May 11, 2011

Retrospective: How the engineers came to embrace marketing — sort of


This post is part of a series. This week is a retrospective designed to look back at Perforce’s beginnings through the eyes of the company’s guiding architects.

I joined Perforce in 1997 as the business guy when the company moved out of the founder's garage. My interview was in that same garage with Christopher Seiwald's daughter sitting on my lap. I think I got the job because I owned a suit and no one else had one. Perforce back then was very much an engineering company that viewed marketing as a necessary evil. It quickly became apparent that the engineers did not approve of modern marketing practices. I thought it prudent to ask for a list of pitfalls so I could try to avoid upsetting anyone. They provided me with one. It was a very long list.

One thing everyone agreed on was the tagline "The Fast SCM System.” The competition was generally slow and clunky, so fast felt good. It was also one of the inspirations behind the creation of Perforce: an SCM system that was so fast that it wouldn't get in Christopher's way.

But speed wasn’t our only advantage: we had features that were not readily available in any other product, such as atomic change transactions, interfile branching and administrative ease. Furthermore, cross-platform was critical back then--virtually no one ran on Linux, while we ran on everything, even the Amiga.

One of our very first ads was a quarter-page black-and-white unit that ran in Dr. Dobb's Journal of Tiny BASIC Calisthenics & Orthodontia. The magazine’s tagline was "Running Light without Overbyte," which we thought aptly described the Perforce server. “The choice is simple,” our ad read, “Do you want to work or do you want to wait?”

Fast forward 15 years: Perforce has a modern marketing department staffed with some wonderful creative minds. Our website uses text and graphics to communicate with developers, who have come to expect slick visuals from software companies. A few things haven't changed, though. We still prefer to be plain spoken, and we don't "leverage our synergies," at least not while anyone is looking. And we still don't gate the free two-user version of Perforce. You can still download it for free -- no questions asked.

Over the years, however, the commoditization of SCM has made Perforce's services equally important. We’re proud that developers around the world rave about our technical support, consulting and training. That’s why it’s so good to take a break from constantly developing and innovating Perforce and spend a week interacting with our customers face-to-face. We have a lot of exciting news to share at the 2011 User Conference. We hope to see you there.