As of today, I work for Sun. Let’s see; Java rocks. Microsoft sucks. I can play that tune.
The Great Job Hunt · I announced the job hunt on January first; the response was decent but not overwhelming. Although I’d said I wanted to stay in Vancouver and not work for a startup, I heard from a dozen or so entrepreneurs saying “Come work for my revolutionary startup in Minneapolis (or Boston or Toronto, whatever) and we’ll get rich.” You gotta love entrepreneurs; and in fact, I just about went startup (see below). I talked to quite a few outfits large and small, and I suspect might have seen some more offers in the fullness of time, but I wanted to go to work.
Why Sun? · What happened was, Simon Phipps introduced me to John Fowler who, I can now reveal, invented the term open-source person. He’s “Software CTO” there, and we spent an hour and change talking about what I’m interested in and what Sun is interested in. In follow-up, he suggested I check with my friends at Sun to get the inside story on what it was like to work there.
I liked what I heard, and John got a position approved, and Liz Friley the recruiting angel managed to get the Canadian HR people to arrange to hire a Canadian to report to someone in another country in a position that doesn’t exist in the Canadian org chart, and I got a FAX with an offer on it.
When you can get through to a decision-maker at a company and the decision-maker can make a decision and the staff can execute on it, in my mind that’s a useful indicator that it’s a company where you might want to work. Because there’s a lot of big companies that fail this simple test.
Another reason was that I have a lot of friends already at Sun, including some who were there for the heavy sledding around the birth of XML, which was a pretty damn intense shared experience.
Another reason was the fact that Sun’s a big company. I haven’t worked for one of those since 1987, and never in any kind of senior position, so this will be a totally new experience for me, and I’m a novelty junkie, bad as any chimp.
Another reason is that I like computers, and Sun makes good ones. My first job was with Digital Equipment Corporation, at that time the world’s second-largest computer company.
Another reason was the job itself, on which see below. But first: Sun was not the only choice.
The Alternatives · I had two other opportunities and they were both great and I knew that whichever one I accepted I’d be weeping over the other two, and I am. One was a group that’s building what may be the world’s strongest search-technology team to address a real interesting problem. And I would have taken it in a flash... but the fit with Sun was just a little bit better.
Then there was a hot startup, the kind of organization I said I wasn’t looking for; I totally love the people there, and I think they have a good chance of changing the world and making a huge pile of money. Plus, I have experience in some areas where they need help building out.
The problem was, in that job I’d be responsible for building and maintaining a popular high-volume Web site. Which has been more or less what I’ve been doing since 1994. And I wanted something different this time. Maybe I walked away from the time of my life and a few million dollars; we’ll see.
So, here I am at Sun. Which brings me to the Java Rocks, Microsoft Sucks mantra.
Java Rocks? · Java is how most important server-side applications get written, and I think Java is going to go on being the way they get written, and I think that’s fine. Java is substantially better than what came before; for some things you’re always going to need C code, but I sincerely hope and expect that C++ will end up in history’s dustbin.
The pundits and prognosticators see .NET as a threat to Java’s future, but that’s silly. Parts of .NET look technically excellent, but it has three fatal flaws:
First, it makes no attempt to hit an 80/20 point. Java was actually pretty lean-and-mean when 1.0 launched and has grown into its current middle-aged spread fairly smoothly. .NET launched as a kitchen-sink-equipped behemoth; it had a legacy problem on Day One.
Second, .NET was created by a company with a historic focus on (and infinite experience with) desktop applications, and has a lot of apparatus aimed at building desktop applications. I’m sorry; for most businesses, desktop applications aren’t interesting. Put your business logic on the server side and use the Web for your delivery platform. (I think the interesting client applications are on mobile phones and PDAs, these days; and Java looks like a good way to build those, too).
Third, .NET comes with the Microsoft agenda attached, wide as the horizon and high as the sky. That agenda is becoming markedly less and less popular among the CIOs and technology buyers of the world. This, I think, is the most serious problem .NET faces.
In fact I personally believe that Java’s share of enterprise software will decline, but not in favor of anything from Redmond. I think that dynamic languages (Python and friends), particularly in conjunction with Test-Driven Development, are looking more like winners all the time. They generally are cheaper to program in, run just as fast, and have fewer bugs; what’s not to like? There is one huge niche that the strongly-typed statically-compiled languages are never going to be driven out of, but I’ll save writing about that for later because I’ve got a major skunkworks in mind.
