Wednesday Jul 09, 2008

And I will always remember you

There are more tears shed in my office these two weeks than the combined of my entire career. They tore my heart.

Three years ago, I came to Beijing to accomplish four goals:

  • Improve engineering's operational efficiency to the parity of any other site in the world.
  • Cultivate its talents as a first class engineering center.
  • Strengthen the collaborative ties with the sales force to engender Sun's business and presence in China.
  • Improve the executive level communication between China engineering and headquarters (Menlo Park).

Looking back, they are reasonably done. During these same three years, I acquired wealth at Solomon's scale: I became a blogger and gained precious global experience; I now have insights that are hard to come by; I have honed my influencing skills working with government, universities, partners, customers, and field personnel; I expanded an invaluable network. Most importantly, have a renewed prospect of what should be the pursuit of my life.

Yes, this is the last entry of my Sun blog. I will soon lose the privilege to author new entries. Lack of new material will fade readership.

The thought of severing bonds is always anxious. Workplace relationships are complicated: alliance, group therapy buddies, collusion partners, mentors or mentees. Resignation distils them and left me with friends.

This gets heavier that my China community is so tight. I poured my heart and witnessed its growth over these 3 years. There are big plans for the future. Now the best I can hope for is becoming an interested observer for their fruition, probably from afar. Why does it have to come down to this sadness? Because life progresses, people make choices, and world turns. Plans must be executed, expectations must be met.

Of course, there is the ritual that comes with separation: drinks, talks, meals, warm hugs or hand-shakes. Then we have the cyber version of LinkedIn profile change. Through the exchange of pleasantries, a new relationship emerges.

If our relationship survives my Sun employment, please visit me at Nomadic Minds. My personal email is always open. Truly, I wish you the bests.

Tuesday Jul 08, 2008

But why? Sin-Yaw.

This article is just a bit more self-serving than my average.

How should a company deal with its senior ranked that are away from headquarters, where power and influences concentrate, particularly those temporarily assigned abroad?

Let me decompose this question into 3 scenarios:

  • If the company send someone away for a multi-year full-time training, with pay and all expenses taken care of. What happens when the person completes it?
  • If the company dispatch a senior person to handle a difficult situation; the person accomplishes the mission after a few years. What then?
  • Lastly, what to do with someone senior, competent, sadly peaked, but still seeking growth?

The first scenario really depends on what the person has learned. Under the mantra of "never throw good money after bad," any sunk investment meant nothing unless it can generate better return than alternatives. The company must evaluate the person's potential future contribution against all others who, in a sense, compete with him. The best qualified person gets the job.

Note the earlier decision to send the person for the training will be proven wrong if the individual comes back not competitive enough. Observe also that the now newly trained person has received the benefits no matter what the company decides to do with him.

The 2nd scenario is, again, not a valid economic concept under the mantra of "what have you done recently." A superb general is useless without wars. The company should graciously thank the person's contribution. Retain him for appreciation and future use if economically justified. Seek a friendly way to part ways if not.

Note that those now unwanted skills maybe marketable elsewhere. An idle hand at home might be better than a busy hand at the competitor's.

The best decision, for the 3rd scenario, is to gently let the person go. A person expecting unwarranted growth will become restless or even disruptive over time.

Wait a moment! Is the world really so cruel? So short-term thinking? Why does everything must justify economically? Where is loyalty, kindness, compassion, friendship, and decency?

It is really not the best interest for the person to stay on, even if the company is warm-hearted and appreciative. An individual must optimize himself for his or her future growth too. In this post-Internet, globalized, offshoring/outsourcing economy. Plenty of Chinese, Indians, or Vietnamese will kill to take your jobs. Many competitors will rejoice when the company bankrupts. Neither the company, nor the individuals can afford not to optimize.

This explains, partially, the weird phenomenon of this so-called "war on talents." Every companies seeks talents and loses critical ones at the same time. At any point, the company can afford to optimize only a very small number of objectives and must not invest on others. Unless an individual happens to match those objectives, it is best for him or her to look elsewhere.

Individuals should, then, always seek training and challenging assignments, even with the risks of not being aligned with the company afterward. It is always best to enhance yourself whenever there is a chance.

