8th Sep, 2010

HP Suing Mark Hurd Is Doing Great Favors to Sun Managers at Oracle

HP suing to stop Mark Hurd taking up his post as co-president at Oracle is potentially doing a huge favor to many Sun managers who got absorbed into Oracle. Because once he starts, he will have both the authority (which his predecessor had) and experience of computer systems (which his predecessor did not) to realize that many of them are misfit at Oracle and hasten their departure.

I have heard from reliable sources at/close to Oracle both in the Bay Area and in China that many Oracle folks have been horrified by the ex-Sun managers they have encountered. Basically, the many work-was-so-undemanding-I-can-get-by-on-nothing Sun managers cannot handle the hardnosed, hard elbowed, and frugal culture at Oracle. I am told that they talk empty words at meetings, and they can do nothing except talk. And they think everything is a given, and they do not realize that they have to do any real hard work. I also heard that many laid-off Sun employees who now work at places like IBM find it hard to adjust to demands at work – they say they have never worked so hard in their lives.

Wake up ex-Sun folks! It’s a jungle out there! I can fully understand, having spent 9 years at Sun and later worked at Microsoft (an extremely well-organized military-grade machine) and having working knowledge of how the work environment is at successful firms such as Google – ignore the halo of free lunch and 20% “free” time, it is more like a pressure cooker inside the company and layabouts do not survive long.

Sun’s culture (however it is defined) was both a blessing and a curse for the company. Without the freedom to disagree with and defy higher-ups, things like Java would never have come to life. Sun also had luck – such as buying for about $400M the business from SGI that became the most successful Sun product line, the E10000 series of servers. Sun had a really good run when its products sold themselves. However, when real competition occurred not in the research labs but in terms of operations, Sun could not cope.

We sometimes interview ex-Sun candidates and often they expect (or practically demand) that they have a work environment like the one at Sun. They had it drummed into their heads that Sun’s culture was the reason of its success. They also had it so good (and easy). Like the father character in an old American movie (I wish I can remember the title – the father returned to college after becoming rich and graduated together with his son) who only half-jokingly proclaimed to students at the graduation ceremony – “go back to school, do not venture out, it is a jungle out there”, the world wishes the best to all Sun folks.

Responses

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I think you’re thinking of Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School” (1986). :)

I have never read such an offensive text.

The movie you are referring to is ‘Back to School’ with the late Rodney Dangerfield.

Unfortunately you can’t always merge cultures. One thing you don’t address in this article though that I’d like to hear your opinion on is, why did Sun enjoy so much success given that attitude?

“I have never read such an offensive text.”

Might I suggest you read more?

I cann’t agree with you more.

I heard from many colleagues saying they like Sun’s culture very much, and they hoped to stay in Sun till their career path ended. Most of engineers completed projects mainly basing on their own interets, not the market and users needs. It is a pity that this kind of culture can not survive.

If ex-Sun can not learn something from the Sun’s failure, they may suffer more disappoints in the jungle.

An over-simplified explanation of Sun’s success and then decline is that it is inevitable that from time to time something breaks through at a place that turns out to be really good. Sun had that fortune, and its culture gave it more chance for such breakthoughs to occur (compared to, say, Microsoft).

However, the company did not become “built to last”. So it flamed out (albeit relatively slowly over many years).

I have my very strong sympathies with the Sun employees and managers (I know many of them and have friends there still). Some of the people I hired into Sun have been laid off. However, they were led to believe in a particularly way of work (or “life”) that simply could not be sustained. In order to survive the jungle fight, they must wake up and adopt a whole set of perspectives. And someone has to point this out to them — perhaps repeatedly before reality sets in.

hi li,

your explaination of SUN’s culture makes me feel like many things happening in China.

However, the chance (or we say fortune) is a double-edged sword, which can instantly make people (or company) success and smash it as well.

Menfucius’ saying “Hardship will lead to prosperity, while comfort will incur destruction.” (from Baidu) is not only proved in China but also in the other areas.

btw, the spam-plugin in your wordpress is really nice and I’ve applied it to my site. Thanks a million.

cheers,

yli

For passionate people, Sun is heaven, it gives you freedom, tolerance and trust. For layabouts, Sun is heaven too (the same reason).
These 2 kinds of people has something in common after Sunset: miss the life at Sun.

Well said, lxf! I guess when other competitors have a smaller layabout/passionate people ratio, Sun lost out.

We hope that Oracle maintain the Java openess and neutrality.

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