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James Gosling: Why I Quit Oracle (eweek.com)
262 points by 10ren on Sept 22, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 112 comments

Some quotes:

> Oracle did not have a notion of a senior engineer or at least one equivalent to Gosling’s grade at Sun, where he was a fellow. “In my job offer, they had me at a fairly significant grade level down,” he said.

Says something about how they value technical people.

> The word came down that Oracle does not do employee appreciation events. So she forced the thing to be cancelled. But they didn’t save any money because the money had been spent – so we ended up giving the tickets to charities. We were forced to give it up because it wasn’t the ‘Oracle Way.’ On the other hand, Oracle sponsors this sailboat for about $200 million

One of the reasons I left GE was because there was no notion of a senior engineer in the software field (there are senior science positions in the research divisions). To go beyond "Software Engineer" you had to step into a managerial role and away from doing any software engineering.

This burned out several people (including myself). You can only wait for the implementation of "Technical Career Path" for so long.

I can kind of see this for GE, because it isn't a software company. But Oracle does nothing but make software -- programmers are the absolute most important people on their projects.

Oh yeah, I forgot. Oracle is a marketing company. If you want a nice database, use Postgres. If you want a database that sponsors a sailboat, buy Oracle.

I can kind of see this for GE, because it isn't a software company.

Every large company is a software company, whether they know it or not. Failure to provide a career path for software engineering professionals on the technical side of the fence is a poor strategy, period.

Oh, I agree 100%. The software industry barely understands software (see also: offshoring), so I simply don't expect a non-software company to even be in the ballpark.

Big companies assume software projects will be failures, and treat their employees accordingly. Then they get what they expect.

(Hire a bunch of good programmers with good management, and you can get amazingly reliable software from a team of two. Hire a bunch of bad programmers, though, and a team of 100 produces something worse than most kids' intro-to-java app. But nobody but the best programmers understand this, and it looks better to the business to pay 10 people each $60,000 a year instead of paying 2 people $200,000 a year. When a big company "gets this", their software becomes a lot better.)

It's obvious that a small group of great programmers beats a large group of bad ones. This is pointed out constantly on HN and in other programming communities. I'm curious though if anyone has any hard data to support this, beyond anecdotal evidence. (I'm not disagreeing with the sentiment, I agree completely. I'm just interested in seeing any studies done on the subject. I imagine this applies to many other fields as well.)

It's obvious that a small group of great programmers beats a large group of bad ones

The question is, tho', "at what"? Oracle's product offering is VAST. And most of it is technically quite simple; it just does an awful lot. You can't use clever Lisp macros to do stuff like this: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhyIsPayrollHard You just have to chuck people at it.

Data are hard to come by in the industry (compared to, say, manufacturing where science branches were spawned based on analysis, observations).

From where I stand, the cost of poor quality software goes beyond the production. It's more in maintenance, licensing, lost opportunities, and poor adaptability to changing business needs.

Right. Which is why we need a long term study. To follow a product from conception to production to end of life.

Not just software-engineering, either; a lot of large engineering companies don't provide much of an engineering career path that doesn't involve being promoted into management. For almost the entire time my dad was at Amoco (later bought by BP), for a few decades, they were discussing implementing a technical career path with some sort of high-level engineering rank, but it somehow never happened. So the top engineers either languished at "senior engineer" (a reasonably high rank, but basically a ~15 years of experience rank, not equivalent to something like IBM Fellow), or else jumped to management, or left to do consulting. One predictable result was a lot of middle managers who were neither good at nor particularly excited about management, and a lack of senior engineers, in particular engineers in the 3rd phase of a project who had actually worked on the 1st and 2nd phases.

GE actually writes a lot of software, especially industrial applications. Their software division is bigger than most software-only companies: http://www.ge.com/products_services/software_services.html

Worse here in the frozen North.

I can't be a senior engineer because developers can't be engineers at all - and only engineers are allowed to supervise staff.

So Gosling's boss would be a 21 engineer-in-training.

I don't think it's necessarily a career path, or lack thereof, but the companies' perspective on software: I left biotech because the companies I worked for, and it seemed to be an industry problem, viewed software not as their differentiator or edge or product, but rather purely as a cost center to be minimized. From that distinction, everything flows.

I had the same problem at a mutual fund company, which is funny when you think about it. What is financial services company but a group of people that manages information?

This is why Goldman Sachs has weathered the financial crisis so well: they invest heavily in their IT.

That was one of the things that destroyed NCR after AT&T bought it. AT&T had no technical career path, and effectively cut its own head off.

As a result, AT&T bought NCR for something like $9 billion, and ended up spinning it off for something close to $3 million. My mother was at the time an IBM exec (since retired), and she was ecstatic -- IBM was much bigger in the US, but until AT&T bought it, NCR dominated the international big iron market. AT&T effectively killed off IBM's biggest competitor, and a major part of that was the fact that the entire company culture was optimized around funneling talent into management or out the door.

I forgot to mention in my AT&T diatribe... when they ended my contract there, in customer support (where believe it or not, our phones did not work), the person that they brought in to replace me was internal. Internal transfer displaced contractors, and since we were getting many calls (which the phones not working, that wasn't a surprise), rather than expanding staff, they cut the contracts.

Shortly after I'd been informed but before my last day, my replacement showed me two screw drivers and asked me which one was the FLAT head. At least I could have understood if she'd asked which was the Philips head (is Philips the flat one?), but no.

