Many people are amazed by Kitware’s success, and its continuing growth (more than 30% growth in employees over each of the last two years, and 172% growth in revenue over the last three). Part of the resulting head scratching is due to our business model, part is our huge impact on the computing community (despite our modest size), and part is the diversity of our technology portfolio. While I understand how this can be confusing to people who don’t know us, I firmly believe what it all boils down to is three simple factors: 1) open source practices, 2) our people, and 3) our role in the computing ecosystem. Many of us here at Kitware are writing passionately about reason #1 above, so in this blog I thought I’d focus on reasons #2 and #3.
Kitware people are special, and here I’m not just talking about technical skills. Rather it’s a unique combination of academic chops, engineering genius, and helpful attitude. What we have here are individuals who can go head to head with some of the most accomplished academicians from leading research institutions, yet others with a burning desire to go beyond ideas to practical implementation, and manifest these ideas in a meaningful, impactful way. Many of us would rather cut 20,000 lines of (open source) code than write an academic paper; although we’re pretty good at doing that too. Actually this culture of “being smart people who get things done” also extends to our administrative staff, who have a similar knack for developing great business processes and making them work in the real world. Plus ,we live the attitude of doing whatever it takes (within appropriate boundaries, of course) to help each other and get stuff done.
Because of the unique talents of our people, and our open source practices, Kitware finds itself playing an interesting role in the computing ecosystem. We are at the crossroads of innovation and technology transfer. Kitware people have the technical savvy to create and recognize good ideas, with the corresponding software passion to cut the code to make them real (or at least understand why they don’t work). Since we practice efficient technology development methods, especially with an open source, low barrier approach to intellectual property and collaboration, we can transition ideas very rapidly to our customers and communities. We are, in effect, brokers who excel at transitioning technology to our customers. In return, the computing ecosystem has been generally very supportive, since most folks interested in growing the pie understand the importance of technical prowess combined with unimpeded, and fast, exchange of knowledge and ideas.
So in the end the formula Kitware’s success is really simple. Develop with open source methods. Hire people with technical chops, the passion to create, and a helpful attitude. And find the right niche in which to translate ideas into impactful technology.
(Afterthought: if you’ve read this far your probably thinking this is post is about Kitware. Actually that’s true, but it’s also about the role of open source companies in the computing ecosystem. It’s a business model that any technically excellent, open source practitioner can follow, assuming they’re willing to put in the time to grow a business. And for those who want to focus on technology and don’t want to deal with the business side of things, contact me and let’s talk :-)).