And so it ends here. My small note of optimism from early last year is moot; the final chapter of Sun’s history has been completed, and it is filled with words like troubled, beleaguered, and embattled. Oracle closed its acquisition of Sun today. There seems to be a lot of sadness about this event. For example, see here and the nearly 1,000 comments that have been submitted since it was posted.
As I’ve been a Sun employee for over 23 years, one might think that I’d be sad about it. But I’m not. I suppose it is a little sad to see Sun disappear as an independent company. The acquisition needed to happen, and I’m glad it’s happened. How did Sun reach this point?
A lot has been made of Sun culture. You know, Scott McNealy’s “Kick butt and have fun.” The freewheeling engineering atmosphere. Is that still there? Sort of. There are still the long email flame wars, the gallows humor on our Skype chats, the occasional office prank, the gung-ho-take-no-prisoners-we-can-do-it attitude, etc. The courage to do something like inventing a new programming language or a new platform. Yes, that’s still there, at least a little bit.
But there are other aspects of Sun culture that have developed over the years that nobody seems to talk about.
- Risk-aversion. A lot of internal processes have developed to reduce risk. Reducing risk also reduces reward, and it just slows everything down.
- Decisions made by committee. I don’t think any individuals make any decisions: getting a decision seems to require the agreement of a roomful of people. You know how hard that can be. Sometimes it requires the agreement of people who aren’t even in the room. I’ve been in project meetings where nobody could make a decision — they all had to talk to their managers first.
- Industry politics. Do I need to explain this one?
- Internal politics. In a shrinking company, it often seems that more effort is expended defending one’s piece of shrinking turf than in moving projects forward.
- Lack of innovation. What? Sun?! Yes. I’ve been on projects where developing innovative technology fell “below the line” in activities that would be staffed. What was above the line? (Hint: see “Industry politics.”)
- Never canceling any projects. I’ve been on projects have languished for a long time because nobody could push through the decision to cancel them. The one or two customers might get angry. A former colleague mentioned to me that he had been on a “zombie” project at Sun for four years. Four years!! Well, maybe only two years. But still, two years working on a zombie project is a long time. What a waste.
Now, I don’t claim these are the reasons for Sun’s downfall. I’ve only known whatever corner of the company I’ve worked in. Maybe there are other, bigger reasons. But I’ve seen all of the things I mention above, and it would be hard for me to believe that they haven’t contributed to Sun’s demise.
Am I sad or angry? Yes; at least, I was. That’s all in the past. All the wasted time, the zombie projects, the stupid decisions (or indecisions)… Now, I’m no longer a Sun employee, I’m an Oracle employee. I don’t feel any different.
Well, maybe I do. The nine months of limbo is over. Oracle has said that they (we?) will invest aggressively in Java and in JavaFX. (I work on the JavaFX project.) Today I interviewed someone from outside for an open position on our team. It was the first time I’ve interviewed someone in… in I don’t know how many years. There’s a sense of opportunity in the air.
In Jonathan Schwartz’s farewell message to Sun employees, he asked us to emotionally resign from Sun. Many took some offense at that. Me? To the extent that Sun embodies those bullet points I listed above, I’m outta there. Let’s go Oracle!
One door opens, another shuts behind
One sun sets and another sun she rises
— Richard Thompson