First of all, thank you to everyone who nominated me, voted for me, and to those of you who shared kind words with me and congratulated me. It’s humbling to have been awarded one of the “MySQL Community Contributor of the Year” awards for 2013. Many people have asked or wondered without asking why I do what I do, and how I got here. Given the occasion, I thought I would share some thoughts on that.
Early days as a user in web development
I started working with MySQL (and before that, mSQL) back in 1998 while working with a web development company. MySQL worked quite well (and I pretty quickly forgot about mSQL), and I started to learn more and more about it. As many new users at the time, I hit a few bugs or quirks, and poked at the code from time to time to understand what was going on. I continued just being a user of MySQL into 1999, and started to build more and more complex applications.
A first bug report
In October 1999, I encountered a crashing bug (a floating point exception which wasn’t caught) with SELECT FLOOR(POW(2,63)) on MySQL 3.22 and FreeBSD 3.3, and I made my first MySQL bug report by emailing the mailing list. After a short discussion with Sinisa Milivojevic and Monty Widenius, Monty agreed to fix the bug. Of course I watched with bright eyes, I read the code for the fix, and I worked to understand it.
The mailing list and IRC drew me in
I was hooked. I found an actual problem, as a 17 year old hacker sitting in Kansas, and I worked with these nice folks who I’ve never met, halfway around the world in Cyprus and Finland, and they agreed to do work for me to fix it, and they didn’t even complain. They were genuinely happy to help me.
I joined the mailing list to report that bug, but I stayed subscribed to it and read every mail. I browsed the archives and learned how the (tiny) community worked at the time. I joined the #mysql IRC channel on EFnet and started listening there as well.
Helping out on the mailing list and on IRC
While lurking on the mailing list and on IRC, I quickly realized that there were a lot of people with problems and questions that I could help out with. I knew some of the answers! I answered things where I knew the answer, and I worked to answer questions that I didn’t know. Through experimentation and reading the MySQL documentation and source code to solve other people’s problems, I learned an amazing amount.
Improving the documentation
In the process of doing web development work, and of helping out answering other people’s questions, I found that the MySQL manual was moderately technically complete, but very messy, sometimes buggy, and strangely worded. I poked around until I could figure out how the manual itself worked. I learned about this weird Texinfo format it was written in. Once I got things to build, I undertook an initial editing of the MySQL manual by reading through the entire Texinfo file, fixing typos and rewording things. I checked examples in the manual against an actual server and cleaned up broken examples and incomplete documentation.
Hey, this is more fun than my real job
I was then working at a web development company in Nashville, and realized that I wasn’t very happy doing that work. At the same time, the company started to melt down, and I began interviewing elsewhere. I spent more and more time doing work on MySQL (sometimes instead of work I should’ve been doing). Contributing to MySQL and working with the MySQL community made me much happier than any other work I had done so far.
Monty??? Hire me!
I don’t actually remember how I initially contacted Monty about this (although he probably still has the email archives), but he and I exchanged emails. He offered that I should come to an upcoming developer meeting in Monterey, California in July of 2000, coinciding with OSCON 2000. I jumped at the chance. I mentioned the invitation to Indrek Siitan on IRC, and he invited me to join a planned road trip to Monterey with some of the earliest MySQL employees: himself, Matt Wagner, and Tim Smith.
No interstates, no hotels, nothing but love
Although I wasn’t an employee yet, and had never met any of them in person, Matt Wagner drove from Minnesota and Tim Smith drove from North Carolina to my house in Tennessee. We piled in Matt’s pickup truck and drove from there down to Louisiana to pick up Indrek. The four of us drove in two cars from New Orleans to Monterey for about 10 days, with a plan to use no interstates—only highways—and camp each night.
I was an almost completely broke and unemployed kid, and they paid for almost everything and took me along—as a friend—across the entire country. I got to know my first few MySQL employees through those many hours in the car talking about life, technology, MySQL, and anything that came up. We had a lot of fun and they showed literally nothing but love. We all became fast friends and they accepted me without hesitation. This became my canonical example of the MySQL community, and still is, even to this day.
Meeting the team
We arrived in Monterey and I (a random non-employee) got to sit in all of the internal company meetings and technical discussions. I got to have a say in how MySQL was being made, and I got to argue with the very creators of MySQL. They not only listened, but respected me and valued my opinion. I mostly just listened through these meetings and got to know everyone, but this was an amazing experience.
