moves, headbanging, and jumping jacks!

WSO2’s success is a testament that the same levels of energy have been put into cracking the whip as CTO for most of the company’s 10 years to create innovative products that are being used by customers the world over.

So when did the dynamic duo get down to business?

After working together for 5 years at IBM, they became friends. In 2004, Sanjiva invited Paul to Sri Lanka to participate in the Lanka Software Foundation workshop on Apache Software. One day, over dinner, they joked about starting to work for themselves, and what followed was a 2-day brainstorming session a few months later in London between Paul, Sanjiva and another partner (who opted out not too long after things started to progress). The plans for project WSO2 were hatched “during a very long lunch at the Nando’s in Putney over some very spicy chicken” reminisces Paul. Thereafter, they rented a room in a cheap hotel inlodge Hotel Putney Putney (The Lodge Hotel) and spent time in a stuffy, windowless basement room planning and discussing WSO2. By December 2004, the building blocks for WSO2 had been visualized. Tragically, later that month, the devastating Asian Tsunami hit Sri Lanka and Sanjiva became involved in relief efforts back home. Plans for WSO2 were put on hold.

By around April 2005, Sanjiva had freed up some of his time to revisit the WSO2 idea and actually set up the framework for the company, while Paul was still doing time at IBM. From there, things progressed swiftly. By July 2005, Paul handed in his resignation  and the final paper work for WSO2 was completed. Although it was a major career decision for him, Paul had no doubts and felt that it was the right time to break away as opportunities like this didn’t present themselves often. Paul explains that he was really keen on the project, but at the time he never expected WSO2 to be where it is today.

Reminiscing their vision for middleware a decade ago

Paul says “it’s like lego.” “In a nutshell, it means you can collect the pieces you want to build what you need and then add anything more you need as you go along. This compares with having to build what you need from scratch every time, which would be the case if you used clay. “In the last 10 years the vision has come to pass; Sanjiva’s long range vision was broader than mine,” he adds.

In February 2015, Paul decided to step down as CTO and concentrate on his research into IoT secure middleware. He’s still an observer on the board though.

In a recent blog Paul says “you often meet people who wish to ensure they are irreplaceable in their jobs, to ensure their job security. I’ve always taken the opposite view: to make sure I am replaceable and so that I can move onto the next chapter in my career. I’ve never thought I was irreplaceable as CTO of WSO2 – I’ve simply tried to make sure I was adding value to the company and our customers. In 2013, I took a sabbatical to start my PhD and I quickly realized that the team were more than ready to fill any gaps I left.”

Paul-dancingLife moves on at WSO2, and hopefully the ‘gaps’ created on that dance floor at company parties due to fears of being pushed off by Paul would be now be filled too!

 

See more on our road to ten years here

WSO2 Ten Years: The Vision and Passion (and Color-Blindness and Pedantism) of its Founder

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It has been established that Founder, CEO, and Chief Architect of WSO2 Sanjiva Weerawarana is most definitely color-blind and is an aggressive perfectionist – now that’s a deadly combination!

Color blind? – Yes, if you can’t tell the difference between green and red, you can’t give feedback on color-related decisions and thus don’t have a vote on such initiatives even if you’re the CEO. But, his insistence on attention to detail in everything keeps everyone on their toes.

Besides some quirky traits, it’s Sanjiva’s vision for the industry and passion to do whatever it takes to get things done that has brought WSO2 a long way from its humble beginnings.

In 1997, he joined IBM in the US taking up work in research. While at IBM, he got involved (he says this happened by chance) in the research and development of XML (Extensible Mark Up language.) Sanjiva himself says that “during these early days of XML, the industry nor I knew exactly where XML would be twenty years down the line.” During his time at IBM he worked with the teams that developed XML, Web Services and service-oriented architecture (SOA). His thoughts on what these products could do were not shared by IBM at that time. Therefore, he decided to pursue his vision for enterprise middleware.

His experiences gained at IBM and the US gave him the inspiration to turn his vision into reality. He was motivated by his ideas for what could be achieved with open source software in the future. At that time, all contributions to open source software were from Europe and the US, and with English being the dominant language in software design and communication there was limited participation from Asia and countries like Sri Lanka. “In 2001, no one from this part of the world dealt in open source software” he says. He adds that working together with the Lanka Software Foundation, it was possible to focus on Sri Lankan expertise and understand the depth of talent available and waiting to be tapped. At the time, the focus was to ensure that talented young people had access to knowledge and information and exposure in the field. Today, Sri Lanka, albeit behind the US and Europe, is one the largest contributors of free open source software (FOSS).

Sajiva’s experience with the Lanka Software Foundation brought with it the realization that his vision for open source software could open doors and create opportunities. Another reason for his journey back home was to use his experience and expertise in a manner that would enhance the brand value of his homeland. He wanted to move away from the perception of Sri Lanka as an ‘outsourced labour market’ and highlight the intellectual wealth within the country and position the country on the global technology map as a manufacturer instead of being a mere solution provider. The idea was to explore commercial possibilities and, in the long term, build expertise.

In almost every speech Sanjiva delivers he quotes Steve Jobs’ ‘the journey is your destination’- the journey for Sanjiva and everyone at WSO2 has indeed been rewarding so far, and there’s miles more to go.

