Celebrating Paul’s 40th birthday with a look back at Pythian – the early years

Mar 7, 2012 / By Greg Leger

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With this milestone birthday that has now arrived for Paul, it’s time to look back on the years and SOME (there are way too many stories to put them all here) of the Pythian history highlights. By the way, for those of you who aren’t aware, Paul has always been an entrepreneur, and when you have a minute you should ask him about his earlier ventures, there a few good stories to be told there too.

Pythian started in a basement office in the late 90’s. When I joined, I was welcomed to “The Pythian Group” by the ownership team, over a couple of beers. At that point there were no clients, but I had a good feeling about what this company had to offer, and knowing Paul’s drive and business sense I decided that this was a great next step for my career.

To give you an idea of the size of the office, lunch was often spent watching Law & Order and discussing the look and feel for how the original versions of Avail and Support Track would be built. Oh ya, and the punishment for leaving work first in winter, was having to shovel the snow in the owner’s driveway to get your car out. After a rather short amount of time, we started getting some onsite consulting contracts along with our first Maestro managed services contract. For my fellow Pythianites, ever wonder what the acronym MSS stands for in the title of one of our storage scripts? That script came from our first contract and the person who did the onsite work was none other than Paul.

Once we landed our first long term contracts, which was within the first year that I was there, Paul and I went onsite to render some Oracle Apps support in Binghamton NY; and it was there at “The Lost Dog” cafe that Paul officially welcomed me as the first full-time Pythian employee, over yet again a handshake and a pint to seal the deal. Oh yes, and the benefits package was a Squash membership, and let’s just say I let him win ;-). While I may have been the first full time employee of Pythian, I was not the first one to draw a salary, that honor I believe goes to Michael Abbey. That relationship with Michael was instrumental in the successful startup of Pythian. Michael, I think you still owe me coverage for a few shifts of oncall, but I digress…

Over the years we moved from a basement in Orleans to Albert street in downtown Ottawa. Yes it was a central location, yes it was commuter friendly, but we stuck around for many years at that address, one of the big reasons being Charlie’s. Most of the old-timers will definitely remember “The Royal” and were certainly sad to hear when Charlie retired a short time ago. I mention this location because it is a good way to explain the business sense that Paul had. You see in the big boom time of dot coms, a lot of IT companies hemorrhaged cash, and did not plan for the hard times. Paul on the other had sought to be fiscally responsible by not squandering money on frivolous items, and bigger and better office space that frankly we did not need. These moves kept our costs low and when the big economic downturns happened, Pythian was able to continue operating without issue. There is no question that our fractional DBA service is a valuable service offering in tough economic times, but the ability for Pythian to persevere in any economy is as much a factor of what it has to offer in terms of services and tech expertise, as the strength of its leadership.

I mentioned that Paul was the first Pythian onsite consultant, and when he was in the midst of working on the building blocks of Pythian, having to go pull some very long days onsite in the US, you can imagine how hard that must have been. It is for this reason that I say Pythian is one of Paul’s 3 kids. He really did nurture and grow this company from infancy. I figure that Pythian hit adolescence when Paul started building up a strong leadership team that is now headed by the vision and experience of Andrew Waitman; Paul also took a difficult and important step around that time, he relinquished the reigns of service delivery to Roger and then eventually to Rob. Until that time, it was not uncommon to walk into Paul’s office and discuss an approach for a database recovery, review a performance issue resolution plan, or simply have him included in a client tech call at any time of day. But now with Paul and Andrew together focusing on what’s best and what’s next for Pythian. I can truly see that Pythian is a fully mature company with expected growth that I never would have imagined. Like those commercials that run on TV in Canada for the lottery that say “Dream big”, I would say for Paul the slogan would be a little different “Dream big and make it happen”.

With growth at Pythian at an all time high, being recognized for all his hard work as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Ottawa, and Pythian earning the 2011 Oracle North America Titan Award for Exadata Solution, I have to say that joining a little company called Pythian aka “The Pythian Group”, in hindsight was not such a bad idea.

With this, on behalf of all my colleagues at Pythian & our Leadership Team, I raise a glass to Paul congratulating him on the success of the first 40 and wondering what he has in store for us for the next 40. Salut!

Got a birthday wish or early Pythian days story to share about Paul? Add your comments below. It’s a day long celebration.

16 Responses to “Celebrating Paul’s 40th birthday with a look back at Pythian – the early years”

  • Michael Abbey says:

    Then there was the time, when there were only 5 of us, that I took the gang out for a founder’s birthday lunch. I plopped down my Pythian Amex card to pay for the sustenance and was thanked profusely by the birthday boy. Then when the bill arrived for his credit card, he marched out of his office uttering one word … “Abbey!”.

  • Michael Abbey says:

    I begged Paul to allow me to choose the name for our of our early servers. Priestess was THEE original (or close to it), and I proudly announced that my choice for the next server name was “herc”. I must admit, that selection was driven by the joy it gave me to be able to imitate Newton from an early cartoon show named Hercules whenever I mentioned that server name by saying “It’s me Herc, it’s me”.

  • Michael Abbey says:

    I never managed to get to the summer party at Rob Hamel’s cottage. These gatherings started in the days when Pythian was 6-10 people. I do not remember why but was told it was just as well. Many Pythianites assured me it was good to NOT attend these events as there was always something there I may not want to have experienced. Please contact me directly if you want further information on what that may have been :).

  • Michael Abbey says:

    Then there was the early employee of Pythian who I believe had been a school-companion of one of the owners. I had a difficult time understanding some of the things this guy said and asked him to take the “marbles out of his mouth” when he spoke. Then William Guscott (an early employee) appeared in the office one day with an extremely well-done graphic showing a fictitious book cover named “Advanced Marbleization in 60 Days”. A multitude of guffaws followed its appearance.

