boardroom engineer

10gen Founder Dwight Merriman Ditches CEO Title to Become the Chairman Who Codes

"The best analogy is probably that I'm operating like a founder of company would do, where I touch lots of things."
(Photo: AlleyCorp)

(Photo: AlleyCorp)

A little more than a year ago, Betabeat reported that despite his lofty role as chairman and chief executive officer of 10gen, the company behind the MongoDB database language, Dwight Merriman was still mixing it up with his developers, drinking beer and writing code with the company’s engineers. 

So when news broke this morning that Mr. Merriman was giving up the CEO job at 10gen to focus his time on the chairman’s role, we wondered if it meant he was giving up the technical side of his function to concentrate on the business side of things. Au contraire.

“I was the CEO that codes,” Mr. Merriman told us over the telephone this afternoon. “Now that the company is order of magnitudes bigger, the coding part of the job has been getting squeezed.”

To free Mr. Merriman up to keep his hands on the product, 10gen elevated Max Schireson from the role of president to CEO, allowing Mr. Merriman to spend more time working on the company’s core database kernel. That could mean coding, or architecture or product definition, Mr. Merriman said, stressing that he’ll still be engaged in functions more typically associated with a company’s chairman.

“It was sort of interesting question what the right title would be,” he said. “The best analogy is probably that I’m operating like a founder of company would do, where I touch lots of things. If we changed my title to something more tech, that’s not accurate either. I’ll still be doing a lot of work on the business side, whether it’s thinking about strategy or talking to customers.”

At that, a founder’s role is appropriate for Mr. Merriman, the DoubleClick veteran who cofounded 10gen in 2007 as part of the AlleyCorp network. Of course, it was less than two months ago that another AlleyCorp company saw its top executive move on to a chairman’s position. Did Kevin Ryan’s decision to cede the CEO job at Gilt Groupe influence Mr. Merriman’s thinking about his own role at 10gen?

“I think the timing similarity is completely random and coincidental, and the reason for those changes is different,” Mr. Merriman said. “For one thing Kevin is spending a little more time on 10gen, a day a week up from something more like a director’s level of engagement. … For me, it’s no change in the distribution of my time.”

(We told Mr. Merriman that if Henry Blodget—CEO of Business Insider, another AlleyCorp company—announces he’s giving up his CEO title, we’d be mad at Mr. Merriman for not giving us a hint.)

Meanwhile, Mr. Merriman said he decided to make the change ahead of 10gen’s annual meeting next week, when the company’s 200 employees will gather in Florida. The changes, the new chairman said, from Mr. Schireson’s ascension, Mr. Ryan’s added involvement and his own more varied role, would help to build on the company’s promising 2012.

“There’s huge potential there,” Mr. Merriman said. “It’s growing so fast, it’s going to be a very large company.”

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