The Seeds of Mechanical Orchard

economic impact
extreme programming
mainframe migration

Rob Mee is CEO/Founder of Mechanical Orchard. He previously founded Pivotal Labs, and was CEO of Pivotal Software.

As we start anew, a look back at where we came from.

Sometime in 2001: A revolution was brewing in software development.

Mechanical Orchard traces its origins to the beginnings of the agile movement. Those early days saw a rapid evolution in software development techniques and philosophy, concentrated in the Smalltalk community, where Kent Beck took what he’d learned over many years and crystallized it into an approach he called Extreme Programming (XP).

As founder of Pivotal Labs, I applied XP principles to the development of applications for a wide variety of clients, and we came to be relied on as one of Silicon Valley’s premier development shops. We worked with major technology companies and venture backed startups alike in a pair-programming, teach-a-team-to-fish model. We stood up software development centers across the United States, and eventually around the world.

April 2013: Pivotal’s cloud evolution.

Acquired in 2012 by EMC, we were spun out a year later to become Pivotal Software, where we built and deployed Pivotal Cloud Foundry for clients and developed applications to run on this open source-based cloud platform. We helped Global 2000 companies and government agencies modernize their software development capabilities and deploy mission critical systems to the cloud. We also helped our clients operate this sophisticated platform, adding site reliability engineering to our evolving toolkit.

April 2020: A pandemic was raging. We wanted to help.

At the request of the former director of the CDC, I assembled a team of former Pivots and friends to quickly build software infrastructure and applications for state governments. Contact investigation teams were overwhelmed by the amount of data they now needed to process, and lacked the right digital tools to identify and assist those potentially affected by Covid. We stepped in and replaced slow, unreliable applications cobbled together in haste with new systems designed to be scalable, reliable and fast.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. State governments don’t operate software easily; they are typically understaffed in IT and have many competing demands for their time and attention. We had delivered software that functioned well and served a critical need, but we couldn’t do what Pivotal had always done and hand it over to our clients. So we ran it ourselves. Somewhat to our surprise, the model of building and running software turned out to be both efficient and fulfilling. We still collaborated closely with our clients, but the build-run-innovate closed loop allowed us to optimize all aspects of the software development lifecycle with improved feedback mechanisms. In fact, it worked so well that we decided to create a company to continue this work, Ratio PBC. Now, based on the success of this work in public health, we are launching a new company dedicated to taking this model to clients large and small across all verticals: Mechanical Orchard.

Past is present.

One of today’s greatest technology challenges lies in the great frozen mass of legacy systems that have not been modernized. The supply of developers who understand how to maintain them is dwindling due to retirement. Many of these systems run on obsolete or unsupported platforms. For some, the source code itself has been lost. Lift-and-shift to the cloud is not an option for many of these systems, and the codebases - should they be accessible - are far beyond the reach of a straightforward effort to modernize. A new approach is needed.

We perform digital transplants, duplicating the behavior of orphaned black-box systems, but in a form optimized for change. We operate those systems for our clients while continuing to evolve them to match a changing business.

November 2022: New opportunity

What happens when superior software development meets expert production operation? Mechanical Orchard. Launching today with funding from Spider Capital, Bloomberg Beta, Cendana Capital, and others.

In the last few years the software industry has navigated a pandemic and a new working paradigm. We’ve seen an incredible change in the developer toolset along with an explosion in the pace of evolution of new technologies. Software has, in fact, “eaten the world” - but it has not eaten it equally, and we are feeling the indigestion: legacy technical debt, uneven performance of software teams, and the burden of operating poorly written production systems.

It is our thesis that a new company, formed in the image of Pivotal Labs, but taking on the lessons of Pivotal Software and our recent response to the Covid pandemic, has an unparalleled opportunity to serve both startups and Global 2000 in greenfield software development, legacy modernization, and the efficient operation of software in the cloud. We are excited to put this experience to work making the most reliable software available to any client today.

Follow us on Linkedin and contact us to discuss your next important software project.


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