At some point later in the meeting, Monty and I met, and he offered me a job at MySQL. I accepted it without hesitation and jumped into my official MySQL career head-first. My first paycheck was wired directly from Monty’s personal bank account in Finland, because there was some trouble setting up payroll for me, and Monty was concerned about making sure I got paid quickly.
Documenting MySQL, and a foray into Swedish and Swenglish
My first tasks were all about making the MySQL documentation better. I made several complete passes through the manual, reading and correcting it. I did some fairly major restructuring of the order of the sections, and normalized the structure as much as possible. (I also got quite good at reading Texinfo documents unformatted and visualizing the formatting.)
I started studying Swedish in order to understand all of the source code comments, variable and function names, and the Swedish error messages. I translated many of these remnants of Swedish and Swenglish as some of my first contributions to the actual codebase, and I did a lot of other easy formatting and fixing work while learning how the code worked. I figured out where all the functions and syntax were defined in order to make sure all elements of the syntax were documented.
A new life as a MySQLer
While at MySQL, I initially worked on documentation and helped out with support, and when customers needed help in person, I flew around and consulted with them. Kaj Arnö’s company Polycon’s training group was acquired by MySQL, and I started helping out with that training. They needed someone to teach training classes, so I started doing that too, eventually managing the whole group.
Ever present in the MySQL world
Since then I have had the opportunity to be a part of a lot of amazing things, and have made sure that every new opportunity and every new job undertaken gives me ample opportunity and motivation to continue being part of the MySQL community. Why? It’s just a part of who I am. I have some gifts for communication, making dense material understandable, understanding the needs of database users, and building scalable and manageable database systems. I want to share with others and give back to the community to give them the same or better opportunities as I was given.
Thanks to you all
Where I am in the MySQL community, and where I am in my life and career would not be possible without amazing examples given to me by a bunch of amazing people. There’s not any one mentor who was my sole example, but rather a community of dozens of individuals, each of whom I admire and have aspired to learn various things from. I’d like to offer special thanks and acknowledgement to the following folks though:
- Monty Widenius — Of course, Monty was the father of it all, but he has also acted as a father to me personally, taken care of me, and invited me into his home and his family. He has a huge heart and is both a personal and technical mentor to me.
- Matt Wagner, Indrek Siitan, and Tim Smith — Matt, Indrek, and Tim offered a great example of how a team can be a family, and welcomed me into the community, into their lives, and into the company in an amazing fashion. In addition, they were also great technical mentors and taught me a lot about MySQL.
- Sinisa Milivojevic, Sasha Pachev, Jani Tolonen, Miguel Solórzano, Tõnu Samuel, Sergei Golubchik, Paul DuBois, Kaj Arnö, Arjen Lentz, Mårten Mickos, Carsten Pedersen, Zak Greant, David Axmark, Brian Aker — These folks are a mix of developers, executives, peers and community, of all backgrounds and experiences. One thing they all have in common is that they helped me to learn what it takes to build software, to run a company, and to be a community. While we haven’t always gotten along or agreed on everything, I have always respected every one of them and keep track of as many of them as I can.
- Countless others in the community — Others on the mailing lists and IRC, customers, partners, and peers. Thanks for all being here and being awesome!
On the award
In Henrik Ingo’s words:
Several people nominated Jeremy and indeed he has a long history with MySQL, pretty much back to the first release.
For example, people mentioned Jeremy’s insights shared on his blog, on issues such as Linux NUMA memory management. His recent work on innodb_ruby has been widely appreciated both for it’s educational value and perhaps even some potential usefullness.
Most of us will have used the SHOW PROFILE(S) commands created by Jeremy – and for a long time this was the only community contribution that actually made it into MySQL Server!
His consulting company Proven Scaling used to mirror the MySQL Enterprise binaries that were GPL but not otherwise publicly available. This grew into a historical archive of (almost) all MySQL binaries ever released. Related to his issues with the MySQL Enterprise process, and poor handling of community contributions, Proven Scaling was actually the first company to create a community fork of MySQL known as Dorsal Source.
You might also remember in 2008 Jeremy took a public stand against MySQL’s plans to offer new backup functionality only as closed source. This resulted in public outcry on Slashdot and elsewhere, and Sun eventually commanded MySQL executives to give up on those plans.
So any way we look at it, over the years he has really contributed a lot and always had the interests of the MySQL Community close to his heart.
I look forward to continuing to contribute my efforts and my skills to MySQL, and always making my work available to the community. There’s a lot of work left to do, and I hope my efforts in that will be useful to many.