Recruiting and keeping talent is important. Really important. | webOS Nation
 
 

Recruiting and keeping talent is important. Really important. 10

by Derek Kessler Tue, 29 May 2012 6:32 pm EDT

Matt McNulty at Think Beyond

As I said in the last "editor's desk" post, HP seems to be suffering a serious problem with talent retention in the webOS department (though we wouldn't be surprised if that's the case across the board at HP). The latest departure of the core of the Enyo team, including lead Matt McNulty for Google underscores the troubles faced by the project. With McNulty out, practically every director-or-higher employee that with webOS just fifteen months ago when HP unveiled their grand relaunch for webOS at Think Beyond has left. Employee turnover is an expected and anticipated part of any business, but this rate of high-level churn is frightening.

Just look at the lead for Developer Relations. In February 2011 we were introduced to Richard Kerris as the new VP of Worldwide Developer Relations. It was a big deal, both to have Kerris on board and that HP had recognized the importance of developer relations and made it a VP-level appointment. By October, Kerris had left for Nokia. It took five months for HP to appoint long-time Palm veteran Fred Patton as the new head of Developer Relations (apparently no longer a VP position, given the downgraded importance of webOS). He lasted six weeks before getting poached to Nokia. Six weeks and he left for greener pastures, leaving another Palm veteran - Enda McGrath - to take over on at least an interim basis while HP searches for a permanent lead.

Permanent. That word has taken on a funny taste with webOS. The only thing that's been permanent over the past several months has been impermanence.

I'm not saying that Open webOS has been fatally imperiled by the constantly changing hands behind the scenes, but it's certainly not helping. HP can't afford to just meet the roadmap schedule each month - they have to exceed it. Putting out an open source version of the current webOS 3.0 won't be good enough, nor will a warmed-over slightly-improved version 4.0. Whatever HP produces to open source will be going up against juggernauts to-be iOS 6 and Android 5.0 (or whatever Google's going to call it). It's going to be a massive hill to overcome and webOS is going to need a big bag of tricks if there's any hope of gaining traction up the road towards the summit.

Building that bag of tricks requires permanent talent. It requires people to stay working on webOS. It requires people to want to and have real reason to stay with HP. It seems plenty obvious that HP is having massive difficulty meeting that criteria. Bringing on new talent to replace the ongoing brain drain is important, but that new talent will take time to get used to working at HP and to working on webOS and getting caught up on everything that's been happening behind the scenes. And by the time they've done that, who knows how many offers they'll have fielded from Google and Apple and Nokia and the like.

Working on webOS because that's what you want to do is fine for the open source developer. They do it because they want to, because it brings them joy. But they also do something else to make money to pay for the roof over their heads and the food on the table and the internet connection so vital to modern collaborative open source development. Working on Open webOS is a side project for them, something they do in their free time.

I have little doubt that the people working at HP on Open webOS also derive joy from their work. There are dozens of other firms in Silicon Valley that could be home to their talents, but they chose HP and webOS. But they do this to put a roof over their heads and food on the table and keep the bytes streaming through that internet connection. It's their job, and in this day and age, keeping that job is an important thing. HP is an organization in flux, with massive layoffs coming that'll cleave away nearly a tenth of the workforce. And while we've been told that HP's layoffs won't touch webOS, considering all of the layoffs that have hit webOS in the past, we wouldn’t blame anybody who works there for being skittish.

It's their livelihood, after all. They need to pay for food and shelter and an internet tube somehow, and the grocer and bank and ISP don't care where you get that money. If Google comes knocking with a better offer than HP and the promise of job security to boot, who wouldn't take that offer? Heck, I wouldn't blame anybody at HP for putting out feelers to other companies just in case things head any further south.
It's harsh to say, but given everything else going on at HP, it's clear that webOS is not a priority for the top brass. webOS has fallen out of the discussion even amongst the tech community, with those outside of the webOS Nation community starting to take to referring to webOS in the past tense. "webOS had a really innovative multitasking system." "I loved webOS notifications." "webOS could have used more apps."

