Change in Longitude

I have a new job at Sun, prompting a new blog category. But first (as always), the back story.

I tend to mark time relative to events rather than calendar dates. The Miracle on Ice happened on a Friday night at the midpoint of the 1980 Winter Olympics. My summer's tenor is pitched on the 4th Monday of May, when Memorial Day is observed at golf courses and beaches. And for the past 22 years, I can recall what I've done on the Friday before Princeton Reunions: it's sort of a half-New Year's Eve for reflection. I've spent it in Connecticut, China and Cincinatti, and a dozen other places that break my alliteration.

Seventeen years ago, the Friday before Reunions, I accepted a job offer from Sun Microsystems to be a systems engineer in the Boston area sales office. I was fleeing a startup company in the molecular modeling space that was attempting to port industry-leading visualization software from Sun workstations and SunOS to a combination of MS-DOS and VAX/VMS. The exit criteria were pretty obvious. By the time my wife and I arrived on the Princeton campus, my Tiger classmates were questioning why I was joining a company that had just pre-announced a quarterly loss (that was, I believe, the last time Sun went cash flow negative for the fiscal year).

My answers were simple: the technology was solid, the people were smart, and the combination was fun. We've come a long way since SunOS 4.0.3 and the SPARCStation 1, but those traits remain constant.

On Friday, I changed longitudes in Sun's organization chart, the Friday before Reunions, the first Friday of the Jersey summer, and one that I hope I remember for another 22 years. I'm returning to Sun's field organization to be the spiritual and functional leader of Sun's global customer engineering force. Defining the exact organizational parameters is this week's job, and it will include both structuring our systems engineering community as well technical leadership for the entire customer-facing engineering community at Sun.

Here's what I do know:

  • Don Grantham, Executive VP of Global Sales and Services, stated in late April he was going to re-invigorate the technical talent in Sun's field organization. I'm not going to suck up to my new boss in public, but I can tell you Don gets things done. Quickly. Like sending out an organization announcement at 6:00 AM his time quickly. Given how little he sleeps and eats (and how rare breaks are in his staff meetings), I'd be tempted to believe he's a good AI, but I think capturing his wry, British sense of humor is probably beyond current coding paradigms.
  • I'm continuing in my position on Greg Papadopoulos' CTO staff so that every single engineer in the company now has a voice at Greg's table. R&D is represented through lines of business CTOs; the field is represented through our organization. I'm going to be a router for customer issues; it's critical that we get remain customer focused.
  • We are going to be amazingly consistent in terms of our technical vision, modulating technology market and industry trends by some architectural focus areas that are percolating our of our company-wide R&D review. Sun's field will once again be the source of disruptive, clever and technically sound ideas for our customers -- both current and new ones.
  • We are going to put the systems back in "systems engineering." Whether it's security architectures, performance, or making sure that every interesting software project runs on Sun (in Java, on the JVM, on Solaris, on our servers, using our storage, or as part of our tools ecology, "runs on Sun" is big), we are going to deliver on both "systems" and "engineering." It's table stakes for building (and in some cases, rebuilding) our street cred.

    With our software strategies in full bloom, from dynamic languages on the Java Platform, to open sourcing the stack, to building a new value proposition with Aduva, it seems a rather strange time to leave my role as Software CTO. There's never a good time to make a job change when things are going well; but I believe you have mentally made the change when you find your inter-email thoughts turning into "How cool would it be if..." propositions about the new role.

    In short, that's why I'm back in the field: because (a) we have great technology, (b) there are amazingly smart people to turn that technology into systems, and a management chain that wants (a) times (b) to equal fun. Again. In the words of Stuart Scott, it's time to rock the party that rocks the (engineering) pinata.

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    Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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