Sun: The Web 1.0 Company?

Kathy Sierra talks about applying "Web 2.0" principles to managers. Here's a snip:

One dramatic difference between mature tech companies and the Web 2.0 startups is the way employees are managed. Or rather, the fact that they are not "managed." Most Web 1.0 companies (like, say, my former employer Sun... they put the dot in dotcom, remember?) are not only too big, but their management practices are just too old school (and not in a retro hip way) to foster a company culture that matches the culture of the new community/user-centric Web 2.0.

Interesting perspective on many levels.

First, if Kathy is implying that Sun is "mature" I have some news for her. We're not. That's what makes it fun to work here (even though I wish we would mature a little, actually). Second, why is the marketing term "Web 2.0" only used to characterize startups? Much of Sun (and probably other large companies) is very Web 2.0 and has been for decades. Third, why are the so-called Web 1.0 companies seen so pejoratively? Is absolutely everything "old school" bad? Fourth, Sun's "the-dot-in-dot-com" advertising is only about billion years old now. The distinction between that Sun and today's Sun is rather gigantic. Fifth, if Sun's management is so old school why are they spending millions and millions and millions of dollars to open up pretty much everything we have around here specifically to build communities? I mean, really, we are talking about thousands and thousands and thousands of hardware and software engineers leading, contributing to, building, and participating in open communities of one sort of another all over the world. All of those engineers have managers, and those mangers are directly responsible for investing resources in all this community building we are doing. At the development level, Sun's company culture is very much based on the values of community. And more and more of the mangers -- and executives -- are blogging quite openly along with the other two thousand or so Sun bloggers. That doesn't sound old school to me.

Now, do we have more to do? Yep. Sure do. There are still many Sun people not yet participating openly in any of these several dozen communities, but more and more are every day. Do we have some managers who are a bit on the conservative side? Sure. It's a big place. That's normal for any large organization. But I don't see them controlling the direction of the company anymore, and that's critical. A few months ago, Jonathan spoke about the changes -- and opportunities -- that managers at Sun are experiencing. But, to be honest, I'm happy that some elements of the company are more conservative. Sometimes it's necessary to integrate the best of your stable core into your more dynamic edge. Or maybe that's the other way around. Regardless. When running a company of this size and complexity that engages sophisticated and demanding customers, I think it's responsible to encourage a healthy mix of all types of people.

I'm sorry, Kathy, I just don't experience the Sun you see. Every day, I pretty much live in the right side of your chart -- the Manager 2.0 section. I really like your chart, by the way. I think I'll use it to start some conversations with my colleagues. Except I don't know what the "Hollywood model" is, and I'm not sure how that is juxtaposed with the "Hierarchical structure." Perhaps I'm too old school. :)


As I know, I'm not a Sun employee but, we have so many projects together that I actually talk more with some people inside Sun (in Portugal, spain, england and even in the US) than I do with most of my colleagues. I can understand Kathy for giving Sun's as an example of the Web 1.0 company (her words). You had a period there where it seems you were trying to copy IBM's or HP's approach to business and Sun became a not fun company (pretty much on the lowest of Sun's history). Now, things are very different, they look different, they feel diferent. Even in the areas still controled by those old line managers, the changes are clear and obvious. I don't know any specifics but, the air is cleaner (and NO, I'm not talking about the no smoking policy). I've been saying for quite some time that Sun now needs to stop restructuring so much, people also need some stability to better perform but, small bullets aside, TODAY, I'd put Sun in the 2.0 side.

Posted by Jaime Cardoso on March 29, 2006 at 11:01 AM JST #

Right on Jim. All this "this is Web 2.0 and you're not" talk is a load of rubbish and I generally stop reading when I see that somebody is trying to use that argument about anything. Don't you love the way Kathy can say "I still have absolutely NO idea what Web 2.0 even means" yet be so certain that Sun is not Web 2.0? It's just silly talk and detracts from the worthwhile parts of her post.

Posted by Dave Johnson on March 29, 2006 at 01:47 PM JST #

Dave: I really can't agree with you there. Just because she used the "Web 2.0" keyword, it doesn't make the post any less relevant (or true for most things).
I also have some problems dealing with the Web 2.0 concept but, I saw this post as a new type of management and of empowerment that leads to happier people and to more productive companies.
Perhaps the key sentence in Kathy's post (on this regard) is: "Yes, I'm making fun of the 2.0ness of it all, but if we're throwing version numbers around with impunity, might as well take it to the absurd."

