Sunday Dec 03, 2006

Moving out of people management

Last week it was four years ago that I started at SeeBeyond. At SeeBeyond, I managed products (the JMS server and J2EE application server in Java CAPS), technology and people. The latter was part of the culture at SeeBeyond: the only way to have influence on any product was to have a team of people reporting to you.

Having responsibility for a team has been interesting. Over the past four years, I've seen people grow. I've seen people "turn around" on whom I was ready to give up. This was very satisfying. With them and through them, I've grown as well. However, in the past year I felt it was time for me to move to the next level. Also, with the increasing number of people in my team (two originally, eight at one point, and six lately), there was less and less time to stay involved with technology at a deep enough level.

When Sun acquired SeeBeyond last year, I was classified as people manager because of the fact that I had people reporting to me. As it turned out, Sun's culture is quite different from SeeBeyond's: there is a dual career ladder with appreciation and growth opportunities for both people managers and individual contributors. But unlike SeeBeyond, people managers primarily manage people and are less involved with technology. 11 people per manager is seen as the norm. It are the technical individual contributors that manage and shape products.

Moving up to the next step on Sun's career ladder, I requested a "diagonal promotion": up one level and from the people management track to the technology track. This week I got my promotion: I'm now a Senior Staff Engineer. Does this mean I'm now a heads-down techie? No, of course not. Sure there will be no more managing reports, but I'll now devote more time influencing people in other teams even outside of the organization. And yes, hopefully there'll be more time to dive a little deeper into a piece of technology.

Sunday Aug 27, 2006

SeeBeyond was acquired by Sun a year ago. What changed?

It's been one year now since Sun Microsystems acquired SeeBeyond. What did it mean for SeeBeyond employees like me? What did and will it mean for customers?

What didn't change. First of all, Sun didn't come in and turn the place upside down. Instead it left it pretty much untouched. There were no major reorganizations. Nobody got fired. We didn't change the way we develop software. We didn't change the plans of the products that we were working on.

Culture shock. The old-SeeBeyond was a company of secrecy and need-to-know-only. But the Sun culture is one of openness and transparency. For the first time ever, employees at all levels now had some insight in plans and directions. We could find out what other groups within Sun are doing. We were invited to participate and to share our plans. Even our openness to the outside world changed.  For example, this blog would have been unthinkable a little bit over a year ago.

Integrating products and what that means to customers: there's some overlap between SeeBeyond's product offering and Sun's. We're trying to integrate both offerings as much as possible. That means that in some cases we'll invest less in products that have a better counterpart in Sun. It surely makes the release of a product a lot more complicated: we now need to make sure that all the parts that we depend on and are produced by other groups within Sun are all ready at the same time and work together properly. But for customers it means a better product offering. And it also means a wider product offering because customers now get easier access to products that SeeBeyond didn't offer. Big wins for customers.

Information overload. The interdependencies with other groups within Sun requires us to keep track of many developments. What are the release plans of the Glassfish team? What is the road map of the Message Queue? What is the Tools group up to? What groups are working on NetBeans? And so on. Conference calls several times a week. Wikis and internal sites by the hundreds. At times I get a distinct feeling of information overload and wish I could ignore everything.

Opportunities for SeeBeyond employees.  SeeBeyond has definitely become a more interesting place to work since it became part of Sun. Also a place with more opportunities: smart people, cool products and a good environment means more opportunities. Last week I talked with a long-time Sun employee and he mentioned career paths within Sun. "Career path" is a word I had not heard for many years.

Changes to come and what it means to customers: Sun's new approach to software is that of open source and radically different revenue models. The old SeeBeyond had a revenue model based on license fees, and a sales model in which the first contact with the customer was through an RFP. That will change. Software will be downloadable by anybody and can be used by anybody free of charge. That should draw developers to try out our software. The first contact with customers will be right there. Through more open communication with the end-user, we'll be able to build products that better meet customers' requirements. Since the developers we are targeting have the freedom to choose, we'll also be forced to change and improve our products quite a bit compared with previous versions.

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