Microsoft Sucks? · We all like to take cheap shots at Microsoft, but we shouldn’t start believing in them too much. Microsoft is smart and fast and rich and I think should be taken very seriously.
That aside, I’m comfy being officially a direct competitor of Microsoft. On the technical side, I find the APIs inelegant, the UI aesthetics juvenile, and the neglect of the browser maddening. On the business side, I prefer markets to monocultures, I think that when you’re continually being sued by elected governments it’s indicative of an ethics problem, and I hate ludicrously overpriced products (when gross margins are pushing 100% on products that deliver billions in free cash-flow per quarter, the prices are by definition way out there).
On the other hand, Microsoft has shipped some excellent technology over the years and when they've done something good I’ve said so, publicly. And there are excellent, smart, honourable people working there that I’m proud to call friends.
Personal disclosure: Over the years, I’ve made a few thousand bucks buying and selling Microsoft shares.
Personal disclosure: In 1997, as a result of signing a consulting contract with Netscape, I was subject to a vicious, deeply personal extended attack by Microsoft in which they tried to destroy my career and took lethal action against a small struggling company because my wife worked there. It was a sideshow of a sideshow of the great campaign to bury Netscape and I’m sure the executives have forgotten; but I haven’t. I should tell that story here sometime so that should my readers discern an attitude problem regarding Redmond, it ain’t because I work at Sun. Also, it has a funny ending.
What I’ll be Doing · Uh, let me get back to you on that. In Sun-HR terms I’m a “Technology Director”, but maybe we can think up something more illuminating for my business card. Seriously, I think I convinced John Fowler that I could be useful and he convinced me that Sun could be fun and we didn’t get into micro-managing. Last week I was talking to a journalist about the job and there was a Sun PR handler on the call (there’s a new experience); she IM’ed me next gen tech and standards development at the intersection of RSS, XML and advanced search technologies. Decent, I thought, and the journo seemed to like it too. Later John told me the phrase came from the position description he wrote. Hey, I’d hire someone who could do that stuff, wouldn’t you?
Anyhow, this job is going to be pretty public-facing, so you’ll find out lots of what I’m doing more or less as I do it.
I have one objective already; Dave Sifry grumbled at me that the java.net blogs aren’t pinging Technorati, and I don’t think they’re pinging Weblogs.com or Blo.gs either. So I’ve taken a self-assigned action item to see if I can help fix that, without having the faintest idea who runs them or how they work or any of that stuff. Wish me luck.
Which brings me to this: lots of VIPs at Sun are super-hot on blogging and syndication and building bridges to developers and customers and internal users. So I’m pretty sure I’ll end up putting some cycles into that area of work.
Bias and Editorial Viewpoint · So, dear reader, can you now discount everything I say because I’m a Sunny Boy? That’s your call. And I’m not gonna pretend that working here won’t change what I write. But I can make this promise: I won’t ever write anything here that I don’t believe. On the other hand, I may well suppress stuff; for example, should Sun’s CEO say something that I profoundly disagree with, I’m unlikely to be writing “McNealy, what an asshat” here.
To use the internal Sun jargon, ongoing will not become a “Sun property.” That is to say, there won’t be a Sun logo on the front and I won’t be asking for approval on what I write here, except for from Lauren and the spell-checker. I have put a little disclaimer over there to your left because I think it’s always important to know who pays the people whose writing you’re reading.
Despite what I said earlier, I think I’ll go on running the Google ads for now, assuming nobody at Sun gets irritated. The fact that they cover the hosting costs is nice (although it’s not close to being serious money). But there are better reasons. First, I want to understand this whole blogging/syndication thing, and revenue is an important part of the mix. Second, to use a tired word, AdSense helps me feel the zeitgeist. Third, the AdSense reports on impressions and click-through rates are fascinating if you’re a raw-data junkie, and I’m the worst kind.
Your Turn · If you know me and you need to get a message into Sun, and you can convince me that Sun needs to hear it, I might be able to help. Probably not much off the top, I’m still learning where the toilets are. But eventually.