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Addio Redis, I'm leaving Redis Labs

July 06, 20206 min read • by Loris Cro

Thanks Antirez for the code, the Redis manifesto, and for the free karma especially.

Last week I resigned from my position as developer advocate at Redis Labs.

I’ve never talked much about Redis on this blog because I made a point of trying to write interesting posts about different topics, and also to avoid any form of conflict of interest: I didn’t want people to think this blog was being used as a marketing outlet by Redis Labs.

Now that I’m not with the company anymore, I’m looking forward to sharing some of my thoughts on open-source software and related topics, using the direct and energetic tone that I always employ here.

This was the first job I took that wasn’t strictly about programming. It taught me a lot about communication, how information flows between groups of people, and how companies try to shape that flow.

While Redis Labs as a company isn’t perfect — I wouldn’t have left otherwise, and it wouldn’t have hired me in the first place, as I’m not perfect either — I’m happy with my experience overall. The one regret I have is that my position was in part meant to help the community better understand Redis, and I’m leaving behind me basically the same level of confusion that was there when I joined 1.5 years ago.

Redis is less obvious to describe than other tools in the same space, but that alone is not enough to explain why no one seems to agree on what Redis is good at, or what even is Redis. To me, the current situation seems caused by an ongoing turf war between tech companies, starting from the direct competitors of Redis Labs, up to the Cloud giants, who see themselves as the ultimate gatekeepers of modern software architecture.

Each of these factions wants Redis to be a different thing, and so they spend their budget accordingly, starting from developer advocates like me, up to de-facto astroturfers that I’ll leave unnamed. While you and I, dear reader, are surely immune to marketing and scummy tactics, those techniques do work wonders on the public, and the strength of true statements is only used as a way of making marketing spend more efficient.

This is where I imagined I would spell out my take on Redis, but now that Antirez has left the project, it doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever Redis is going to be in the future, it will be shaped by sales tactics, whatever the Clouds are going to do next, and other uninspired metrics.

Since this is my goodbye post to Redis, let me add an over-the-top Italian skit before jumping into the lessons learned.

If Redis were pasta

If Redis were pasta, it would be served in a restaurant called Salvatore’s. It would be a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and a single leaf of basil on top; basically the Italian symbol for a simple, versatile meal.

Big tech would be like McDonald’s and Burger King: convinced that the future of nutrition is fast-food and constantly screaming that Redis can’t be considered a real meal as it doesn’t contain any bacon: “Come eat our new burger, which now contains an extra 4th layer of meat, exquisitely designed to make it easier to digest the meal!”

On a table you would find Jepsen, essentially the equivalent of Yelp, ideally meant to keep restaurants honest, generally correct, but ultimately not that different from other tech companies, and thus well deserving of boogers and cum.

Antirez, largely preferring cooking over serving, would end up selling the restaurant to the waiters, who at that point would make their priority to turn the restaurant into an Olive Garden.

Lessons learned

So where’s the Redis community in this story? Well, those are just the silent, mostly anonymous regulars that come, eat, and then go on with their lives.

It’s the people that occasionally show up on HN and point out that they’re happy with what Redis does for them, and that they rarely think about it even, as the software tends to chug along nicely. As much as I sympathize with them, the ultimate lesson I learned is that a passive community will inevitably lead to the death of a project.

While the “spontaneus software” world is busy infighting, big tech is systematically strip-mining it of any value, even when 99% of the value gets lost in the process. Tech companies are willing to go to any length to capture that 1%, and over time have learned to use Free software arguments against Free software itself, to ensure nobody would stop them.

The future of what we call today open-source software needs to learn to be in equal parts principled and pragmatic. The principles of human spontaneity must be preserved, to ensure we don’t turn in yet another fast-food chain, but we must understand that sophisticated ethical arguments require an equally sophisticated infrastructure beneath them, as without the latter the former can’t materialize into reality.

We need to keep our communities as much as possible engaged and invested in the success of our projects. The flow of information must be kept open and at high pressure, to ensure that our values and goals are well-understood by the majority of the community. Failing to do that means becoming servants of large donors and opening the community to all kinds of manipulations.

We need to reinvent the way we approach spontaneous collaboration in software and we must understand that it’s not going to be a peaceful process. Maybe it’s my native-american blood talking, but I feel I’m ready to get up close and personal with the world I dealt with for the last 1.5 years, except this time I won’t be wearing formal attire.

I’m joining the Zig Software Foundation as VP of Community and it’s going to be my honor and pleasure to try to make all of this a reality for at least one project. If you want to follow us on this journey, join us Saturday 11th on Twitch for the live announcement and first fundraising. It’s going to be fun and, if we hit the corresponding donation goal, I will reveal my (until now) secret recipe for a nice summer pasta. Not as simple as Salvatore’s, but pretty good nevertheless.

You can find more info at https://zig.show.

A photo I took at the last AWS reinvent.
Fuck you AWS.


Loris Cro