This rhetoric should be a sufficient answer to all those who demanded the rationalization for my departure. I love the company, its technologies, and all those wonderful people. I have a great job that pays well and is extremely satisfying. But, sadly, I have cultivated skills that are not applicable to the objectives the company chose to optimize for. There are only two choices: wait for new objectives or change company. I waited.

Saturday Jun 28, 2008

Last Flight

June 7th started a complicated itinerary, I actually did not fully comprehended the complexity before I left home. The plan was to attend a graduation, work for several days, take a vacation, visit a customer in Seattle, kept several connections warm in Taipei, and come back to Beijing. All within a 3-week span. Busy, tight, complicated, but not really unusual for someone who travelled 13 times in 2007 and earning the sad UA Global Services status 3 years in a row.

Things changed drastically after the plane touched down. The company that was pursuing me turned up the heat and I accepted their offer. I read the blog, How to Quit, I wrote long time ago. Next day, I tendered my resignation.

Jeff asked for time to handle the event and I obviously obliged. I started planning for the communication: family members first, of course, Sun contacts, business contacts, and probably social contacts last. I started to list them in each category and anticipated the speed of rumor propagation, known to be faster than light. Since those lists are quite long, I wrote a small program that essentially spam them. (I considered using PHP/MySQL, but ended up coding in Scheme and simple text lists.)

Planned meetings became awkward. I skipped several internal meetings and kept most of the external ones. I tried to cut my Taipei stop, but kept it for economical reasons: changing the flight costs more than just hang-out for two nights.

When the announcement hit ERI, my inbox exploded. Many messages touched me deeply and made me so grateful for these 3 years Sun gave me. I read some messages many times. It could be a good thing that I am not in Beijing.

When I wait for the flight at the Hong Kong airport, the finality hit me: this is the last trip. I am returning home the last time. Next time I come, it will not be the same anymore.

Wow! What a trip.

Monday Jun 16, 2008

The Local Face of Sun in China

LISA's Rebecca Ray was curious, persistent, and quite courteous. She interviewed myself and Melanie Gao a few months ago. My staff decided to send her a slightly eccentric picutre of mine.

Monday Jun 09, 2008

BYOC

You have an impossible choice similar to the famous "paper or plastic" question at the supermarket. At a Chinese restaurant the disposable chopsticks are clean but wasteful, the reusable ones are always suspicious, how were they cleaned, with what detergent and rinsing water?

Earlier last week, every employee at Sun China received a pair of reusable chopsticks, thanks to its employer-funded employee association, dubbed SunClubs. The engineers chose to chip in more and got 2 pairs. These aluminum chopsticks can be put together in seconds and come in an easy to wash case. On a whimp, I decided to sell extra at 70 cents each (roughly at cost). In one day, we sold over 30 pairs. I suspect we need to make more to meet the demand.

Next time in the restaurant, check out those proudly showing off their Sun-logo'ed chopsticks. They escaped the impossible choice and get to be clean and reusable at the same time. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("Chopsticks") TagEnd() </script>

Wednesday May 28, 2008

Global Site Leads Summit

Ten site leads gathered at this lovely city of Prague, Czech, for 2 days. Pictured, back row from the left, are: David Marr (Menlo Park, USA) from legal; our host, Pavel Suk; Robert O'Dea of Dublin, Ireland; Erlend Dahl from Trondheim, Norway; KNR of Bangalore, India; Sin-Yaw Wang of Beijing, China; Akira Ohsone of Tokyo, Japan; Didier Simonazzi, representing Alban Rechard, of Grenoble, France; Michael Bemmer of Hamburg, Germany; and Grisha Labzovski of St. Petersburg, Russia. On the front row, from left, are: Michal Geva of Tel Aviv, Israel; Lenka Kasparova from Prague, PM and care taker for everybody; Vidya Srinivasan (Bangalore, India) from finance; Mike Murray (Broomfield, USA), our facilitator and HR representative.