It's not time for a post-mortem, at least not yet. But if HP can't keep the good people they have left and bring on new ones to replace those that have left, they're going to have a hell of a time making this thing work beyond a goodwill exercise. So how does that happen?

Money. Plain and simple, it's money. Call me materialistic or overtly capitalist or one of little faith in the goodness of humankind, but in the end it all boils down to money. Loyalty only goes so far when somebody is waiving a stack of bills in your face. We all have to pay somehow for the roof and the food, and if somebody's willing to give us more money, then we can afford a better roof and tastier food, or save some for later.

I'm not intimately familiar with HP's compensation structure, though I do know that some within the webOS organization have been handsomely compensated for their services. But was that enough? I don't need to answer that question now, do I? HP needs to shell out more to keep and recruit talent. They need healthier stock options and bonuses and just plain salaries. They need to let their employees know that they're appreciated and that HP really wants them to stay. That has to be more than a pat on the back and an " 'attaboy". Such measures only go so far, and no amount of goodwill can pay for groceries.
It's people's livelihoods we're talking about here. We can't blame them for taking offers that lead to greener pastures. But we can blame HP for not making their own pasture greener.

10 Comments

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Derek,
Haven't read the whole article yet, but the cite that no higher level employee left before think beyond is wrong.. For one, the senior vp in charge of webos, ari jaaski, was there before then, at least for months. Though point still remains.

"Money. Plain and simple, it's money. Call me materialistic or overtly capitalist or one of little faith in the goodness of humankind, but in the end it all boils down to money."

This pretty much sums everything up.

We don't need no stinking directors, we have Ben Combee.

With the future of webOS up in the air and the likelihood the project wouldn't produce results, I cannot blame employees for leaving for greener pastures with a future. No webOS employee can feel secure in such a situation. When webOS is open sourced then what?

Let's go back a bit, through present, and look at the good and the bad--and review what some call "The Facts of Life":
 
Many in the community predicted after the announcement of Open webOS that HP was merely looking for a way to wind down its obligations by passing the buck to the Open Source community, and those people were summarily excoriated by even more people--even here at PreCentral/webOSNation. Unfortunately, unless HP begins to take webOS seriously as an asset and begin to support it in a visible, commercially-tangible way other than merely getting Open webOS 1.0 out the door, its opportunity as anything other than a costly academic exercise (not unlike BeOS and others) is lost, proving those naysayers right.
 
Look at Mozilla's B2G and Tizen. They've taken over the "HTML5 app as Native app" space that webOS once single-handedly stood for and owned. Not only that, B2G goes even further than webOS ever did, turning remote websites into native apps right in the browser using their amazing WebAPI (https://wiki.mozilla.org/WebAPI) they hope to contribute as an open standard going forward. webOS has aged ungracefully as a result, with its old Webkit core, poor HTML5 compliance scores (see http://html5test.com) and lack of innovation since 3.0 came out nearly a year ago.
 
Oh yeah, did I mention both of those mobile operating systems have OEMs lined up?
 
BlackBerry's QNX-based Tablet OS has taken over the spotlight for the card metaphor/multi-tasking interface, and by many critical accounts they've done it even better. Can webOS come back and show BlackBerry that the first is still the best? How? (Oh, wait, now there's Android 4.0 beginning to institute the swipe-to-close metaphor to some degree...)
 
And, finally, ChromeOS fulfills the promise of having a Web-centric OS at the core of your desktop or laptop computer as the devices announced and put into retail today demonstrate. This was supposed to be webOS' future-vision as announced last year at the Think Beyond conference, but...no dice. webOS as a desktop OS is at least two years behind ChromeOS now if HP's webOS team started architecting it today, and with Google grabbing the top Enyo brass--the people that architected the core application interaction layer for webOS--have gone with it. And perhaps to ChromeOS, to pour salt on the gaping wound.
 
