For most of the last decade, whenever there has been major Red Hat Linux news, Brian Stevens more often than not has been the person I have spoken with. Until Aug. 27, Stevens had been the CTO of Red Hat, a position he had held since November 2001.
Stevens' departure comes as a surprise to me—one that I did not see coming. Hindsight, however, is always 20/20, and the simple reality is that for a man as talented as Stevens, there are always other opportunities to consider.
Red Hat issued a terse three-paragraph press release about Stevens' departure, noting that Paul Cormier, president of products and technologies at Red Hat, will become the interim CTO. Cormier joined Red Hat in May 2001, barely six months before Stevens started.
"We want to thank Brian for his years of service and numerous contributions to Red Hat's business," Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat, said in a statement. "We wish him well in his future endeavors."
Whitehurst, unlike Cormier and Stevens, is a relative newcomer to Red Hat, having joined the company as CEO in 2008.
Over the years, I've had many conversations with Stevens, and I've often told him that though the years have progressed and some of the technology acronyms have changed, his message and tone have always remained consistent.
Back in 2006, I sat down with Stevens for an interview about Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, which at the time was still in development.
"It's no longer about the challenge of Linux," Stevens said then. "I don't see any obstacle with Linux other than just continued execution on our part."
That same year, Stevens helped Red Hat decide that it would not participate in the 2006 LinuxWorld trade show. With his typical candor and honesty, Stevens spelled out why trade show exhibit halls were not his thing.
"I have trouble at this show when I walk the floor trying to determine what's new," he said. "It's all demoware, and it hurts my head."
As it turns out, LinuxWorld as a trade show folded soon thereafter and has since been replaced by the Linux Foundation's LinuxCon event.
In Red Hat's march to the cloud, Stevens has been front and center. Red Hat was not among the early adopters of OpenStack when it got started in July 2010. In a July 2012 video interview I did with Stevens, he exclusively detailed the process by which he got Red Hat involved. Today Red Hat is the top code contributor to OpenStack.
More recently, at the end of 2013, in another exclusive video interview, Stevens detailed Red Hat's involvement with Docker, which is now an integrated part of the Red Hat Enterprise 7 Linux release.
From my vantage point, Red Hat is pushing forward on its server, virtualization and cloud efforts, thanks to Stevens' leadership.
So What Happened?
At this point, there is no official word from Red Hat or Stevens beyond that terse three-paragraph press release. Stevens' exit from Red Hat is particularly surprising though due to the simple fact that top-level executives don't tend to leave Red Hat all that often. It's a company with a solid reputation for employee retention.
I've heard from my own sources that Stevens is not leaving due to any internal wrangling or politics at Red Hat, but rather to pursue a new opportunity that he simply could not turn down.
Although Stevens was a pivotal part of Red Hat's success and strategy that has propelled it to more than $1 billion in revenue per year, Red Hat has a strong bench of talented people who will step forward to help fill the void. That said, I for one will miss the candor, honesty and insight that a decade of conversations with Stevens at Red Hat has given me into the world's largest pure-play open-source vendor.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.