The meeting began by everyone saying their names. This simple act was surprisingly gratifying. People wrote their names in the native language, said it in native tongue, and described how their names were mis-pronounced by Americans, or others. Michal (mi-HELL), a proud biblical female name, became Michael frequently. Grisha took a much more practical approach to create a close-enough name than trying to teach everyone his real Russian one. My name, in Chinese, is simply impossible to teach. Erlend told us how people said his name wrong and I couldn't even tell the differences. This simple made us individuals a community instantaneously. We are all different and we are all together.

At primitive level, all each site wants is a thriving future and a little recognition for the job. Running a site is a job few at headquarters appreciate. Each of us talked about our roles at the site and room is full of nodding heads in agreement. "Taking care" of a site implies devotion, commitment, leadership, and a constant balancing act that is so, so hard (budget, HR, facility, IT, etc.) We all want this part of the job easier, since it is thankless. This summit provides learning opportunities among ourselves and also a forum that people appreciate this job.

Looking around the room, I see representation for almost half of Sun's Software organization: just 10 people. These people do jobs for a concept — a site — that does not exist in Sun's organization. There are fire in their bellies. They all want to make their sites better, make more contribution to Sun, and have more impacts felt. Everyone felt the poignancy of opportunities lost: Sun could have, would have, and should have done so much better. I have lived this for 3 years. I understand the determination and courage required to capture those opportunities. Looking around the room, they do too.

We left Prague with a commitment to gather again in 6 months. I guess each of us understood the length of the journey ahead and wouldn't mind good company along the way. There are many ways to say "see you later," we simply shook hands and waved good-byes.

Wednesday May 07, 2008

C1/J1

I decided to walk the morning of May 6th. On my way to Moscone center I noticed cliques of people carrying the same designed backpack. Tricles became streams; streams merged into torrent rivers. I arrived at 8:15 and decided to browse the bookstore to kill minutes before the general session. When I was done, at 8:25, guards formed a line preventing more people from tailing the queue. They don't want a mob scene when the doors open. The crowd, I was part of them, waited for nearly 20 minutes before it was "safe" to proceed.

I was a resident in San Francisco bayarea for many years but rarely stay in the city. I arrived Sunday night and stayed in a hotel near Union Square, a lovely area full of shopping, restaurants, and activities. When I heard the bell, Tony Bennett's song came to me.

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill it calls to me
To be where little cable cars
Climb halfway to the stars.
The morning fog may chill the air
I don't care.

I gasped and ran up to John Gage to shake his hand when he had a break. He was helping James Gosling with their t-shirt launcher. He co-hosted JavaOne's opening session, talked about sensors, instruments, network, and, of course, his favorite subject: Earth. I saw lovely Rita and Fiona who came to help out the OpenSolaris launch. Everywhere are hugs of old friends: Diane and her staff, Solaris people, etc. Whichever Stephen Hahn's disease that made him wear a tie seemed to have infected David Comay too. Oh well...

Ian Murdock opened CommunityOne with eye-catching artistic slides. Rich Green, Jim Hughes, and Jeff Bonwick decisively upstaged him destroying harddisks with sledge hammer, anvil, and power drill, on the stage. The robustness of ZFS kept the system and application running while the boys were having a great time.

Jetlag overpowered and kept me from the OpenSolaris release party. Good thing that Fiona took pictures of everyone having a great time.

It was a pleasant surprise to bump into Lin Lee, Jonathan's newest staff member and an old friend in China. We sneaked out to Yerba Buena park for a cup of tea. As I sipped, I recognized a joke of globalization. I flew 7000 miles to have Chinese tea in San Francisco; my favorite afternoon drink in Beijing is a cup of Java. Lin ordered Lapsang Souchong, a Chinese tea that none of us heard of before. Google showed it to be "正山小种" or "星村小种". This makes the whole tea-drinking even more laughable: the dark tea came from my ancestor's hometown. My father grew up in 星村 (XingCun) and may have named me with it.

