Today I am retiring from NetApp. It sounds so abrupt, written out like that, but it is a gradual transition. I have been cutting back my NetApp time for the last couple of years, and especially the past few months, and I won’t suddenly disappear.
I think of NetApp as my child. In any parent’s life, there comes a time when you are proud of your kid, you love your kid—but you don’t want to see them every day! If you’ve done a good job as a parent, they will do well on their own. Of course, few parents abandon their children, so George and I have created the role of Founder Emeritus. It’s modeled after Professor Emeritus: I don’t get paid, but I get to keep my email address and eat at the company cafeteria. (In theory, I could also use the gym. In theory.) Also, I have a non-disclosure agreement so people I meet can speak freely. Open communication is one sign of a good relationship between a parent and a twenty-something child. Don’t be surprised to bump into me at lunch or at an all-hands meeting.
People keep asking what I plan to do. The best answer is to describe some of my projects in the past few years as I began pulling away from NetApp. There are lots, but here are three of my favorites:
I’ve always loved ancient civilizations. A recent Science article described the results of a project that the Hitz Foundation funded to do LIDAR scans in the Guatemalan jungle. We discovered 60,000 new Mayan buildings and learned that there were millions more pre-Columbian people living in the region than anyone previously knew—maybe 10 or 15 million.
Deep Springs College is the crazy cattle ranch school that inspired the title of my book, How to Castrate a Bull. It started as an all-male school in 1917, and it remained all-male for 100 years. I lead a six-year legal battle, which eventually reached the California Supreme Court, to allow women. In 2018 the college accepted its first coeducational class.
And finally, I started the Play On! project to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into performable contemporary English. So far we’ve had theatrical productions of almost ten plays, and my fantasy is to see all thirty-nine. This is my most controversial project. The New York Times described it as a “waste of money and talent.” The Wall Street Journal supported the effort but implied that the originals are so old and incomprehensible that they should be retired. Not my intent! The New Yorker magazine was more nuanced.
As executive vice president, Dave Hitz and James Lau founded NetApp in 1992 with a desire to simplify storage the way Cisco simplified networking. Dave and James believed that general-purpose computing systems were too complex, so they built dedicated devices called appliances. These appliances were designed to handle one thing well: storage. Prior to 1992, Dave worked as a senior engineer at Auspex Corporation, an enterprise storage solutions provider, where he was responsible for file systems and microkernel design. He also held engineering positions at MIPS Computer, focusing on file system and I/O subsystem design for the System V kernel development effort. Before his career in the computer industry, Dave worked as a cowboy, getting valuable management experience by herding, branding, and castrating cattle. Dave documented these and other formative business experiences in his autobiography, How to Castrate a Bull: Unexpected Lessons on Risk, Growth, and Success in Business. Dave holds bachelor's degrees in computer science and electrical engineering from Princeton University.
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