Did I mention that webOS developers continue to move on, knowing they can put their Enyo-based apps in PhoneGap, release to multiple platforms, and gain independence from having to continue supporting webOS as a result?
 
It just doesn't look good from here, as HP sits on investor calls talking about their dedication to Windows 8 support going forward with nary a mention of webOS other than how they took another charge this quarter on the failings of their retail affair. No OEMs lined up, no encouraging statements to the investors that are instrumental to the business, no peeps from top brass other than those directly involved in webOS...nothing.
 
Hell, Woot can't even get rid of their refurb Touchpad stock at less than $200 anymore, as multiple recent sales have demonstrated.
 
I can't blame anyone for losing faith at this point; without something--anything--from someone higher than a webOS team member that'll always paint a sunny picture of the current state of affairs as part of their job, I can't imagine we're looking at anything other than an exercise in hand-washing by a company that wanted to save face after abruptly taking webOS off the market and pass the problem onto the Open Source community instead to tinker with.
 
HP needs to state their intentions from a high-level commercial perspective instead of waffling if they have any hope of keeping webOS anywhere near relevant--if you even still can. All the recent blog posts from the Open webOS and Enyo crews demonstrate that you can keep talking about sunshine during a thunderstorm, but that still doesn't change the weather forecast.
 
Bottom Line: HP's gotta come clean sooner rather than later. If there are commercial pushes going on and progressing behind the scenes, they don't have to say who or when, but that it's merely happening and that things look good for webOS' future return to retail.
 
P.S. Installing webOS on Android devices, as so many seem to think is a great idea, isn't a marketable solution nor sustainable future for webOS. And don't delude yourself into thinking that loading it onto thousands of cheap no-name Chinese tablets is going to change that because you can call them "new", either, since they'll break within a month, guaranteed--with zero warranty to boot. I've challenged multiple people around here swearing this is the right solution to buy one to see the (poor) quality firsthand, and not one has taken up the challenge to date. Wonder why?

Matt and the folks had their 5 minutes of fame. Let's move on and make webOS successful with the people that love webOS and Enyo. It will require new people that will be able to make this happen. Searching and promoting reasons why it might not happen is not helpful. I find it awesome that HP is not pulling back in light of what is going on at HP. This gives me hope and comfort that this is serious and very important for HP. Hope Derek reports from Fluent and Discover, places where the people are who actually try to make it happen.

"Matt and the folks had their 5 minutes of fame."
 
Nice discrediting of Matt's contributions to webOS there, considering he's the one that came up with Enyo and architected Ares (which many webOS developers use/have used to develop their applications with). He's also known for hanging around here and reading posts.
 
Also, way to support the devs that made many of your favorite apps happen through Ares. Without Matt and others that've left HP's webOS team, you wouldn't be enjoying them at all. Give credit where it's due and congratulate them on their new opportunities rather than disparaging them and their contributions instead.

This is not deemed discrediting Matt. For the record, he deserves credit for what he has done for Enyo (and Ares). I actually applaude him and wish him well.
However, it is about webOS and passionate people that believe in it and try to make it happen. As you said, it has taken many talented folks that made up webOS, apps and the app catalogue. Reducing webOS to talent leaving in the Valley (even if crucial) and saying all of it is dead is what makes me furious. HP could easily shoot it based on those news and this is what I assume no one wants. I wanted to make sure that the news are balanced and hope we hear from Fluent. I would like to hear from people what they try to do.

Hi mbaron2

Thanks for your positive twist in this thread.
I really love my webOS device(s). Still today, there are so many elegant and intuitive things on handling webOS, in this regards, it stands up to even new devices.

My Pre3 is really a productive device.
Great to work with.
Hardly can wait for Open webOS. Hoping, that it will run well on my Pre3 and even shows up on newer hardware.
If the synergy is further expanded, including clients for things like ownCloud, then this is going to rock.

Dear webOS team. Please keep pushing out the good stuff. The faster, the better. :-)