The Importance of Dissent

Summary:Word is going around that Monty Widenius, founder of MySQL, is parting ways with Sun. Matt Asay blogs about it and says it's a good thing Widenius is taking his dissent on the road:At this point, however, Monty has done the right thing with his dissent.

Word is going around that Monty Widenius, founder of MySQL, is parting ways with Sun. Matt Asay blogs about it and says it's a good thing Widenius is taking his dissent on the road:

At this point, however, Monty has done the right thing with his dissent. He has taken it outside the company, as Arjen Lentz, MySQL's twenty-fifth employee, did before him. Arjen continues to be both a promoter and critic of MySQL, but is able to do so publicly without the constraints of an employee agreement.

Not sure if Matt's saying that "the right thing" is to jump ship when an employee disagrees with a company's policies. Maybe it's my journalism background, but I think it's healthy for companies to deal with some internal and external dissent over policies and direction. (And by "dissent," I am specifically talking about reasoned discourse -- not ranting and flaming, that helps nobody.) Does anyone really think that a company the size of Sun (or Novell, or any other company with a workforce larger than about four people...) can reach total agreement on major policies? Of course not, and it's insulting to a community to pretend otherwise.

Now, if you can't find any common ground with your employer, it's probably time to spruce up the resume, but a little friction, even publicly, between employees and the employer is (in my opinion) a good thing. But if every employee has to seek out an employer that they can agree with 100% the jump in unemployment would be drastic, to say the least.

It might be a good policy for the Corleone Family to forbid taking sides against the family, but I'd advise against it for any companies that are trying to build a community around their offerings -- whether that's an open source project or some other type of offering. One of the linchpins of community is the ability to actually communicate freely, and that includes the community inside the company that happens to be on the corporate payroll.

If the external community suspects that a company's representative is being less than genuine, they're not going to feel its worth the time it takes to approach that representative with issues. If employees feel they can't speak up, they're going to feel less invested in the company and the community surrounding it.

Granted -- there are limits. You shouldn't expect to remain employed long if you go on a personal attack against the powers that be at your company, but a disagreement on a company policy should be respected so long as that disagreement doesn't extend to a refusal to do the duties of your job.

The nice thing about Widenius' dissent is that it's also producing potentially useful code. I think Drizzle is a great idea, and once again proves the value of the "right to fork" that comes with free and open source licenses.

What do you think? Should employees just fall in line, or shout the rooftops when they think their company is in the wrong?

Topics: Data Management, Data Centers, Enterprise Software, Open Source, Software

About

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is the community manager for openSUSE, a community Linux distro sponsored by Novell. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist primarily covering the Linux and FOSS beat, and wrote for a number of publications, such as Linux Magazine, Linux.com, Sys Admin, UnixReview.com, IBM developer... Full Bio

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