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Celebrity Engineers: Software's Equivalent of Arts Patronage

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Celebrity Engineers: Software's Equivalent of Arts Patronage

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Back in the days gone by, if you were part of the landed gentry, lording over your landholdings and the common folk who lived on said land, you’d look to becoming a patron of the arts as a way to ensure your name would live on after your death. While perhaps not a particularly sound theory (anyone remember in whose court Mozart composed his music, or for whom Velazquez painted?) it certainly gave the world some amazing art and music, and ensured that the talented but often penniless musical and artistic genii could remain fed and watered.

In recent times I’ve witnessed a not dissimilar trend within technology companies – a move to hiring superstars in a particular field in order to build a heightened credibility. A few examples of late:

  • Last year Aaron Levie, CEO of Box was proud to announce the culmination of a “seven year project” to hire Sam Schillace – formerly of Google but best known as the creator of Writely which would go on to become the foundation of Google Docs. Schillace is a great guy, and an undisputable technical whiz – but he’s also got significant credibility the light of which Box can bask in
  • Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto, the creator of Ruby was hired by Salesforce (or it’s subsidiary Heroku). To anyone even remotely connected to the Ruby community, Matz is an icon and his hiring gives Heroku a luster that other platforms would love to have
  • Dropbox hired Guido van Rossum the “Benevolent Dictator For Life” and author of Python – sure they use Python heavily in their application, but his hiring also reflects quite some glory back to the company itself

It’s an interesting series of moves – of course Schillace, with his document software background is an applicabale hire for box. As is Matz for Heroku, the platform that shone the light on Ruby. So too is van Rossum useful for Dropbox since much of the product is built on Python.

But nontheless, you can’t help but think there is a degree of CEO-patronage when it comes to these hires – anyone else got some other examples to share?

(Oh and don’t even start me on the “Alicia Keys as RIM‘s new creative director” – that entire celebrity endorsement thing just makes me want to puke…)

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