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


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