Posted by Jaime Cardoso on March 29, 2006 at 01:53 PM JST #

Jim, I'm happy to hear your comments on that. My experience with Sun was both the best and worst of my career, and it depended ENTIRELY on who my manager was at the time. I had the two best managers of my life there, and also the two worst. The fact that I had four managers n three years is another story of its own... Most of the people who worked with me agreed that we were perhaps just in one dysfunctional part of an otherwise healthy environment, but we never got to see that.

I wasn't exactly a model employee--but I have to say, when I was there -- EVERYTHING in that left-hand column described Sun. Whether that's a good or bad thing just depends on your perspective.

I'm glad there's someone to offer a different perspective--I saw and lived only one tiny piece of that huge company, and if it was the exception--that's good to know. To be more accurate, I should never just say "Sun", but should qualify that I'm talking only about the small and disconnected part I worked in.

And I won't argue that the whole chart web 2.0/1.0 thing didn't work out that well... and too many people didn't get the "joke", which means I screwed up. But I appreciate the comments and feedback.

Posted by Kathy Sierra on March 29, 2006 at 06:37 PM JST #

Hey, Jim, In your post "Rules for Blogs" you said "(...)which is cool because I tend to freeze up around stars" I'd rate Kathy Sierra more famous than Scooble (perhaps it's just me but, I know a lot more people that read Creating Passionate Users than Scooble's) so, I hope you can recognize the freezing efects on the people around you :)

Posted by Jaime Cardoso on March 29, 2006 at 07:25 PM JST #

She's famous? Oops. Sorry. I didn't now that. I've never heard of her, actually. But I love her blog, though. :) And I \*doubt\* there's any freezing around me. I'm waaaaay down there ... :)

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on March 29, 2006 at 07:44 PM JST #

Kathy .... so when you say that it depends on "who" you work for here at Sun, I get that. Big time. Totally agree. Things have not been equal in the past. I used to work for a [insert really bad word], and he made my life miserable. And I've had 9 managers in 5 years. Wild. If anything, I'd say our "management" is a bit loose at times. Right now I'm extremely lucky to be working for my current manager on the OpenSolaris project. I get that, too. However, since Schwartz moved from EVP of Software to President of the entire place, many cultural changes have occurred \*across\* the company. Scott and Jonathan make a good team. There's still a long way to go, but the changes that are occurring are empowering for the \*individual\* employee, and that's what I'm most concerned with. Oh, and I did see that you were poking a bit at the "Web 2.0" bit. :) Things have gotten carried away a bit on that out there. My way of poking at it is to call it "marketing."

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on March 29, 2006 at 07:55 PM JST #

Jaime ... yes, we did have a period of getting away from our roots -- the "dot-in-dot-com" bit I think represents that quit well. Yuk. I like our "sharing" branding right now, though, because it represents what the developers here do -- they collaborate openly and share their code and Sun shares with its market (customers, partners, etc) and hopefully everyone benefits. That's the goal, anyway.

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on March 29, 2006 at 07:59 PM JST #

Dave ... I enjoy Kathy's stuff a lot, but the Sun stuff wasn't accurate by a long shot (at least not now, anyway) so it did take away from the rest of her post, I agree. It was her experience, so if she had said that and qualified it a bit more I would have felt better. I should have put that part in my post as well, basically asking her to qualify her remarks but recognizing her experience may have been not as good as mine current is. I also agree that the "Web 2.0" craze is, well, I don't know. It's pre-bubble stuff from the too-cool crowd. I like some of what is characterized as "Web 2.0" though because it empowers the individual and that's what I'm all about. Collecting \*all\* of it and wrapping a PR & marketing term "Web 2.0" around it seems silly to me, but whatever. I expect nothing less from Silicon Valley. :)

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on March 29, 2006 at 08:08 PM JST #

I agree that Sun is way more Web 2.0 than it used to be. If we're being honest here, the least Web 2.0 aspect of Sun is its dogmatic approach to programming languages. For example PHP, Perl, Ruby, JavaScript and Python are popular technology choices for rapidly developing Web 2.0 style of start-up, but Netbeans only writes Java, C and C++. Compare this to the language neutrality of Eclipse (e.g. Ruby Eclipse) and you start to get the picture. IBM's Alphaworks is a good example of where Sun might want to improve? How about a "Sun Forge" for your FOSS? When OpenSolaris ships with Ruby On Rails and FastCGI then I'll believe Sun is truly Web 2.0 friendly. I guess it's a zeitgeist thing.

