When I accepted a position at Sun 6 ½ years ago, many of my friends were surprised. This was the fall of 2000, when most of us thought the dot-com boom was still going strong. So the idea of coming out of school and working for a large and “boring” company like Sun instead of a hot start-up was anathema to most people in my situation.
So why did I join Sun? A number of factors contributed to my decision to join a large company, including working in the summer of 2000 for a dot-com that ran out of money midway through the summer. However, that doesn't explain why I choose Sun instead of, say, Oracle or HP. That decision I think goes back to my undergraduate years at Stanford, and can be summarized in two words: Solaris and Java.
Solaris boxes were the machines of choice for all our class projects. Of course there were some other computers in the UNIX lab -- maybe some HP or IBM boxes. But with the exception of using SGI machines for graphics, everyone knew that the Solaris workstations were far and away the best computers. Our assignments had to run on Solaris as that's what the TAs used to test them. Furthermore, any pre-compiled starter files or scripts in the assignments were for Solaris. The Solaris workstations were always the most loaded, and the consoles were the first to get taken in the lab.
Sure, some people used Linux, but it hadn't taken off yet to the extent that there were any Linux labs on campus. And Linux was interesting primarily because it was open-source, not because it actually rivaled Solaris.
Around the time I was in college (1995-1999), Sun also came out with this exciting new language called Java. So in addition to having the best operating system, the company was continuing to innovate.
So when I applied for jobs in the fall of 2000 and was offered the opportunity to work on the Solaris Cluster product at Sun, it wasn't a tough decision. My “formative years” as a computer science student had primed me to respect Sun Microsystems, so I was happy to go to work for them.
I think that my experience and reasons for joining Sun are good lessons in the power of product positioning in academic institutions. Who knows how many future sysadmins and executives were influenced by the same factors as me as undergraduates, and are now in positions to recommend Sun and Sun products within their companies? And who knows how many deals we've lost from all the people who are exposed to Linux instead of Solaris in their academic institutions? That's why I'm particularly pleased that Sun decided to open-source Solaris and focus on getting it back into universities.