culture

On July 19, 1999, I started at Red Hat


Ten years ago today, I showed up for my first day of work at Red Hat.

redhatoutside

A pretty typical view from the Red Hat global HQ circa 1999. this picture appeared in Linux Magazine.

The office was an ugly one-story building in the back of an office park in Durham, NC, a far cry from the monstrous IBM campus I had just left. No longer would I be walking 10 minutes through a parking lot to get to my car, instead we were only a few steps from the front door, which was kind of a big deal for me at the time.

I was 27 years old, and ready to change the world.

At the time, this building was both the only office and the global headquarters for Red Hat, although this would change quickly as we opened offices in Asia and Europe over the next few months. There were about 125 or so people working for the whole company. In the marketing group that I joined, I think there were eight of us, and my first boss was Red Hat employee #1, Lisa Sullivan, who now runs two independent bookstores in Vermont. She had started working for Bob Young in Connecticut, before he joined up with Marc Ewing and moved the company down to North Carolina.

At the time, Marc Ewing and Bob Young still roamed the halls, in fact, Marc sat just a few cubes over from me next to Bascha Harris, who still works with me at Red Hat today. Marc tended to leave his empty drink cans stacked on his desk for weeks, so sometime swarms of fruit flies would descend on my desk after gorging on his leftovers. I’m not sure Marc even knew who I was. To Red Hat folks, I was just another guy coming in from a big company, itching to ruin everything.

The interview process was tough. I distinctly remember being interviewed over the phone by Matthew Szulik. He was Red Hat’s president at the time, and had only been with the company about a year. I still remember him asking me one of his famous interview questions, something like “How will you know if your life has been successful?” I have no idea how I answered that, but I’d really like to hear my answer now.

Within a few months of my start date, Red Hat became a publicly-traded company, and that’s when the craziness really began. On the first day, the stock closed over $50 a share, and it would go higher. The culture changed overnight. Matthew Szulik became the CEO and President, Bob and Marc began to take less active roles in the company, and after a few tough years spent surviving the Internet bubble, we became the successful technology company you see today.

redhatfrontdesk

The front desk in 1999, also from Linux Magazine.

I have a lot of memories of Red Hat in the early days. Platooning in left field for the Red Hat softball team in games against the dreaded Durham bus drivers. My first attempts to give Shadowman a voice and personality through an “Ask Shadowman” column, and the angry reaction of the engineering team (“stop trying to personify Shadowman!”). Convincing Jonathan Opp, Red Hat poet extraordinaire, to join the company after he had already turned us down once. Getting in over my head in my first memo-list flame war. Heather Vacek’s cursing jar, where you’d have to drop in money every time you slipped up. Playing basketball with Matthew Szulik in the parking lot, him talking smack and backing it up (he’s about 6’6″).

I could go on, but then I’d be boring you. If any of you early Red Hat folks read this, and want to add your memories, I’d love to see them.

Next week, Red Hat will join the S&P 500. That’s a long way from the company I drove up to on July 19, 1999. Thanks Red Hat, for 10 amazing years.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “On July 19, 1999, I started at Red Hat

  1. I remember the stock ticker in the break room, the ice cream socials, and the great parties. Especially the party we had at centennial campus before we even knew we were moving there.

    Posted by Samir Kothari | July 19, 2009, 10:11 pm
  2. The party with the crazy angels guiding us in busses? And the ice bars? And the crazy lady singing? I remember something like that.

    My first day was the day that RH moved into that building. I think it was Feb 1 of ’99 or so. I liked that building – long and flat – one floor made it a single team. You never had stairs separating teams.

    Posted by Christopher Blizzard | July 19, 2009, 11:03 pm
  3. Those were the good times. Parties were always great when Nikki Bass was involved. Other Red Hat memories that would last forever:

    -Manoj’s April Fool’s email on memo-list and the reaction of one unnamed staff member
    -Execs dressed as drag queens and fruits
    -First ever head shaving of Matthew Szulik (I can’t seem to remember the bet)
    -All on one day in May 1999: Simultaneous go-live date of Oracle ERP after a world-record implementation period of 23 days, automated web-ordering system, JVC’s ERP launch date, and the launch of RH 6.0. I can still picture the aftermath…
    =Marc’s pre-IPO and post-IPO Porsches

    And of course:
    The outrageous claim that we would no longer focus on the retail box set, our bread and butter, our ‘heroin addiction.’ The new ‘model’ was to monetize redhat.com.

    Posted by Sandeep | January 18, 2010, 10:26 am

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