Posted by Kevin Hutchinson on March 29, 2006 at 09:44 PM JST #

Actually, Kevin, NetBeans is a framework that is just as language-neutral as Eclipse, hence the support for non-Java languages like C and C++ and with more to come. It also supports Groovy and JRuby. What's more, there is already great AJAX support. The difference lays more in the way IBM has persuaded its partner community to join in - and fund - Eciipse. The governance is the key, as with so much of the open source world.

As for AlphaWorks, I was involved in that at IBM when it opened and today 8 years on it's still a forum for market-testing new and/or internally unpopular ideas for IBM, nothing to do with open source per-se - very weak on community contribution, and often technologies are removed once their market acceptance (or rejection) is assured. already offers a venue for what you're suggesting, with full support for community and with true open source licensing for most projects.

Posted by Simon Phipps on March 29, 2006 at 10:32 PM JST #

NetBeans also supports Jython btw ;) We are working on JavaScript support now. I believe support for additional languages will be added in future versions of NetBeans. We really want that, and we welcome anyone willing to write any plug-in to achieve it... it can help us bring support for additional languages faster (as the community already did with JavaScript for 5.0).

Posted by Roumen on March 29, 2006 at 11:22 PM JST #

Jaime--you have made my day and made me laugh out loud. But I guess we all get our 15 megabytes of fame in the blog world : ) And now that I've had mine... I reckon it's all downhill from here. Next week, I'll be blogging the cat. Again, Jim, I really appreciate this discussion and the lesson I learned. I'll be more careful next time.

Posted by Kathy Sierra on March 30, 2006 at 01:30 AM JST #

Kathy ... thanks for stopping over. I also appreciated the conversation and I also learned as well. Every time. :)

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on March 30, 2006 at 02:42 AM JST #

Sorry, Jim, but I'm with Kathy on this one. Sun is not a nimble, innovative company and it's been frankly rather painful to watch it reinvent itself time and again in the last decade. And yes, as you know, I wasn't a part of Sun, but I was one of the editors of SunWorld, among other things, so I've been in those trenches for years.

While the name "Web 2.0" is rather daft, the idea that there are young, nimble, inventive companies that are creating and innovating in ways that even the most creative big companies can't accomplish is completely consistent with any other era in the evolution of the technology industry.

To me Web 2.0 doesn't stand for AJAX applications, "mashups" or anything that's a specific technology or approach, it just represents companies that are taking big risks trying something new and different, innovative and unusual, big leaps rather than little steps.

Posted by Dave Taylor on March 30, 2006 at 06:10 AM JST #

Dave ... I think it's been a painful reinvention process since the crash, but before that we were very much top of the tech world. So, a decade of reinvention as you suggest isn't quite fair. Although I must admit, it has certainly \*felt\* that long. :) I also think that during the past few years we got our asses innovated and disrupted in some areas, and we deserved the consequences. But I also think that it's just damn tough for people to move on from that history and see us now as the innovator and the disruptor. Just take Solaris. It was said to be dead. Dead, dead, dead just two years ago. People said it was "old" ... that we could "never build a community" ... that there was "nothing new in Solaris" ... that "all the developers have left" ... that we'd "never open source it" ... that it "would die" ... etc. Then we came out with Solaris 10 and then opened the code and pretty much all the criticism ended. It was all extremist PR and marketing garbage from our competitors repeated by people who simply didn't know any better. Now, did we suffer some significant losses with the previous versions of Solaris? Sure. But was Solaris dead? Of course not. It will take years to re-build the mind share we lost, but I don't care. That's the position we're in. It's an opportunity. I'm watching the same dynamic start with SPARC now. To say that we screwed up a bunch of things the last few years is totally accurate, but to say that "Sun is not a nimble, innovative company" is simply wrong. Just look at the changes we've gone through in the last year alone. In many ways, internally the company has been turned upside down. I mean, SPARC was opened with absolute lightening speed, especially considering the size of that organization (larger than Solaris). All I'm asking for is some acknowledgment of what we are doing \*right\* -- which is a lot -- instead of constantly piling on the blanket criticisms based on old information. I'm not letting this go. :)

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on March 30, 2006 at 08:14 AM JST #

In my personal experience (before I joined Sun, I was with Accenture, IBM, start ups), I'd say Sun is a "40000-employee $15b start-up". It has its good and bad points, but I like it in general. That conclusion was shared by my former boss (now with a Sun partner).

Posted by Iwan Rahabok on April 05, 2006 at 04:38 AM JST #

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