Hello, Collabora!

Ever since I announced that I was leaving Intel, there’s been a lot of speculation as to where I’d end up. I left it a bit quiet over the holidays but, now that we’re solidly in 2022, It’s time to let it spill. As of January 24, I’ll be at Collabora!

For those of you that don’t know, Collabora is an open-source consultancy. They sell engineering services to companies who are making devices that run Linux and want to contribute to open-source technologies. They’ve worked on everything from automotive to gaming consoles to smart TVs to infotainment systems to VR platforms. I’m not an expert on what Collabora has done over the years so I’ll refer you to their brag sheet for that. Unlike some contract houses, Collabora doesn’t just do engineering for hire. They’re also an ideologically driven company that really believes in upstream and invests directly in upstream projects such as Mesa, Wayland, and others.

My personal history with Collabora is as old as my history as an open-source software developer. My first real upstream work was on Wayland in early 2013. I jumped in with a cunning plan for running a graphics-enabled desktop Linux chroot on an Android device and absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Two of the people who not only helped me understand the underbelly of Linux window systems but also helped me learn to navigate the world of open-source software were Daniel Stone and Pekka Paalanen, both of whom were at Collabora then and still are today.

After switching to Mesa when I joined Intel in 2014, I didn’t interact with Collabora devs quite as much since they mostly stayed in the window-system world and I tried to stay in 3D. In the last few years, however, they’ve been building up their 3D team and doing some really interesting work. Alyssa Rosenzweig and I have worked quite a bit together on various NIR passes as part of her work on Panfrost and now agx. I also worked with Boris Brezillon and Erik Faye-Lund on some of the CLOn12, GLOn12, and Zink work which layers OpenGL and OpenCL on top of D3D12 and Vulkan. In case you haven’t figured it out already from my glowing review, Collabora has some top-notch people who are doing great work and I’m excited to be joining the team and working more closely with them.

So how did this happen? What convinced me to leave the cushy corporate job and join a tiny (compared to Intel) open-source company? It’s not been for lack of opportunities. I get pinged by recruiters on LinkedIn on a regular basis and certain teams in the industry have been rather persistent. I’ve thought quite a lot over the years about where I’d want to go if I ever left Intel. Intel has been my engineering home for 7.5 years and has provided the strange cocktail on which I’ve built my career: a stable team, well-funded upstream open-source work, fairly cutting edge hardware, and an IHV seat at Khronos. Every place I’d ever considered going would mean losing one or more of those things and, until Collabora, no one had given me a good enough reason to give any of that up.

Back in September, I was chatting on IRC with other Mesa devs about OpenCL, SPIR-V, and some corner-case we were missing in the compiler when the following exchange happened:

11:39 < jenatali> I hope I get time to get back to CL at some point, I
      hate leaving it half-finished, but stupid corporate priorities
      mean I have to do other stuff instead :P
11:41 < jekstrand> Yeah... Corporations... Why do we work for them
      again?  Oh, right, so we can afford to eat.

About an hour later, Daniel Stone replied privately:

12:40 <daniels> hey so if corporations ever get you down, there are
      always less-corporate options … :)
12:40 <daniels> timing completely coincidental of course
12:42 <jekstrand> Of course...
12:42 <jekstrand> I'm always open to new things if the offer is

This kicked off the weirdest and most interesting career conversation I’ve had to date. At first, I didn’t believe him. The job he was describing doesn’t exist. No one gets that offer. Not unless you’re Dave Airlie or Linus Torvalds. But, after multiple 1 – 2 hour video chats, more IRC chatter, and an hour chatting with Philippe Kalaf (Collabora’s CEO), they had me convinced. This is real.

So what did Collabora finally offer me that no one else has? Total autonomy. In my new role at Collabora, my mandate consists of two things: invest in and mentor the Collabora 3D graphics team and invest in upstream Linux and open-source graphics however I see fit. I won’t be expected to do any contract work. I may meet with clients from time to time and I’ll likely get involved more with the various Collabora-driven Mesa projects but my primary focus will be on ensuring that upstream is healthy. I won’t be tied to any one driver or hardware vendor either. Sure, it’d be good to do a bit of Panfrost work so I can help Alyssa out since she’s now my coworker and I’ll likely still work on Intel drivers a bit since that’s my home turf. But, at the end of the day, I’m now free to put my effort wherever it’s needed in the stack without concern for corporate priorities. Ray-tracing in RADV? Why not. OpenCL 3.0 for everyone? Sure. Hacking on a new kernel interface for Freedreno? That’s fine too. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to how I spend my engineering effort, I now report directly to upstream. No strings attached.

One of the interesting side-effect of this is how it will affect my role within Khronos. Collabora is a Khronos member so I still plan to be involved there but it will look different. For several years now (as long as RADV has been a competent driver, really), I’ve always worn two hats at Khronos: Intel and Mesa/Linux. Most of the time, I’m representing Intel but there were always those weird awkward moments where I help out the Igalia team working on V3DV or the RADV team. Now that I’m no longer at a hardware vendor, I can really embrace the role of representing Mesa and Linux upstream within Khronos. This doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to fix all your Vulkan spec problems overnight but it does mean I’ll be paying a bit more attention to the non-Intel drivers and doing what I can to ensure that all the Vulkan drivers in Mesa are in good shape.

Honestly, I’m still in shock that I was offered this role. It’s a great testament to Collabora’s belief in upstream that they’re willing to fund such a role and it shows an incredible amount of faith in my work. At Intel, I was blessed to be able to work upstream as part of my day job, which isn’t something most open-source software developers get. To have someone believe in your work so much that they’re willing to cut you a pay check just to keep doing what you’re doing is mind boggling. I’m truly honored and I hope the work I do in the days, months, and years to come will prove that their faith was well placed.

So, what am I going to be working on with my new found freedom? Do I have any cool new projects planned that are going to turn the industry upside-down? Of course I do! But those are topics for other blog posts.