Vincent Massol, our Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

29 May 2020 5 min read

This article is based on a video conversation with Vincent. The opinions and wording are the author’s personal understanding of that conversation and not an exact transcript of it.

Vincent is not only our CTO, but he is also one of the first XWikiers, a great father of 3 boys, a best-sellers author, an innovator, a renowned speaker, a passionate Open Source contributor, a community builder with 19 years of experience, and a great conversation partner. We had the pleasure to learn more about his journey towards and within XWiki. 

in 5 things
  • Favorite artist: David Sinclair
  • Best book ever read: Everything from Malcolm Gladwell or Ken Follet
  • Dream destination: The future
  • Quote you live by: “Whatever your job is, do it to the best possible way, and push the frontier."
  • At the office or remote? Remote

Was Open Source something you had an interest in prior to XWiki?

I've started doing Open Source development out of pure passion 19 years ago. I've always been interested in software engineering and the practice of developing software, more explicitly testing the quality of what was developed. At my job, I created a framework for doing tests in Java EE, called Cactus, and I wanted to share it with others in the company, to be used and to have my skills tested. That was my first commit and Open Source project. 

It quickly grew on me as a hobby, working on evenings, weekends, and holidays. Soon after I joined the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), I started creating software solutions that were used all over the globe. For me, it was a dream coming true, as all I ever wanted was to excel as a developer and help as many people as possible with my work. What attracted me towards the "Apache-way" was the community that led itself and all the innovation, hence answering real needs and problems with powerful software. 

This mix of freedom, responsibility, and power convinced me to include Open Source in my criteria when prospecting the market for a new job.

While developing Maven I noticed that there were many french active developers, and some even from Paris, as I was. I convinced them to have a physical meetup, it was quite a success so we made it a monthly event. To grow it, I created a group called Open Source Software Get Together Paris (OSSGTP) and all the members started to invite other Open Source developers. We met monthly, everyone had a chance to present their projects, ideas, or concerns. It was at one of those meetings that I met Ludovic (our CEO), who was looking for a CTO to scale the project he was already working on, called XWiki. I worked on developing the project, as a committer, and after a year Ludovic asked if I would consider joining full-time.

... and you accepted. What is it like to be working as the CTO of XWiki?

I did. It was the perfect opportunity, checking all the criteria I had in mind:

doing Open Source as a job and making a living out of it;
being an entrepreneur;
being able to work remotely;
having the freedom to innovate;
growing and working with a community.

It's been 14 years and I'm still thrilled to have this job. Thinking back, it was a disruptive move, switching from a secure software-architecture consultancy job to an Open Source startup. The first office we had was a 3sqm room in the Télécom Paris school, hosting 3 employees and 2 interns. We didn't have the garage, but it was close enough. We scaled a lot in the meanwhile, and not only in terms of office space emoticon_wink When we started working together, Ludovic and I decided to work separately, him on the business side and me on the product development one.

I believe that the reason for me to be on Earth is to surpass my predecessors in a specific domain, to push the boundaries of what is known, and to leave something new that will outlive me.

I didn't want to be average in many areas, so for a long time, my plan has been (still is) to be the best in Open Source software engineering, and specifically in the quality test domain. That's why I've pushed myself to innovate as much as possible with Cactus, Maven, Cargo, and now XWiki. It is why I've co-authored 4 books: "JUnit in Action", "Maven: A Developer's Notebook", "Agile Offshore" and "Better Builds with Maven".

In my work at XWiki, this translates into continually improving the way we build software, so it's better and faster. During the years we managed to build a strong team, with great software development practices and scaled the project to production level. I am especially proud that we have a strong product and a good release cadence, something that is not easily achieved.

What's the Open Source value you identify with most?

The most important thing for me is the community. There are a lot of Open Source projects that are not community-driven, and that is totally fine. But for me, having a community with users from anywhere in the world, with different backgrounds, different problems, and knowledge is the dream. Sharing software that is free so everyone can use it to build better solutions for themselves and humanity, is why I am in Open Source. 


