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Dwight Merriman

Purposeful, humble, brilliant, soft-spoken, thoughtful, kind, and open.  

Those are the adjectives I would choose to describe Dwight Merriman after being fortunate enough to sit down and chat with the MongoDB founder and chairman yesterday morning at the All Things Open conference (ATO2014). Merriman was gracious enough to speak with me a few minutes and thoughtfully answer questions about his most recent company and product of the same name, MongoDB, open source technology in general, and how it will change the technology world. 

MongoDB is the leading NoSQL database, The company behind the product, MongoDB Inc., has fostered its growth from dream to reality in just seven years. MongoDB currently boasts 400 employees, and 10 offices across the world. Merriman founded, led and now chairs MongoDB Inc.’s board, and also wrote a large part of the code behind the MongoDB product. 

Merriman's resume is as long as it is impressive. He’s co-founded so many companies, he and his serial co-founder, Kevin Ryan, have formed a network, Alleycorp, to provide strategic direction and counsel to their currently operating companies: Business InsiderGilt Groupe and of course, MongoDB.Prior to his most recent ventures, Merriman was the co-founder and CTO of DoubleClick (acquired by Google in 2008) for 10 years. 

Merriman is a rare type of leader. While he is a brilliant technologist—he still writes a lot of the code for MongoDB—he also has good business sense, is a renowned leader, all while remaining humble and open to chatting with anyone about his craft. 

While waiting to speak with him after his keynote, I saw him pose for a picture with a self-professed “fan,” and chat with two conference attendees for several minutes kindly answering their questions, excitedly talking tech and humbly offering advice. He even opened up the conference agenda and pointed to a session, suggesting the participants attend it to learn more about the topic in question saying the presenter would know more about the topic than he did.

When I asked Merriman why he decided to attend and speak at ATO2014, he said it “looked like a very neat conference,” he liked the theme, and thought it was appealing that it is an, “educational conference with lots of detailed sessions” for practitioners. And it is, each tract offered up to 12 sessions on their topic, so presenters have time to get into the weeds instead of glossing over topics. Merriman himself intended to attend a few sessions—further evidence of his humility and openness to learning from others.

Thoughts on Open Source
So far, Merriman says the biggest impact of open source thus far isn’t just one thing, but a plethora of them. He said if he had to name one product it might be Linux, but that in building just one of his products, he might use a dozen tools. When I asked how he thought open source technologies would impact the technology world moving forward, he said, “What I’m seeing out there is that people are starting to use zero closed source softwares.” And instead are using either: open source software with support of a vendor, SaaS, or fremium software like Splunk. For example, he pointed to MongoDB and their NoSQL product, whose competitors are all open source. He said in the database market, about 50% are open source and in some sectors like data warehousing, only about 25% of the companies are built on open source.  

What’s Next?
Merriman says the future of open source is underway and is the “complete mainstreaming” of open source. He predicts that in the near future products and companies of all types and in all types of sectors will be built upon it. He says that he guesses, “some people still buy closed software but that there’s a huge trend towards using an alternative.”

As for MongoDB, he says if you’re a user there’s “a lot of exciting things happening or about to happen.” They just released MMS, a management tool automating the provisioning and management of MongoDB server clusters. So with a click of a button, the user can manage their server cluster. In addition, Version 2.8 of MongoDB is under development and coming out in a few months. Merriman excitedly said it will boast “massive improvements in concurrency and pluggable storage engine architecture.” 

With roots now established in NYC, Merriman is likely to remain there for the forseen future, and if his past is any predictor of his future, there’s no telling what project or company he’ll add to his resume next. But for now, he seemed content chairing MongoDB Inc.’s board because it gives him more time to do the thing he likes best—code.