Moving to MongoDB Engineering

It will soon be 3 years that I've been with MongoDB. I joined the company amidst a strong growth spurt, and 5 months later the HR website told me that I had now been in the company longer than 50% of my colleagues.

I've never before worked for a startup that early in its lifecycle. Not really "early" anymore, but still earlier than anything I experienced before. It's been a roller coaster ride for sure, but mostly in the upward direction after all. One of the bits of information that encouraged me to accept the offer from MongoDB was the NoSQL Linkedin index published by the 451 group. 3 years later they don't publish it anymore, since it became boring to see MongoDB just leading it all the time.

In the first year most of the work of a pre-sales architect was to simply educate people who had never seen MongoDB before. This is what JSON looks like, and this is how you query it. The world has changed a lot in 3 years, and today I almost never do that anymore. 3 years ago you would deal with early adopters who liked to try various NoSQL solutions, while today it's more and more about companies just selecting the leading vendor (MongoDB). My personal gut feeling is that introducing WiredTiger has made a huge difference, it was the final piece of the puzzle that really makes us stand out in the market.

When I was recruited by MongoDB, I first resisted them. I had invested many years in becoming a MySQL expert, and it wasn't easy to "throw that away". (Turns out, most of your DB optimization knowledge remains valid also with MongoDB - a fact I also share with customers and prospects a lot - so it turned out well.) At some point it dawned on me, that NoSQL in general, and MongoDB in praticular, was the first time in my lifetime that something new was happening in the database world! I had been an idiot saying no to the invitation to become part of that. Shortly thereafter I was working for MongoDB. (there's a song in that post as well!)

After 3 years it was also welcome news when I was offered an opportunity to move into a new role in MongoDB Engineering. As of this week, I'm working on the performance team. I will be working remote, from my "open source home", as former colleague Ilja Summala explained it in last year's Monki Gras conference.

While turning a new page, I wanted to end my 3 years in the pre-sales team with a song I find appropriate. Below is also a report I wrote last year, when I was visiting my son's class during a week when parents would tell what they do for work.

(Note: The below is a report written in the format we do whenever we speak at an external event, like a conference.)

When: April 16
Where: Saunakallio elementary school, Järvenpää, Finland
What: Talk about what you do for work to your 7 year-old's school class
Attendees: 24, but I doubt they could afford subscriptions, so this was very much a community event

I started today with a 20 minute presentation about what I do for work to my son's class. (1st grade) In the morning my son had actually asked mom what it is I do for work, but by noon he couldn't remember what it was anymore.

I explained the concept of a database. Everyone was familiar with the portal that teacher's use to send messages to parents (and back). So I explained that the messages get stored in a database, from where the parents can then go and read them with their computer. A much more interesting example was the explanation that when you collect items in Minecraft, they are stored in the database so that when you continue playing the next morning, you still have your items. My son (who is very active in school) was also familiar with the fact that if you forget to save the game you will lose the stuff you have collected. I was so proud, he already knows more about databases and durability than some of my customers!

I tried to underscore the point that the reason to use a database is to keep some order to the information you save in it. For example it would be weird if Topias woke up the next morning, and all of his Minecraft stuff was gone and instead he would have gotten Lassi's stuff. I was corrected on this point: He would probably be happy to have gotten much better items in his game!

To explain the concept of working from home, I had pre-arranged to demo a video call over Skype with Arthur Viegers and John Page. My son is in an English-focus class, so this was very much on topic for them also from that perspective. John waved a big red balloon in the camera and explained that he is trying to track it with his mobile phone. A demo involving John never disappoints: I'm still wondering if he was joking or preparing an actual IoT demo!

I then talked about the fact I travel a lot, and that's why I always have my passport ready-to-go in my bag. And since there are many countries that don't use Euros, and showed the little purse that is also always in my bag, with small plastic bags containing different currencies. This caused the kids to tell me about countries they have visited that also don't have any Euros: Turkey, Croatia, some Arab country, England, US, and so on... Someone said Greece - I didn't quite know what to respond to that! (ba-zing...)

Finally I explained that my job is to sell our database and tell everyone that they should use it because it's better than all the other databases. As part of this I gave everyone MongoDB stickers.

Q&A session had two very insightful questions, and according to company values, I had to answer them honestly:

Q: Is your database really the best?

A: No. That's just what you say when you are selling something. The other people that sell all those other databases will say that their database is the best. In reality sometimes ours is the best and sometimes something else is better.

Q: What if somebody tries your database and says it was really bad?

A: Actually, that happens a lot. Then they tell me they tried MongoDB and it didn't work and also was really slow. Then it's my job to help them understand that MongoDB is great. That's what it means being an expert. You know how something works, and then you go and tell others about it.

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