Mike Gupta, the man credited with spearheading Twitter’s move to an initial public offering during 22 months as its CFO, was officially hired today by Docker Inc. as its Chief Financial Officer.

Even an amateur business analyst can guess why.

Just three months ago, Docker CEO Ben Golub, at the largest of his young company’s keynote addresses to date, cited Archimedes when telling attendees, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I can move the Earth.”

Step 1 is done: Docker’s lever is the compelling new technology called containerization, which despite being claimed to have been invented by nearly every other IT player, Docker almost single-handedly popularized.

But last week at VMworld in San Francisco, it was VMware claiming responsibility for the centrifugal force that holds the celestial bodies of the IT space in motion.

As and Bs

VMware introduced the next iteration of its vSphere virtualization platform, showing its audience charts of vSphere gobbling up Docker containers like antacids gobbling up stomach gasses in 1960s TV commercials.

That same day, in a stunning company blog post, Docker marketing vice president David Messina acknowledged vSphere as a viable infrastructure for Docker, in a sharp split from Docker CTO Solomon Hykes’ declaration the previous June, also at DockerCon: “We don’t think it fits the model of distributed applications well.”

If Docker is to attain that fulcrum it needs to truly move the planet, it needs to decide upon a competitive stance for itself. While financial analysts perceive VMware’s move as necessary for VMware in order to “keep its enemies closer,” the jury is still out on whether this is good for Docker.

Such a jury may be compelled to finally reach a verdict, with Mike Gupta now spearheading Docker’s financial picture.

“I try my best to keep a level head,” Gupta told his alma mater Booth School of Business, for a promotional video published just last June, while still serving as a Twitter SVP for strategic investments.

“I pride myself on being even-keeled throughout these chaotic and hectic situations,” he continued.  “A lot of the transactions I’ve been involved with, like the Twitter IPO, like the Zynga IPO, you’re in the moment, leveraging some of the strong finance and technical skills that I’ve learned at Booth, coupled with that ability to go deep on the hard issues.”

In Gupta’s perfunctory interview with The Wall Street Journal, Gupta refrained from acknowledging an IPO was in the works, while also stopping short of denying one is in the works.

In a statement to CMSWire Tuesday, a Docker Inc. spokesperson said, “Mike’s long experience in leadership at high growth companies will be of great benefit to Docker, which remains focused on scaling the business to address the needs of its millions of users at organizations of all types and sizes globally.

“Docker’s momentum in the past two years has positioned the company and the project well for success, and we look forward to continuing to build on that in the coming year.”

Steady Hand

Besides an undeniably probable IPO in Docker’s future, Gupta now faces one of those hard issues he talked about: Docker  is the leading purveyor of one of the most disruptive technologies to reach the data center in this century.

But to survive long enough to be that technology’s champion into the next decade, Docker must take a diplomatically aggressive stance.  With its roots in open source, up to now, Docker has acted like it would rather remain completely agnostic, standing down from any stare-down contest with a potential competitor — especially VMware.

Yes, Docker needs to forge partnerships. The one it’s made with Microsoft may have been a master stroke. But in standing for something, Docker also needs to take the bolder, less pleasant, step of standing against something.

“It’s easy to describe what you do in an elevator pitch,” Gupta told his alma mater for an interview last February, when asked about the strategic re-alignment any company must undergo, as part of its preparation for an IPO.

“But when you put pen to paper to define the company for the world to see and refer to, that’s a lot harder than you might think."

During his time as CFO of Twitter, Gupta concentrated on building Twitter into a revenue-generating advertising platform. This remains a work in progress for Twitter, but the reasons why are largely either technical or social/sociological in nature.

The words most often used to describe Mike Gupta, especially in print, during this time include: “calm,” “level-headed,” “practical,” “balanced.”

Moving into the SVP role at Twitter, his perspective changed from encouraging investors to place long-term bets on Twitter, to leading Twitter in placing long-term bets on others. One major bet in April 2014 was on Gnip, a significant harvester of social data for analytics.

Last March, Twitter placed another bet on Cyanogen, the commercial distributor of an open source, independently developed offshoot of Android for mobile devices, called CyanogenMod.

Up until then, Twitter had not been considered part of the operating system business. But if Twitter’s job, as Gupta described it during analysts’ conferences more than once, is truly to appeal to users on the platforms they’ve already chosen, then an Android system seems just as sound an investment as the Web.

Docker is no stranger to the acquisitions game, but in small, carefully chosen bites. In March, it snapped up SDN provider SocketPlane as well as containerization management provider Kitematic.

Both instances could almost be perceived as hires rather than acquisitions, since in the open source arena, providers of major technologies are often comprised of no more than three full-time employees.

For Gupta to position Docker in such a way that shareholders may perceive it as ready to make strategic investments, means he will need to endow Docker with the wisdom to make wise choices.

The platform agnosticism of open source idealism makes for nice parties.  But Mike Gupta’s hiring is a signal that party time has ended.

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