More layoffs at Sun

Over the last few weeks there has been speculation in the trade press about another big layoff (or “RIF”) at Sun. It looks like today, Thursday, was the day. To those affected: please join the Sun Alumni groups on Yahoo! and Facebook, and sign up with LinkedIn too. There are plenty of fellow Sun alums who will be glad to help out.

Posted in Sun

Heads-up: this coming Friday

I’m flying back to Boston on the Thursday night red-eye for a long weekend, and I’m planning to spend Friday afternoon visiting friends at the Sun Burlington campus. This will probably wind up in the bar of the Naked Fish just up the Middlesex Turnpike. If you’re in the area, drop me an email or add a comment, and let’s try to connect.

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New Facebook group for Sun Alumni

I’ve just created a Facebook group for Sun Alumni. Sun Alumni group
You might wonder why. After all, there’s an existing, very successful Yahoo! discussion group, the Sun Microsystems Alumni Association, with an associated group over on LinkedIn. However the organizers of SMAA want to keep the tone “professional”, which tends to rule out such things as (e.g.) an honest debate about the merits of “SUNW->JAVA”. That’s one reason for setting up the new group; the other is that Facebook is a much livelier environment. There are already quite a few corporate alumni groups there.
So come on over to Facebook…
PS For those who can’t understand why professionals would want to get involved with Facebook, check out this BusinessWeek story.

Posted in Sun

Rearranging the deckchairs Repainting the nameplate…

This is the kind of thing which drives me crazy:

Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW – News) today announced that it will change its Nasdaq stock ticker symbol from SUNW to JAVA, the ubiquitous technology and brand it created in 1995. The stock ticker change will go into effect for the trading community on Monday, August 27, 2007.

Exactly what shareholder value does this create? Is it going to open the door to new sales opportunities? Are stock analysts going to upgrade Sun on the strength of this change?
And what is the opportunity cost of doing this? Even though it’s managed to squeeze out a series of small profits, Sun’s product revenue numbers are flat. I’m sure that over the last 12 months there have been several unsuccessful bids which Sun could have won by incremental product or support engineering – engineering that would have cost much less than this relabelling exercise.
So how does Jonathan explain it? In three sentences:

“The Java brand and technology have evolved to be among the most pervasive on the internet, yielding extraordinary awareness for Sun and opportunity for the community that leverages it,”

Technology? Absolutely. Java is the standard language for SOA engineering. It’s the Visual Basic of the server side. But brand? I don’t think so. The Internet has moved beyond branding technology; what’s important now is branding services and communities.
And has Java’s success yielded “extraordinary awareness for Sun”? Not obvious. Certainly among those who are aware of technology, Sun’s workstations, servers, and Solaris OS are at least as important as Java. Indeed Sun seems to think so too: recently I’ve see more Sun press releases about Solaris, multithread chips, “eco-computing”, and so forth than I have about Java.

“More than a billion people across the globe, representing nearly every demographic, market and industry, rely upon Java’s security, innovation and value to connect them with opportunity.”

Absolutely true, even if 99.99% of them have no idea whatsoever that they do so. That’s the power of infrastructure engineering.

“That awareness positions Sun, and now our investor base, for the future.”

Bzzzt! First this awareness is probably illusory. Second, how would such “awareness… position [the] investor base for the future”? This is simply silly. Investors care about the business proposition, performance against goals, financial reports, and the rate of return. None of this remotely justifies a rebranding exercise such as Jonathan is proposing.
Look here. I really, really wish Sun well. I’m a shareholder, I’ve got a lot of friends there, and I admire the way in which Sun continues to push the envelope on computing technology. The recent announcement about transactional memory is a great example of this. ZFS is fantastic, and Black Box is a great idea. I want Sun to win. But stunts like changing the stock ticker symbol are not going to persuade skeptical customers to buy. (In fact it’s a distraction: Sun salespeople are probably going to waste 10 minutes on every sales call explaining this nonsense, time that they should be spending on Niagara throughput or ZFS availability.)
P.S. I liked Kevin’s take on this.
P.P.S. I wonder how all those loyal Sun staff who have SUNW license plates feel about this…
P.P.P.S. Dave Johnson’s keeping score.

