Today I am retiring from NetApp. It sounds so abrupt, written out like that, but it is a gradual transition. I have been cutting back my NetApp time for the last couple of years, and especially the past few months, and I won’t suddenly disappear.
I think of NetApp as my child. In any parent’s life, there comes a time when you are proud of your kid, you love your kid—but you don’t want to see them every day! If you’ve done a good job as a parent, they will do well on their own. Of course, few parents abandon their children, so George and I have created the role of Founder Emeritus. It’s modeled after Professor Emeritus: I don’t get paid, but I get to keep my email address and eat at the company cafeteria. (In theory, I could also use the gym. In theory.) Also, I have a non-disclosure agreement so people I meet can speak freely. Open communication is one sign of a good relationship between a parent and a twenty-something child. Don’t be surprised to bump into me at lunch or at an all-hands meeting.
People keep asking what I plan to do. The best answer is to describe some of my projects in the past few years as I began pulling away from NetApp. There are lots, but here are three of my favorites:
I’ve always loved ancient civilizations. A recent Science article described the results of a project that the Hitz Foundation funded to do LIDAR scans in the Guatemalan jungle. We discovered 60,000 new Mayan buildings and learned that there were millions more pre-Columbian people living in the region than anyone previously knew—maybe 10 or 15 million.
Deep Springs College is the crazy cattle ranch school that inspired the title of my book, How to Castrate a Bull. It started as an all-male school in 1917, and it remained all-male for 100 years. I lead a six-year legal battle, which eventually reached the California Supreme Court, to allow women. In 2018 the college accepted its first coeducational class.
And finally, I started the Play On! project to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into performable contemporary English. So far we’ve had theatrical productions of almost ten plays, and my fantasy is to see all thirty-nine. This is my most controversial project. The New York Times described it as a “waste of money and talent.” The Wall Street Journal supported the effort but implied that the originals are so old and incomprehensible that they should be retired. Not my intent! The New Yorker magazine was more nuanced.
I don’t have precise plans for the future, but I expect to continue these projects and more.
At times like this, one reflects on the past. At NetApp’s ten-year-anniversary, I thought that WAFL was my proudest achievement. I am amazed how well the core ideas have adapted over the years, from a single six GB volume to the monster systems that we have now, and even running in the cloud.
Today, it is NetApp itself that makes me most proud. Few tech companies make it to ten years, never mind twenty or thirty. One thing I especially love is how the size of our ambition has grown. When we started NetApp, our mission was to make the simplest possible NFS system. It was a wonderful little box, if I say so myself, but looking back on it, it seems quaint that our goal was about the device and not the customer. Even so, we ended up inventing and then dominating a whole new market segment: Network Attached Storage.
Today, our mission is much more audacious: We are building data fabrics that let customers manage data across multiple clouds and on-premises. This is not a small mission about our own technology; it is an ambitious vision of how we can help customers achieve their goals. Once again we are defining a new market segment and we are well positioned to dominate it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable stepping back if I weren’t confident that NetApp is healthy with a promising future. Nothing is given, of course, but we have done an amazing turn around, and we have a shot at greatness.
In closing, let me say thank you to all of the customers, partners and employees who have helped make NetApp the place that it is, a company I am proud of and that I am confident will continue to thrive.