Monthly Archives: March 2009

Living with Cancer in Silicon Valley

Enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism

Enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism

My cancer returned Monday. In not exactly a subtle way. I have two tumors, one of which is 11×8 centimeters. They are messing with my left psoas muscle which explains all the back and leg pain I have been having.

Being the occasional idiot I am about ignoring pain, I waited too long to get medication. Now I am on an intense mixture: the morphine is the platform, the percocet dulls the spikes, and the neurontin is nothing less than a bomb going off, so thankfully it’s reserved for sleep, something I have not had for weeks.

This is my life. I am living with cancer, I have had three major operations — here comes #4, I have had a frightening amount of chemo, and I lost a year of my life right before joining Atlassian. I can struggle or I can embrace it. Those of you who know me understand I have only one option. Not because I consciously choose. I am just innately positive.

Lean into it. A shrink once gave me this wonderful Zen advice about facing challenges and problems: they aren’t going away, so you can choose to fight them or embrace them. Embracing them means finding the positive, and turning the badness into goodness. Cancer is an opportunity.

I sincerely believe cancer has been more positive than negative. Thanks to my first battle, I had time to focus on my son, who was struggling with teenage issues, and help him make a remarkable turnaround to a focused young man. It was in him, but I learned how to be a better parent thanks to cancer.

I learned how much love there is in this world. All you have to do is get in touch with it, and it’s everywhere. Even out here in the social-2.0-blogging-weird-o-sphere, the connections can humble you. People may be conversing in Seemingly Strange Ways like Twitter, but there are humans behind those electronic bits and the messages and meaning can lift my spirits. That was the lesson I learned about blogging about cancer and seeing the love come back. My blog inspired people, and the Awesome Karma came back inspiring me through a major surgery.

A friend reminded me: I have a blueprint for this journey. Getting the news Monday about the two tumors sucked. I was upset to say the least. I love my life. Four years ago, I married the most Incredible Woman on the Earth, I bought a new house, and I met this incredible little company called Atlassian. I just love my work. I love living here in California. I am the luckiest guy in the world. My blueprint starts with reminding myself that I do all these things — the ritual Sunday night family dinner, the sandwiches my daughter Brittany brings me while I am sitting here waiting for surgery… the list is long — because I love them. And yes, it includes the work I love.

The first priority on the blueprint is of course getting the right treatment and recovering. But the blueprint includes trying to work when you can. I called a customer Tuesday morning, just 20 hours after getting the news. Willie Doyle had read my blog and wanted to share their agile development story. I love talking to customers and learning what they’re doing. The point is: cancer is not going to stop me from learning new, cool things like this.

Surely I will have to cycle down and let things go during surgery. Right now my biggest challenge is managing this intense concoction of drugs so I can still do the little things I love: like blogging.

Awhile ago I chose to write about personal things in this blog, and not just talk about software, business, Atlassian, and the expected. That’s also part of my blueprint: people have complex, interesting dimensions, and sharing these opens up opportunities.

A Different Kind of Software Company: What Matters: Three Lessons

Getting in touch with my Inner Jazz

Getting in touch with my Inner Jazz

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Vinnie Mirchandani, fellow Enterprise Irregular was gracious to invite me to guest blog reflecting on Atlassian hitting a new milestone: $100 million in all-time sales since inception. It’s not about the milestone, as reaching 14,706 customers as of today is more fulfilling. It’s about creating a different kind of software company.

Vinnie asked me what’s been fun about the journey, and truthfully I failed and wrote this more serious, reflective post. I was able to scrounge up this photo from our last Christmas party which has become a mini-tradition where our San Francisco team enjoys great live jazz, sushi, and a few too many martinis. `

At Atlassian, we talk about creating something different. Not for the sake of it. Because we’re never convinced norms should be accepted. Even our own could change. At the risk of simplification, these are my Three Deep Lessons I have internalized over 3.5 years in this company.

1. Open Up Your Company.

Why do software companies hide prices? Why must I call a sales person to get them? Why must I fill out an order form to get a goddamned PDF of half-baked content? Why don’t more companies treat customers with respect and develop trust through openness? Sounds straightforward, but this is the cat-and-mouse game that enterprise software companies persist in.

We think open pricing, open license terms, open bug and issue tracking of our products, and licensing our source code are what people, like us, want. We ask ourselves: would we buy this crap? How do you want to be treated? That’s a good test for how transparent you are.

2. Affordable Prices

Mike Cannon-Brookes pounds on the table regularly about the price of entry. He is always trying to figure out how to make it easy for the next developer, the next IT manager, the next knowledge worker to not hesitate. Once we have a product we would use, then we have a fist fight over keeping the prices low. The low price principle was more striking when I met these two guys…

Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar

Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar


… as they were, let’s say, frugal Aussies. They had that shining spirit from Down Under which is an authentic Aussie practicality that was refreshingly unconventional in Silicon Valley. Funny thing is: even though the founders are no longer quite so frugal, our prices have rarely changed. Keep your prices low, Mister Software Man.

3. Anal-Retentive Analytics and Metrics

Scott Farquhar is our Super Metrics Warrior. Scott got us measuring Net Promoter Score (still running around 52%). Scott pounds on the table for so much detail and facts about the business, people leave the room dizzy and frustrated because they are starting to realize what they don’t know.

We don’t have the systems and analytics yet to measure up to some great large companies, but for a $40 million/year business with 185 employees, we’ve pretty damn good. We analyze the shit out of everything. We are constantly writing queries and dashboards on our internal Confluence wiki. This is our form of Lighting Business Intelligence, without any traditional BI software overhead. It’s also one of the hidden gems in our wiki.

Every team has a dashboard, but more important, every team is pissed their dashboard isn’t better. Continually unhappy with the gaps in our data, and searching for that Last Shaker of Metrics, we are on a Forced March for more data. This is a Mission from God I am still learning.

I could rant on about what we think a different kind of software company should be, because we’re still not there. We’re trying though.

RELATED POSTS

Susan Scrupski, another of the Enterprise Irregular clan, covered this milestone and trumped everyone with a video of Mike and Scott from Sydney.

Tech Nation Australia also interviewed Mike on the milestone.