Not everyone is a perfectionist, but what’s significant is the progress made in the past 10 years that’s truly created a global impact.

Read Sanjiva’s blog – WSO2 at 10

 

Ten Years and Flying High!

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Ten years ago, Sanjiva Weerawarana had a problem: he had an idea for a company, but not enough money.

An outsider would have been puzzled. Sanjiva technically didn’t need the money. A student of Royal College, he had moved to the USA for his PhD and started working for IBM in 1997. Technically, he had it made.about-us-sanjiva-paul

But he also had two more things: a massive passion for open source and a vision for a suite of middleware – an easily extensible software platform that let people build distributed applications. He also had stubborn, hard-nosed co-founder, Paul Fremantle, a product developer and author. They’d met over Paul’s book, somewhat creepily titled the ‘XML Files”.

So he quit IBM, setting up the framework for the business in Sri Lanka. Paul, wrapping up his work at IBM, joined shortly after. Some time later, developers began to apply to a new company called Serendib Systems. Behind closed doors, the father of XML, James Clark, said he’d invest, but the name had to change. Soon the founders came up with a new name. It was catchy, very geeky, and it had the wonderful effect of making students, developers and business people all over Sri Lanka scratch their heads in puzzlement.

“WSO2?” they would ask. “What does that even mean?”

Today, on the cusp of its tenth anniversary, WSO2 is a thriving business

Not only has it been in action for a decade; its products run businesses all over the world, connecting massive enterprises and billions of customers on a daily basis. The Sri Lankan company is now involved in everything from the takeoff and landing of Boeing aircraft to the e-Government platforms of European countries. There are table-tennis tables, carom boards, open kitchens and foosball tables in the lobby. The ’20 people in an office’ tagline has become irrelevant; now there’s just under 500 people in six offices, three of them in Sri Lanka. Nobody still knows what the name means.

The name WSO2 comes from (but does not stand for) Web Services (WS) Oxygen (O2). Web services are what created the opportunity for this company to enter and challenge the middleware market. The O, with a pulse in it, is because of how the business model works – it’s about giving support, and life support often involves oxygen (O2).

6_WSO2_First Batch of EmployeesOf course, going from an office with 20 people to a multi-national company with hundreds of employees doesn’t happen overnight. The first employees were largely from the University of Moratuwa; some of them had made their mark at the Lanka Software Foundation, a nonprofit set up by Sanjiva in 2003. The first investors were James Clark, Paul Fremantle’s father and a mystery angel investor. The first product was WSO2 Tungsten; while it had nothing to do with the metal, it had everything to do with building applications on the Internet. Tungsten was followed by WSO2 Titanium, which would later become the famous WSO2 Enterprise Service Bus. Everything was open source – freely downloadable, easily modifiable, and completely contrary to the usual way of doing business in software.

By 2006, they needed more money. The fledgling finance team was ripping its collective hair out keeping things afloat. In May that year, Intel Capital invested 4 million dollars in WSO2, with perfect timing. Red Herring Asia called WSO2 one of the most promising private technology companies in Asia.

1229935_518578608219584_1057915634_nIt’s almost tempting to say ‘and the rest is history’, but history generally records speeches, product reveals and profound statements made on stage; it tends to skip over days of coding and dedicated, passionate teams powering on through the nights. These were felt rather than written about. Challenges arose, were met and overcome. Awards kept coming in.

Gartner, the world’s most prestigious technology analyst firms, dubbed WSO2 a ‘visionary’ (and continues, to this day, to herald WSO2 as such). Developers found much to love in WSO2 software; it was, unlike others, completely open source, available to the community with no restrictions whatsoever.

In 2010, eBay decided to use WSO2 software. The world’s largest online marketplace tested WSO2 against a host of industry behemoths and decided that the Sri Lankan software outperformed everything else. By 2011 it was processing over $2,000 dollars per second and over a billion transactions a day. Today, it’s closer to 6 billion. eBay’s success validated WSO2: these Sri Lankan open source fanatics knew what they were doing. The company had a future.

Ten years later

WSO2’s products now run in a staggeringly diverse set of corporations – from international banks to airlines to automobile manufacturers to the makers of supercomputers. They’ve even become an integral part of the Apache Software Foundation’s open source community, pushing improvements, bug fixes, and updates to communities across the Webglobe. Its competition is the likes of IBM, Oracle and RedHat, all heavyweights in the software industry. Its reach is international: every year, over 1000 trips are made across the world by WSO2 developers, helping global firms implement systems that impact millions of customers.

None of this is easy work. WSO2 succeeds partly due to a powerful, almost schizophrenic focus on the twin pillars of R&D and support. As it was all those years ago, competing with the juggernauts of the field still demands constant innovation and an absolute need to stay ahead of the curve. Along the journey, offices have shifted, headcounts have multiplied, email inboxes have burst, and the name ‘WSO2’ has become synonymous with success. The two products have become 24 interconnecting pieces of middleware. Every year, Fortune 500 companies and analysts look to WSO2 products to solve problems – ranging from creating cloud environments to interconnecting enterprise software that deals with millions of people every day.

As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, one thing’s clear: a bunch of developers from Sri Lanka can take on the world – and win.

It’s been one amazing decade.

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