Fireside chat with Ali Ghodsi

Jacek Laskowski
5 min readDec 2, 2021


Thanks Ali Ghodsi for being so open, honest and developer-ish during our fireside chat last night (Poland time). I really enjoyed it very much and hope for more similar chats in the future.

I was nominated to the Databricks Beacons program almost a year ago (which I consider similar to the other programs I’d been part of already: the Confluent Community Catalyst and the Java Champion).

I must admit I haven’t yet learnt how to use these “venues” for better myself and the others around me. I’ve been doing my job as an IT freelancer and these recognitions just happened. So be it.

That’s when I really got to know Karen Bajza-Terlouw better who had been supporting my Databricks journey for quite some time already. She’s been supporting myself to find my own place in this world of Databricks the Platform where the commercial versions of ApacheSpark and DeltaLake (apparently) flourish.

There have always been Jules S. Damji and Denny Lee who have been so instrumental in my career as an Apache Spark and Delta Lake freelancer (but thought I’d focus on Karen more here and let them enjoy less important role in this “Ali’s event” story. Sorry mates).

So Karen called me a couple of months ago about this unique opportunity for Databricks Beacons to join a fireside chat with the one and only Ali Ghodsi.

To be really really honest, in my eyes Ali’s more of a businessman than a software engineer like Matei Zaharia, Michael Armbrust or Tathagata Das and the others from the Apache Spark open source project’s crew who I’ve always been so excited to learn Spark or Delta Lake from, but given his role (the CEO) in Databricks I was quite interested to join the event (mind the word “quite” as I was not really convinced).

As it happens when I’m not really convinced I tentatively accepted the invitation (almost considering it a no-go call right when I clicked the Accept button).

Later, it turned out that the only time to have this chat was…cough…cough…1:00 AM Poland time! Imagine what I thought when I saw this weird time. Given it was supposed to happen on Thursday 1am and I was going to play basketball a couple of hours before that time I knew I’d be very tired and really not for such an apparently-boring-yet-ego-boosting event.

And yet Karen did a great job and convinced me to join the chat with Ali despite all these “unreal” obstacles.

And the day came and I joined the fireside chat with Ali.

Gee, that was so much fun actually!

There were Adi Polak (2:00 AM Israel time), Simon Whiteley (12:00 AM / a midnight UK time) and myself (1:00 AM Poland time) representing the other side of the pond with the people from the US: R. Tyler Croy, Denny, Karen and the main guest himself Ali.

Given the timezone differences and the sleepy and tired faces of us already after or at the midnight the chat kicked in with a warm welcome from Denny who asked us to introduce ourselves and share our thoughts on what we like and dislike about Delta Lake and Databricks’ style of handling things in the open source community.

Adi Polak shared her take first.

I’m not so sure Adi finished before Ali took the stage and shared his based on Adi’s (it’s only now when I noticed how close their names are not to mention that Adi’s surname is a Polish word for someone who lives in Poland!)

It was clear right off the bat that Ali is a fantastic and very engaging speaker who I’m sure would make a career in a social media space easily, e.g. as a YouTuber with 1MM after a couple of weeks :D

Ali addressed Adi’s points with such witty words and in such an engaging way that I immediately forgot it was 1AM and it’s gonna be 2AM when it all finishes.

Then Denny let me talk and then Simon followed by R. Tyler Croy. Every time we spoke it was clear it wouldn’t take long before Ali grabs the mic and starts talking. I didn’t mind actually. At some point this conversation was so open and friendly that no one really bothered to interrupt Ali anymore. That was a very eye-opening moment in the chat. We all really spoke what we felt.

At some point in this fireside chat it even looked like it was Ali’s interview when he claimed he’s doing this and that and “I show you this” was all over the place. He really wanted to impress us! And he did!

Ali shared how much he values open source and how much he wants Databricks to open source most if not all of the great features of Delta Lake. If what he claimed were going to be part of the open source Delta Lake that would make a huge impact on Delta Lake’s adoption (and would surely confirm the number 1 position against Apache Iceberg and Hudi).

Ali no longer spoke like a CEO but more like a developer who simply open sourced all what he’s developed behind the curtains. He once mentioned Red Hat that brought memories of JBoss and how every commercial entity wanted to ditch it until they eventually embraced it. I think that’s when I heard this quote for the first time when Marc Fleury referred to JBoss:

First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.

Same with Linux that Ali did mention too (but these memories are more vague in my head as I no longer work with Linux since the kernel v2.0).

Ali shared some of his non-CEO views on internal things at Databricks (e.g. a devrel team or perhaps a couple per product) and the paper about Photon he’s been working on with Matei and Reynold to be published soon. Nice stuff!

I liked the most his firm and strong desire to have developers to work in the devrel team of Databricks considering them more liaisons between Databricks’ product development teams and the open source communities of Delta Lake and Apache Spark.

If I were asked to judge the future of Databricks Inc. in open source, I’d express only positive words. Similar attempts have been in the works already (e.g. Denny’s initiative to foster development of the Flink connector for Delta Lake with Trino’s in the pipeline).

Thank you Karen and Denny to spearhead this and similar initiatives to teach Databricks Inc. be a good open source citizen (even Microsoft has finally learnt that OSS is a good thing in a long run). Wish you all the best!



Jacek Laskowski

Freelance Data Engineer | #ApacheSpark #DeltaLake #Databricks #ApacheKafka #KafkaStreams | Java Champion | @theASF | #DatabricksBeacons