  • Darren Kipp says:

    Greg’s post brings back an amazing number of memories from some of my earlier days at Pythian in 2004. I can remember my job interview with Paul. He started out describing, with great enthusiasm, how he started Pythian in 1997. He invited me to visit the Albert Street office on a Friday afternoon prior to starting. Rob threw a pager at me when I walked in! Paul then gave me a tour. He showed me the “server room”. Trust me. It was a closet. Priestess, Herc, and some other servers were somehow packed in there along with phone system and some networking gear.

    My first day entailed long discussions, demonstrations and explanations with Michael and a trip to Charlie’s with Paul and Michael. Paul hooked up my phone. From there, I met many of the awesome employees at Pythian. Paul personally handed out pay stubs, with individual thank you, every single payday.

    I headed off to graduate school for a few years before returning.

    Many little things have changed: We outgrew Albert Street. We hire too many people for Paul to be interviewing everyone. We became too global for Paul to personally hand out pay stubs. Charlie retired.

    Many things have stayed the same: Most of the awesome people I worked with those first months are still here. That’s a tribute to the way things are. Paul has remained Paul. His door always open; him always ready to bounce a problem, idea, issue or headache off of.

    Happy Birthday Paul!

  • Paul Logan says:

    I remember Albert Street fondly as it was there just over 3 years where I went when I arrvied in Canada courtesy of Pythian. I had emailed Paul directly asking him could I chance my arm and apply for a job and help me and my family achieve our aim of immigration to Canada.
    I remember my first meal in Charlie’s (chicken burger and chips with gravy) and the looks I got (filet on a kaiser with fries and gravy was the correct order in Canadianese).
    I also will never forgot my first meeting with Paul, this rather relaxed person came over and spoke to me and was joking about but everyone was working really hard when he appeared, it was only afterwards they explained who I had been talking to. But Paul showed for me his true value as a boss when 6 months later I went to him and explained that my father was ill and my family hated Canada, could I possibly return home to Ireland and work from there. Knowing now the circumstances of my request his approval for this will always mean he is held in the highest regard in our house. I do however have one question, was the initial hiring policy based on the fact that you could only join if you were smaller than Paul? And if so who hired Raj and Rob?

  • Raj Thukral says:

    I don’t know who was responsible for hiring Rob, but he was the one who interviewed me. I remember showing up in a suit and tie and being almost laughed out of the office. Anyhow, once the laughter died down, Rob warned me of a 3 hour interview process but finished it off in 1. It took a few more meetings with Paul over coffee at the second cup around the corner before I got a job offer. I guess he didn’t trust me with beer!

    My first weekend on call I got stuck with a strange problem and ended up calling Paul. Paul and I spent all of that Sunday debugging the issue.. oh, and I was covering for Michael as well on the first weekend I was on call

    I was happy to retire Herc after having to trudge in at 2am to reboot it on many an occasion – it was replaced with Cerberus, then Zeus, then Ned and then Springfield. You can blame me for starting the Simpsons naming conventions as well, much to Paul’s Chagrin!!

  • Paul Vallee says:

    Thanks everyone!

    Great post, Greg. Good times and a lot of fun over the years. Raj – I have called you over the weekend fifty times for every time you’ve called me :)

    Thanks for remembering about the pay stubs Darren, I loved that tradition. It’s funny how disciplined we are to say thank you for a cup of coffee, but how reluctant we are as a business culture to say thank you for two weeks’ hard work.

    Michael – do you think you even COULD come up with nicknames for all 165 of us now?!

  • Sandi Barr says:

    Happy Birthday, Paul! I hope your next 40 years are just as fabulous as the first.

  • Michael Abbey says:

    Nicknames … just give me a CR number and consider it done IF I can have CR 1000000 reserved for me. Please and thanks.

  • Fahd Mirza says:

    Happy Birthday Paul.

    You can turn mud into gold dust. :)

    Long Live and prosper.

  • We have retired Priestess less than a year ago.
    Springfield and Shelbyville (or Oracle database servers) were the last servers named after Simpsons – we now have a standard server naming scheme.

    When Paul first emailed me (we met online at Oracle-L) I lived in Germany and my family planned moving to Australia. When he asked if I would ever considered moving to Canada to join Pythian, I immediately replied to his email — “No”. Three months later I was in Canada. In the meantime, I signed the offer and then almost bailed out the next day. :) Paul would remember… he didn’t give up and got me to talk to some employees and even a customer and was ready to do whatever it take… Paul doesn’t give up — “if there is a will, there is a way” is his moto.

    I did go to Australia but just couple years later. Came back to Canada anyway.

  • Masaf Dawood says:

    Great post By Greg Leger who should I call not the official “Historian” of Pythian!!! For newcomers like myself it is quite amazing going thru the intial bootstrapping, start-up pains and Paul’s vision to define a market and go at it.
    Happy Birthday Paul!!!!

  • Dan Sheehan says:

    Happy Birthday Paul! Let’s see, we started working with your team around 2003. Almost 10 years. Hard to believe that time has gone so fast. I remember going through the evaluation process for picking a remote DBA service. Michael Abbey was the big drawing card for me. I had seen Michael speak at several IOUG conferences and was duly impressed. We are fortunate to have Shervin, Catherine, and Sylvain as part of our team. Congratulations on this milestone.

  • Dan Sheehan says:

    Oops….Can’t forget Luke!

  • Andria Hall says:

    Happy Birthday Paul Vallee!

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