JavaOne was even more entertaining. Ian Freed from Amazon demonstrated Kindle, an electronic book the size of a thin paperback. After a few more guests, Jonathan unveiled the special guest Neil Young, the venerable rock singer. Neil Young came on stage with a cap and wrap-around sunglasses. His signature side-burns are all grey already. Instead of singing, he introduced his archive that includes everything about his music since 1963. At the end, he showed a LincVolt vehicle that records all energy going in and out of the old Lincoln when it tours the country. The visual of an aged Neil Young, a pony-tailed Jonathan, and a sleek black-t-shirted Rich Green on stage is just so special and memorable. I was hoping for a song, but got only several needle drops from Neil Young's archive. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("JavaOne") Technorati("CommunityOne") Technorati("Sun Microsystems") TagEnd() </script>

Sunday May 04, 2008

Monetizing OpenSource

Questions from netizens lingered on after the IT168 interview, “How Sun, pioneer of open source, makes money?” I shall always remember Solaris 10. It took almost 4 years and thousands of talented engineer. How do we justify the investment if we open source? I decided to make this the topic for my talk at China's Partner CTO Summit, featuring distinguished guests such as Hal Stern and Jim Baty.

The era of software licensing is over. Now, participation defines community; communities become marketplace; marketplace generates revenue and leads to profit. How do you get people to participate at the first place? You set your software free. Freedom feeds the hunger of creativity and attracts participation.

Communities, however, must avoid anarchy that hampers profitability. For software, this means the necessity of licenses. Free software combined with proper licensing terms creates healthy participation and leads, eventually, to profitability.

This path shapes like a funnel. The mouth needs to be huge for as many and large communities as possible. Over the other end, a much smaller subset of them generate enough revenue. It is always good to have the mouth of the funnel bigger. It is also foolish to expect a high conversion rate, even worse to manipulate the licenses to increase the conversion rate. Never weaken freedom.

The conversion is not automatic. The participants enjoy the software and require a good reason and an easy mechanism to pay for it, directly or indirectly. Google is paid for by advertisements. MySQL collection subscription and service fees. ITune is part of iPod and a channel for Apple's online music business.

Sun first cultivated communities that are interested in our technologies and products. Then we attract developers to create solutions based on those technologies and products. Monetization then starts: entrepreneurs launch businesses with our technologies; hardware products enjoy a bigger market; enterprises still pay licensing fees for various reasons; communities members pay for subscription, support, and services; enthusiasm generates demands for training and consulting services.

OpenSourcing got Sun noticed and media covered. It opens doors previous shut tight. In this complex world of technologies, many larger companies will pay dearly for the what Sun received from open sourcing our software. Hack, I even heard someone saying Microsoft is now open-sourced. Shows how envious they are. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("OpenSource") Technorati("Sun Microsystems") TagEnd() </script>

Friday May 02, 2008

Dear ERI

Yes, you will read bad stories from the media. You are probably worrying about the company and its future. That's a good thing that you worry. You may be even worrying about yourself. That's natural.

Yes, we lost money and planned to reduce OPEX (that means we may layoff people) for about 100 to 150 millions dollars. That's lots of reduction and it sounds scary.

Let me suggest a way to handle this news.

Sun Microsystems is in the "knowledge industry." You are very likely a "knowledge professional." This means you compete in this world with what you know. The company competes with the management of its employees' knowledges.

Ask yourself, "Am I learning more and applying what I have learned?" Also ask yourself, "Can I learn faster and more effectively?" (The 2nd answer is always yes. Think of coaching, environment, project scope, etc.)

You should feel the comfort that whatever you have learned is always yours. You should feel the pressure that the whole world is trying to out-learn you. You should compel yourself to out-learn them.

And that will make you a great employee, make the company stronger, and give you the security and a good career too.

Friday Apr 25, 2008

China ERC 2008

Fog completely shrouded ShangHai on the 2nd day. The hotel window, instead of framing the spectacular river-side cityscape, showed nothing: only lights without sources. I thought, "How long will the taxi line at the lobby?"

For 11 consecutive years, China's Ministry of Education and Sun Microsystems jointly held the conference for China higher education community.

The 1st day's morning has 4 Sun speakers, and several distinguished guests from China government. Jason Tong is the MC. Chris Lin, Sun China GM, welcome all attendants. Crawford Beveridge, Sun's EVP, talked about government's role in education and innovation. He started with a history of innovation and showed the trend of urbanization. He showed the list of largest cities in the world: both Beijing and ShangHai are on the list. Joe Hartley, VP of Global Government, Education & Healthcare, talked about personal roles in communities. His speech motivates people to become leaders, activists, or influencers in their communities. It earned a long applause from the audience.

