Episode 52

Being Willing to be Open: Twenty Years of Coding at Red Hat, with Tom "Spot" Callaway


September 4th, 2020

45 mins 19 secs

Your Hosts
Special Guest

About this Episode

Sponsored by:


Eric Berry | Richard Littauer


Tom Callaway

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! On today’s episode, we have special guest, Tom Callaway, currently working at AWS, but previously at Red Hat for almost twenty years, doing pretty much every job they had. We will find out all about Red Hat and all the positions Tom held there. We will also learn why Red Hat was the right people, the right place, at the right time, with the right seed funding to get it done. How did Red Hat figure out how to compete meaningfully and how did they deliver value above and beyond the bits? Tom has stories to tell and advice to share. Download this episode now to find out this and much more!

[00:01:40] Tom tells us what he did before working for AWS and how he started at Red Hat.

[00:03:58] Richard asks Tom what some of the main changes are that he has seen and how it’s affected things.

[00:09:23] Eric wants to know from Tom at what point when he was working at Red Hat, did everybody start believing that maybe this is something, maybe this can survive, and this will become something huge. He tells us one of the big things that impacted Red Hat early on.

[00:14:30] Richard wants to know how Red Hat pitched to developers that they want to get this and how did they pitch up to their managers.

[00:16:53] Tom fills us in on the strategy that has been worked successfully for Red Hat.

[00:19:12] Red Hat seemed to lead the charge in making open source a core part of the company and the culture. Tom tells us what it was like working with a company that had that type of focus giving back to the community.

[00:24:35] Richard is curious to know if there was any time when things didn’t work well at Red Hat and competition got out of hand and being in the open, ended up screwing over something.

[00:29:25] Richard asks Tom what he would say to developers who have something and then want to go out and make something out of it and does he think there’s models outside of sticking with large open source companies to sustainability live a middle-class life. Tom gives some awesome stories and advice here.

[00:40:54] Tom tells us where we can find him on the internet.


  • [00:41:50] Eric’s spotlight is developers.redhat.com.
  • [00:42:54] Richard’s spotlight is a small project called Vesper by Harold Mills.
  • [00:44:20] Tom’s spotlight is OctoPrint.


[00:05:24] “When I joined Red Hat there was no semblance of a reasonable business model at all. We made more money selling hats on our website than we did selling software.”

[00:20:01] “One of the things that’s unique about Red Hat is the employment contracts are structured in a way such that they explicitly say Red Hat doesn’t own the open source work that you do. You own it. You can go out and do whatever you want.”

[00:22:50] “And I was able to just by being curious and by being passionate, move into roles all the way up into the CTO’s office.”

[00:31:39] “I think you have to be willing to have the freedom to be open.”

[00:32:10] “If you write amazing software and you can never apply it in a real-world scenario, your company will die. If you cannot figure out how to compete meaningfully with the software, it does not matter how good it is, your company will die.”



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