In an effort to get its house in order, Docker containerizes and ships out its CEO

Big changes for Docker Inc. What’s behind them, and what does it mean?

containers on barge

Big changes for Docker Inc. What’s behind them, and what does it mean?

News that Docker Inc., the commercial organization behind the open source Docker initiative, has replaced its CEO will come as a shock to many, and not to others. I recently covered some PR blunders that Docker has made but these, to be honest, are simply symptoms of a far more serious malady -- a company that has a massive valuation, huge interest, a growing ecosystem but is under pressure to tie that all together into a viable business. Quite simply, Docker (the open source project) is far more successful than its eponymously named commercial entity and there is pressure for that to change. Indeed, recently I took part in a panel discussing the recent DockerCon conference and all it means for the business.

So to hear that Ben Golub, the Docker CEO who has been with the organization almost since its inception, is being swapped out for Steve Singh, is an interesting move. A quick bit of history -- Docker actually came into being after a pivot by Solomon Hykes, the founder of PaaS startup dotCloud, into a different space. Soon after Hykes got serious investment, and a serious CEO in the way of Golub. In the four years since, there has been a lot of stuff going on -- some of it growth related, but much of it internal angst and missteps, and so culture is very much at the forefront.

Commenting on the reasons for the change, Dan Scholnick, an investor in Docker, had this to say:

“We wouldn’t have the great success of Docker on our hands today without Ben’s leadership. He joined before the startup was even called Docker, and did a phenomenal job building the team and ecosystem partnerships. Now the company is getting to the point where revenue is significant and growing quickly. There’s no one in the world more qualified than Steve to build out a world-class go-to-market organization. Ben is super supportive of bringing Steve in because he sees that Steve can create a lot of value for all of us.”

Some might suggest that is somewhat gilding the lily, I guess only those on the inside know.

Anyway, taking over the job is Steve Singh. Singh was formerly at SAP, a company he joined after his own company, Concur, was acquired. He’s also an experienced board member and has actually served on the board of Docker for a few months.


Docker is in a world of pain. Yes, the project has grown, and there is real enterprise interest in using containers, but while Docker arguably popularized the container notion, a growing number of other initiatives (Kubernetes, Mesos, OpenShift, CloudFoundry) are taking up the baton and are less pressured by ecosystem and commercial conflicts. Something had to change within Docker -- both in terms of strategy and, I’d suggest, internal culture.

Singh isn’t a well-versed developer-tool executive, but he certainly is well-versed at building commercial organizations. The big unknown here is how he will approach the not insignificant task of balancing all the concerns that the ecosystem around Docker has.

I suspect that this move will be positive for Docker Inc., but that there might be significant pain for the ecosystem as Singh attacks job number one -- making Docker (the business) something viable. Watch this space.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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