Yours truly shamelessly plagiarized Greg Papadopoulos's Cloud Computing presentation. Greg observed the big trends in education and IT technologies are conveniently, and coincidentally, amplifying each others. I needed to shorten the material for the time. Hopefully, I still delivered the essences of his presentation. Simon See, Architect on HPC, ended the conference with a talk about the trend in high performance computing (HPC).

In addition to keynotes, there were several tracks of interactive sections and about a dozen or of exhibitions on various technologies and products. Overall, the conference was well-attended with IT professionals and professors from universities around the country. This is the 3rd time I participated this event. I am definitely coming next year too. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("ERC") TagEnd() </script>

Sunday Apr 06, 2008

IDF 2008, ShangHai

IDF this year was next to the lovely Bund of ShangHai, overlooked by the strangely shaped Oriental Pearl Tower. This is my 3rd time in two years attending IDFs. Intel packed their usual power executives and attracted estimated more than 5,000 attendants. At 9am, long line snaked out to the street waiting to enter. Hordes of brightly jacketed youngsters cradling a pen-laptop to search people's registration codes when they are still in the line. I was one of them, she tried my name and then my email address. Finally, she located my code and directed me to a counter to retrieve my badge.

I herded myself to the meeting hall and sat down right before Pat Gelsinger's keynote. After the fanfare, he showed up on a wide screen! I was in the simul-cast room. The instinct of getting up quickly subdued. The screen did a good job; Pat spoke, polished, well-rehearsed, and obviously from a stage at a much larger hall upstair. I learned my lesson and attended the great hall for Renee James's keynote the 2nd day.

The evening reception was a packed house — stand-up cocktail style. Exuberant Intel employees and invitation-only guests celebrated another successful IDF. A small stage featured "live statues" of motionless pretty women. A commontion sparked when 3 dancers, to the tune of New York, New York, dragged Intel senior executives on stage. They were good sports, but bad dancers. I re-acquainted myself with several of them and made several new friends too.

Sun is a Gold Sponsor at IDF. Amiram Hayardeny attracted a standing-room only attendance with a topic of "Let Sun Shines on your Intel Platform." We exhibited various Software and Hardware technologies. People checked us out in a steady flow; everyone left with a nice stylish t-shirt too. All registered attendants also get a OpenSolaris CD in their bag.

ShangHai is a nice break from Beijing that is intensively focused on the Olympic. I took the opportunity to meet several customers and partners. I will also take a long detour back home via YangZhou, mixing business and pleasure together. That will be another blog. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("IDF") TagEnd() </script>

Friday Mar 07, 2008

A taste of our own medicine

I was horrified. The room felt damp and warm. My finger slid through a fine coat of dust settled on a flat surface. What's going on here? It is supposed to be meat-locker cold and air-tight. This is a disaster for a high-density data-center, also known as the system lab.

We built this lab only 4 years ago, with extra air-condition units. It is still state-of-the-art: carefully spaced racks, inert-air fire distinguishing, sound-absorbing wall-covering, swipe-card access control, power management, the works. We are Sun. We knew how to do data-centers.

We did not. We under-estimated the growth curve, electricity consumption, and cooling demand. The lab over-heated near the end of last year and we had an "oh sh\*t" moment. The options are all ugly: turn off some machines and lose the services they provide, move them to a different lab and suffer disruption, or add more cooling capacity and deal with the hell of funding request. Then, someone came up with a brilliant and stupid idea: open the windows. It is brilliant that outside Beijing air was below freezing; it provided effective and economic cooling. It is so, so stupid that it defeated inert air fire control and shortened the equipment life-span by exposing them with unfiltered air. It also stops working when spring arrives.

Nevertheless, we had time to plan for a move. As this drama unfolds, Sun's eco messages repeated louder than thunders. We experienced the pain of being cooling-capacity constrained. Had we moved to cool-thread technologies earlier, we would have averted the pain.

