The Hadoop guy becomes the Apache guy

Will Doug Cutting use the celebrity he disdains to defend the foundation he loves?

Doug Cutting should be a celebrity, but the Hadoop guy is reluctant.

So he has become chairman of Apache, but his celebrity has followed him there, demanding to be used. To defend what he loves will he use the fame he disdains?

"I've become a figurehead of Hadoop," he admitted to me yesterday. "They like the story of my kid's yellow elephant. But it's not how the project functions. I'm not the king of Hadoop. I'm just the guy who came up with a name and logo."

Hadoop, based on Google's MapReduce, is a foundation of all the current cloud computing madness. "I was in the right place at the right time," is all he'll say.

Yet the company based on Hadoop, Cloudera, is hot stuff. Cutting is technically a Cloudera employee -- his title is architect. But all he'll say about the company is that things are "incredibly good."

"I get paid by Cloudera," he said quietly. "My job there is to keep doing what I've been doing, to keep the project working well. When there's a conflict between Apache and Cloudera, my boss says, send people to talk to me. I should represent myself and Apache, not represent Cloudera at Apache."

Instead of being the Hadoop guy or Cloudera's guy, Cutting has chosen to be Apache's guy. The Atlanta ApacheCon I keynoted yesterday is his show.

It is like no other show I have ever been to. There's no show. A few open source vendors have tables around a main hall, offering t-shirts, pins and toys. There are no suits, just comfortable shirts, and the attendees (nearly all men) walk about like patrons in a library. You can be right at the center of it and think nothing's going on.

The action is occurring in small rooms, at break-out sessions or the group's BarCamp, where programmers who mostly know one another online meet face-to-face, laptops open, and work on common problems.

This is Cutting's natural environment, and sitting down with him in the space-age circular lobby of the Westin Peachtree Plaza felt like meeting the Wizard of Oz in Emerald City.

But he refused to be seen as a wizard, and does not see Apache as a college of wizards.

"Apache doesn't want to have rock stars, someone everyone bows down to, prima donnas. We organize things so that's not the way things function. But the public likes rock stars, they want personalities as symbols of their technology."

The questions Cutting can't answer are the important ones. Will he use the celebrity he disdains on behalf of the organization he loves? And would trading on that celebrity, by itself, go against the meritocratic principles Apache stands for?

The world wants Apache to be something it is not. It wants Apache to publicly defy Oracle over Java, to loudly proclaim the cloud's future, to point a future direction and sound the charge.  As the best known chairman Apache has had in years, outsiders see it as Cutting's job to sound the call.

If he does it, he will do it quietly, because that's the Apache way.