Former MongoDB CEO: Work-life balance is a people issue, not just a women’s issue

MongoDB Vice Chairman Max Schireson made waves in August when he said he was leaving his role as the company’s CEO in order to spend less time traveling and more time with his family. Since then, the company has continued its momentum with a new CEO, new products and some new revenue streams. Schireson came on the Structure Show podcast this week to talk about how the company is doing, where it’s headed and how his life has changed since the publishing the viral blog post announcing his resignation.

This is one of our more interesting interviews, in that it touches on everything from disrupting a $40 billion database market to the roles of fathers in their kids’ lives. Here are some highlights, but it’s definitely worth listening to the whole thing.

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Dealing with competition from, well, everyone

“I think what we see is everybody from Oracle, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM — all the big players — recognizing that the model we hit on is how developers want to build applications in the future,” Schireson said in response to a question about how MongoDB is dealing with the fact that a growing number of database vendors and cloud providers are integrating support for the JSON file type, MongoDB’s bread and butter. Although, he noted, [company]MongoDB[/company] actually does have a strong partnership in place with IBM.

“I think it expands the market, and then I think it’s incumbent on us to continue delivering a market-leading offering to continue to have a very large of what’s a large and rapidly growing market,” he added. “The good news is we’ve been doing this since 2007, so we’ve got a six-to-seven-year head start. We have a couple hundred engineers working on this. I think that even for a big company, it’s going to take a long time to catch up, and we’re absolutely a moving target.”

What’s the open source business model?

“I think most people will use [MongoDB] without paying for it, and that’s fine,” Schireson said. “What we need to do is we need to deliver offerings that add value for at least a very significant subset of our users, and I think we’re doing that.”

About that impending IPO …

Schireson’s response to my question about whether the company’s new revenue streams are in preparation for the IPO it has been talking about for a while: “If you don’t mind, I’ll just offer one slight correction, which is that the world has been talking about us going public for a while now, I think since the last round. That’s not something that we’ve been focused on or really talking about.”

The new management tools the company announced earlier this week, which it estimates could result in an additional $750 million in annual revenue, have been underway for year, he added.

Max Schireson. Source: MongoDB

Max Schireson. Source: MongoDB

It turns out lots of people care about gender equity and work-life balance

Schireson said the response to his blog post announcing his resignation, detailing his 300,000 air miles per year, 70-hour work weeks and desire to spend more time at home, was greater than he expected. However, he understands why it caught on:

I think part of what people responded to, the question I asked was why do we ask women how they do it and not ask men? I think that’s important that we look at those work-life balance issues not just for women, but for men. For two reasons: Number one, I think that they’re important issues for men and, number two, as long as it’s viewed as a women’s issue I think that it can be marginalized and the problem isn’t solved necessarily for women as well as it would be if it was just an issue for people in the workplace.

Fathers are parents, too — really

Still, he explained, there are double standards and assumptions in place that just aren’t fair, either to women or men. “If I ditch out of work for a few hours to go to something at my kid’s school, people think, ‘Oh, how great, he’s an engaged father,’” Schireson said. “If a female executive does the same thing, people might question her commitment to the job, and that’s not right.”

In part, these types of attitudes persist because people expect too little from fathers when it comes to family life. “When I say I’m doing something with my kids, people say, ‘Oh, you’re babysitting, that’s great!’” Schireson said. “No, they’re actually my kids. If I watch my friend’s kids, I’m babysitting.”

Not just a tech issue, and certainly not a MongoDB issue

Schireson pointed out that work-life balance isn’t just an issues in the tech industry, and that his particular situation — living in Palo Alto, California, while most of the company is located in New York — might have made a difficult arrangement impossible. Responding to questions about why MongoDB wasn’t more conducive to his desires, said it wasn’t really fair to ask the company to accommodate him more than it had.

“[T]he fact that living 3,000 miles from the center of a company isn’t necessarily compatible with running it, to me, is not an an indictment of work-life balance in the tech industry, in general,” he said.

Two months later, it still looks like the right decision

Schireson said he’s still confident he made the right decision in stepping down, both for himself and the company. He’s proud of his tenure helping grow the company to what it is today, and new CEO Dev Ittycheria’s experience running large companies will actually be a boon to MongoDB.

“It really just sort of felt like a win-win situation, where we could bring some additional skills onto the team, and probably make my own shares more valuable, and have a saner life,” Schireson said.

And life has been saner. His travel load has reduced significantly and will keep dropping as the CEO transition finally finishes up. And, he added, “The other thing is I feel less of the weight of the world on my shoulders and, frankly, I like that.”