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Q&A: BMC's William Hurley talks up open source

He's as comfortable in the boardroom as on his long green skateboard

By Todd R. Weiss
November 27, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - At 36 years old, William Hurley has been involved in IT for more than half his life, starting after a car accident that left him badly injured. While recovering, he began hacking X-objects for MacroMind and later Macromedia Director in the open-source multimedia community, then went to work at Apple Inc. and IBM, where he was a master inventor and senior manager of targeted Internet applications. Later, he joined a string of start-ups, including Qlusters Inc., where he was chief technology officer; Symbiot Inc., where he was a co-founder and CTO; and HireStorm Inc., where he was the founder and CTO. He has combined his love for open source with his longtime work in IT systems management, which he has pursued at BMC since joining the company in February. Hurley has a unique MO that makes him as comfortable in the boardroom as he is on the legendary long green skateboard he often uses to commute to work -- and to get around at open-source conferences.

Hurley, better known in the open-source community as "whurley," talked recently about his background, his enthusiasm for open source -- and his skateboard. Excerpts from that interview follow.

So how does an open-source activist like you end up as the chief architect of open-source strategy at a traditional company like BMC Software? What they were looking for was an open-source leader who could say, 'Here's how you take a company that for 27 years has done proprietary software and integrate open source into their business model in every way, shape and form.' This isn't about trying to jump onto the open-source marketing bandwagon. It's about directly interacting with customers, in how you can apply open source in leveraging that to building better products. I'm a guy who likes a challenge and even with the support of the management team that I do have here, you're still talking about a very large company, a pretty big ship. They don't turn on a dime so this is a pretty big commitment by both sides. The company has been working with open source for a number of years, they just haven't been bragging about it. There's a huge difference in being a leader of a community and being a member of a community. And BMC is a member of our community. We're the voice of many. BMC doesn't want to have an open-source community where ... there's a dictatorship. That's not a community.

So how has that been going? How have you been able to bring your community-based thinking into BMC and its way of doing things? When I was working in open-source systems management, obviously I wanted to change the world of systems management overall. But as a systems dude, I think that most large systems can only be changed from the inside. So to really move systems management forward, and my career, rather than doing a start-up and trying to circumvent everything, it made more sense to find a willing partner in BMC that I could work with, that has the visibility, that has the resources, that is the establishment, to kind of change things from the inside out. When you look at that, that sums up why I went to an established player. And then the follow-on to that is, out of the Big 4, why BMC? Because of the management team. Because the management team gets it, they understand it and most importantly, they want to do open source right.

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