Vincent presenting the latest features developed by the Product Team at the XWiki Seminar in 2019

You've been at XWiki for almost 14 years, what's the secret for the longevity?

There is no recipe that works for everyone, as I've seen people come and go. For me, it is a mix of 5 things: believing in the product, the freedom to develop it without having interventions from money-driven stakeholders. What I highly appreciate at XWiki SAS is that the shareholders (myself included) are true to Open Source and its values. Being a shareholder also means that I have the decision power when it comes to development, so if things go sour it's my fault too. And last, but not least, being able to work remotely has been an undoubted benefit that I still enjoy.

Of course, people leave for very different reasons: the technology used, colleagues, money, and even personal goals. Were I to leave it would be because active install numbers will show that my work is not valuable anymore/has become irrelevant to the growth of the project.

My job as a CTO, shareholder, and software engineer professional is to innovate fast and well enough so that our software is relevant enough to beat the competition.

What would you say is the most valuable lesson or skill you gained at XWiki?

One thing that describes XWiki very well, and was news to me in the workplace, was transparency. It was interesting implementing it and seeing it grow in XWiki SAS and the community.

Something that I can appreciate looking at myself is that I've grown as a team-player and a leader - of course, there's always room to improve, and I believe I still have a huge margin of progression. I'm very privileged to be working with my team and happy with the way it's grown. We have one of the most stable teams in the company, with senior developers that have 10+ years of XWiki experience.

The only way to have something that I would like done is to convince everyone that it needs to be done. I had countless ideas dismissed by vote, and that is ok, as everything is done by the community, for the community. 


Vincent and the Product Team during the XWiki Seminar in 2019

Another thing that I've learned about myself is that I prefer practicing leadership and only use management to become a better leader. My job as a manager is to protect the ones that create value, the developers, from all roadblocks, everything that might interrupt them, or break their workflow, so that they can do their job. I, as a manager, am at their service, in this regard. As a leader, I like working side-by-side and leading by example, whether it comes to code, practices, or decision-making.

Vincent is one of the reasons I've worked with XWiki for more than 10 years. He is dedicated, will defend his team, try to empower its members and provide the environment to help them grow. He is involved in every aspect of building a product, from engineering, to testing, to marketing, to business and customer service. Vincent is very reliable and he will always provide an answer or a solution to any problem. He is a pillar of XWiki, always trying to improve and modernize the product. Very professional, serious and a bit of a perfectionist. He inspired and nurtured my love for Open Source, so I am grateful to have worked with him and learned so much from him.
- Ecaterina Moraru, Interaction Designer Lead 

When did you switch to remote working? what was it like?

My first experience was with part-remote, 16 years ago, as I moved outside the city, and only came to the office 3 days per week. Once my family grew bigger and we needed more space, I've decided to go full-remote and move further outside of Paris. That was 10+ years ago. 

There are good and bad things about being remote, of course, but they're tailored to each and every one. For me, a problem has been not having a balance between work and personal time. I was (still am) quite passionate about my job and found myself working 14-16 hours per day, and even weekends. It's a common mistake that many warn you about now, but back then it seemed normal to me. My family was not as convinced, so gradually I started having a healthier schedule.

What I would tell workers transitioning to working remotely is to:

1. a. if possible, start with a coworking space close to your home
1. b. have a separate space/room as an office and limit access to it during work hours
2. have good tools - chair, office, hardware, and software
3. focus on the relationships with those that you share your home with, they might find it harder to understand/accept the changes

What I would advise companies transitioning to working remotely is to:

4. have collaboration tools that are tailored to your workers' needs
5. have policies and practices in place to do remote as transparent as possible
6. make sure decision-making is facilitating the participation of remote workers so that they don't end up as "second-class citizens"

Favorite memory of the years as XWiki?

All the seminar have a special place in my heart, I can't choose emoticon_smile

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