A testimony for our own gospel? Sigh.. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Sun Microsystems") Technorati("CoolThread") TagEnd() </script>

Friday Feb 29, 2008

Chris Lin 连智浩

Seldom, we longed so much for the new guy to arrive. And rarely, the arrived fits so well.

Welcome Chris Lin, Sun's new President for Greater China. We started recruiting since summer. Last Friday, February 22nd, he came onboard officially. Monday, virtually the 2nd day at work, he visited our engineering center. Sun's press release described his background.

Prior to joining Sun Microsystems, Lin was senior vice president of Global Sales for Opnext Inc., a fibre optic technology supplier to many of the large optical equipment manufacturers in the world. Lin was responsible for sales and marketing operations for Opnext in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. Previously Lin served as chief operating officer for Lucent Technologies China and as vice president of the wireless networks group. He has also held product development positions at Siemens Telecommunication Systems, Limited (Taiwan) and system engineering positions at Bellcore (now Telcordia Technologies).

Lin has a Bachelor of Science Degree from University of Washington and a Master of Science Degree from Colombia University, USA. He is looking forward to moving with his family to Beijing.

Yes, he held senior positions in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the USA. He speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, and English fluently (plus some native Taiwanese). Chris was born in the GuangDong (Canton) Province (广东,潮安) in the mid-60s, moved to Hong Kong after elementary school, and 12 more times in his life. He has become a Beijing resident. His family, wife and 2 kids, will join him when the school year starts.

A whirl-wind of activities swept him up immediately. He has visited all three regions of Greater China and will fly to India the next morning. His visit to ERI started with a nice lunch over which I found him personable, straight-forward, energetic, and a bit nerdy quite enthusiastic on technologies.

He took off the jacket and loosened the tie when he entered the room. After a brief introduction, a dialogue lasted over an hour with engineering leadership. We were curious on his positions on open-source, China's market, Sun's future in this country, etc. He answered readily. We also touched on some softer parts of him. (His proud accomplishment of the past 7 years was his family. His biggest anxiety of this job is not being able to spend enough time with them. He does not believe doing business in China is significantly different from elsewhere.)

This appears to be the beginning of a nice relationship. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("China") Technorati("Chris Lin") Technorati("连智浩") TagEnd() </script>

Friday Feb 22, 2008

A Social Experiment

Last spring, I asked Sun's China engineering center to figure out how to self-govern an activity. It has been an interesting process to observe. But first some background.

In China, companies of reasonable size must provide funds for "union activities." By law, it is a percentage of the payroll budget. Sun's employees here are not interested in forming unions. The money, however, is in spend-it-or-lose-it category. The creative Sun employees then formed SunClubs. They are similar to school clubs: sports, hobbies, travels, or any social activities for a reasonable large group of people to engage regularly. The spirit of the laws is to be independent from company management. The governance of these clubs, therefore, is outside of the normal management structure.

Self-governance: a concept quite new to many people here at Sun China Engineering, let alone well-practiced. Is this possible? I thought I will place my faith on people and give it a try.

First, I called for volunteers to work on this. About a dozen people showed up and I gave them the task: to propose the mechanism of governing SunClubs, but not to do it themselves. They are to create the machine for others to run. There will be no managerial presence, let alone interference, on this process. I held my breath, bit my lips, and sat on my hands. Watching my kids growing up was faster.

9 months later. They came up with a by-laws. It has chapters on the structure of a council, an administrative team, roles and responsibilities, check and balance, transparency and accountability, and a re-election process. They showed me the by-laws and asked me to hold the 1st election for council members. I was too glad to oblige.

14 members were voted into the council via general election, as stipulated by the by-laws. I called for their 1st meeting and give them the task: represent their constituents, operate according to the by-laws, including the modification of it if so desired.

Here we have a young democratic governing body in the room. They did not know that they will be practicing a skill that will affect the rest of their lives and help change the world along the way. The only way for it to work is for me not to meddle. I left the room, breath held, lips bitten, and hands wrung behind my back.

Thursday Feb 21, 2008

Lovely MPK

Walking out of my last meeting of this trip from MPK18. This cloistered pathway leading to MPK10 is such a sight. Blue sky, afternoon sun, 60 degree weather. Sigh... San Francisco bayarea, what a livable place.

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