Posted in Sun

To those Sun employees who are being laid off starting tomorrow, Thursday

I think this must be the first time that the date of a Sun layoff has been announced in advance. If you’re one of those affected, or you know someone who is, please remind them of two important resources:

  • The Sun Microsystems Alumni Association. [SMAA] A Yahoo! Group that puts you in touch with thousands of fellow Sun alumni, and also gives you access to a steady stream of Sun-relevant job postings.
  • LinkedIn. Probably the most widely used professional networking tool right now. I find it to be an invaluable resource. For example, I’ve been using it to research each potential employer by identifying former Sun colleagues who work (or worked) there. If you’re a member of SMAA, you can join the corresponding LinkedIn group and use this logo in your profile: SMAA group logo

Commiserations and best wishes to all involved. The good news is that the job market is pretty strong, and there’s high demand for the kind of skills that Sun folks have.
And good luck to the rest of you at Sun. Please make this RIF the last one!

Posted in Sun

Odd little rite of transition

I just exercised all of my Sun stock options that were above water. The deadline was next Monday. It’s just a few dollars, but even so….
UPDATE: I was wrong about the deadline. I actually have 90 days after my termination date. (That’s today.) But it’s OK; it’s one less thing to have to remember to do.

Posted in Sun

The mixed blessings of the bungee exec…


Sun Microsystems hired a new software chief on Monday, CNET has learned: Rich Green, the latest in a series of former executives the company has lured back
Green originally started at Sun in 1989 but left in 2004 to become executive vice president of product development at Cassatt, a start-up focusing on managing large groups of servers.
Green is one of several returning executives who Sun Chairman Scott McNealy likes to highlight as the company tries to argue that it has its dot-com mojo back. “We’ve got them coming back in droves–Andy Bechtolsheim and Mike Lehman and Peter Ulander and Karen Tegan,” McNealy said in an interview last week. “There’s a boomerang hitting my door, it seems, every five e-mails these days.”

Without commenting on the merits of individuals, I have to say that I’ve always been skeptical of this “bungee exec” pattern at Sun. Sometimes they simply return; sometimes Sun buys their start-up. The problem is, they are experienced denizens of the Sun echo-chamber, and history suggests that their sojourns away from Sun don’t change them very much. I would prefer to see Sun recruiting executive talent from companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, or SAP: people who could challenge the conventional wisdom. Because [insert deity here] knows, it needs challenging!

Posted in Sun

The executive elevator?!?!

A lot of Sun folks have been posting their favourite Scott McNealy stories. Here’s one of mine:
Back in the late 1980s Sun opened a new high-rise headquarters building at 901 San Antonio Road in Palo Alto: PAL1. It was quite a change after the cluster of low-profile MTV (Mountain View) buildings, and Scott took advantage of the view by grabbing an office on the top floor. Soon after it opened, I flew out from Massachusetts for routine meetings in California. [I hate to think how many times I did that during my years at Sun – probably 120-150. No kidding.] Because my body was still on East Coast time, I arrived at PAL1 really early one morning – about 7:15, I think. The car park was almost empty, but as I walked towards the front door I was joined by Scott. We chatted about this and that as we walked to the elevator, and he offered to show me the view from his office.
Just as we got into the elevator, a young man in his mid-20s dashed in. He was wearing a snappy blue suit, a perfectly knotted silk tie, and dazzling cuff-links. (Scott and I were in polo shirts and jeans, of course.) The sharp dresser recognized Scott, and became very confused. “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t realize… Is this the executive elevator? Scott and I looked at each other, barely suppressing hysterical laughter. After a moment, Scott managed to say, “You haven’t been at Sun very long, have you?” The red-faced newbie got off on the second floor….
I enjoyed this at the time, but I didn’t think much of it until years later. After all, it was no big deal – I took the casual egalitarianism for granted. And then a few years ago I had occasion to visit HP Laboratories for a standards meeting (W3C or FIPA… I forget which). I arrived a bit early, and sat in the lobby, hoping I wasn’t too conspicuous in my Jini polo shirt. Suddenly the receptionists started twittering anxiously: one surreptitiously fixed her lipstick, while another ran a brush through her hair and straightened her scarf. And then Carly herself swept regally through the door, accompanied by two flunkies. She cast a disapproving glance in my direction, barely acknowledged the receptionists, and strode off into the building.
What a difference.

Posted in Sun