I don't get why technical people who don't want to go in management sign on as permanent employees. Why deal with all that career review nonsense, etc. when as a technical person you have no track anyway?

Job security, 401k, health care benefits, etc. Same reasons anyone signs up as a permanent employee anywhere.

Except that you don't have job security precisely because you're not going into management. Cost of living raises for 15 years without moving up the ladder (i.e. going into management) make you stick out like a soar thumb. In my experience these are always the first to go because they just look too expensive on any chart.

I'm almost 38 and had my first child not too long ago. Sometimes I surprise myself at feeling tempted to chase the illusion of "stability" at a bigger company. Then I remind myself of all my friends who have been through terrible layoffs and remember that there almost never is such a thing as stability nowadays.

I think a lot of people get the same feeling I do for the same reasons, but then forget the whole "remind yourself" part.

Some companies actually do have career paths of technical people, and most companies will claim to have them. It's hard to tell from bottom rung exactly what track you may or may not have a few steps up.

This isn't always evident from the outside, and it may not even be evident from the inside, until you realize you should be advancing along that non-existent career path.

Most companies do have technical career path. Being a permanent employee not only gives you the benefits (others have listed them), but also lets you work on much more interesting projects (contractors typically work on isolated projects rather than on core systems and algorithms; I know, of course, of exceptions to that but they're rare). It also frees you up of the overhead of finding the next contract.

I know many people who have done contracting and several told me a) the money _is_ very good b) other than the money, it's not worth it (stressful, uninteresting projects, high overhead).

Most companies do have technical career path

Genuine question - who? The technical career path at almost every organization ends after about 10 years, then it's management or plateau.

Remember - companies are run by people who fundamentally don't, or can't, understand why everyone doesn't aspire to management...

Red Hat has a good technical career path. No need to go into management if you don't want to, and plenty of people on my team in their 40s and 50s still working happily on the "codeface".

The contracting money isn't what is was. When I started contracting in 2000 you could write your own ticket - obscene wages and all the hours you want. Now I'm an employee at the same company, and the contractors make less than I do if you add the bonus. These guys are making about 40% less than I made ten years ago.

> Oracle sponsors this sailboat for about $200 million

That's just Larry's favorite toy, I'd imagine the IRS to be interested in that as a deferred payment rather than Oracles shareholders, whatever floats Larry's boat (pun intended) is fine with them, as long as he delivers.

IIRC Oracle doesn't pay anything, they're name is just on the boat because Ellison wants it to be. He's the one paying for it. But I'm sure the boat is actually owned by a corporation that gets its own write offs.

It's owned by BMW Oracle Racing, which is a separate company whose mission is essentially the same as an F1 team's - get their sponsor's names in everyone's minds by winning stuff on TV.

I was under the impression that Ellison pays for the sponsorship out of his pockets but puts the Oracle logo on the sailboat. Also, it is the BMW Oracle team and the total amount spent was "reported" to be around $200 million.


Larry also owns a beach house in the mansions area of Newport, Rhode Island, aka sailing capital of the world (the main street connecting to the dwarfs is called America's Cup Avenue).

Very interesting. I am in the area soon and will set up a side trip to come and visit the road that leads to the dwarfs.

You may be interested in taking the Mansion's Tour. Stop by the Visitor Center. It costs $20 but you get to ride a energy-efficient Charlie Car. If you get the right tour guide, he will point out to you Larry's house on the tour.

For good food at reasonable prices, try The Barking Crab.

Say hi to Gimli for me then.

> Says something about how they value technical people.

I don't know much about Oracle but I have heard, FWIW, that they are one of the few remaining companies that really does and did whatever they could to not lay droves of folks off during the slow down. It's kind of hard to get a job there but they'll keep you forever if you do. I'm not sure how true that is or isn't.

Maybe not the sexiest titles but if that's true it shows that they do value employees.

They value head count.

It's typical of non-technical middle managers that their value is proportional to the number of people they supervise - so they all fight to keep the size of 'their' people. It doesn't mean that conditions there are any good.

A lot of big software companies seem to put significant effort into maintaining a good relationship with the developer/technical community, presumably in large part to keep the recruitment pipeline (especially of top people) flowing along.

Oracle, by contrast, doesn't seem to give a shit and gets away with it[1].


[1] http://www.google.com/finance?chdnp=1&chdd=1&chds=1&...

It probably doesn't matter much to Oracle to stay on good terms w/ the technical community since technical people aren't their customers.

The people who have the budgetary authority to buy Oracle's very expensive products very likely haven't been doing anything technical for many years, if they ever did. Programmers in organizations that use Oracle aren't asked if they want to use Oracle, they're told they're going to use Oracle...

Unless you get your kicks from working on a 30-year-old database written in 80's style C, I don't think there's much appeal to working for Oracle as a programmer.

Working for Oracle as a programmer _most often means_ working for innumerable number of ERP and middleware solutions they offer, not the database itself.

I don't think that has too much appeal either. Quite frankly, I would prefer the 80's C to that.

I don't disagree. :) That was why I quit it, in the first place.

Not arguing with the rest of your post, but what would you write a large-scale DBMS with, these days? Surely not jpython?

Perhaps with 2010 style C ;-)

But maybe, just maybe, I would first connect Oracle's prodigious moneyduct into a team writing a kick-ass Lisp compiler and then writing the best RDBMS using Lisp.

One can dream...

Not an RDBMS, but AllegoGraph is in Lisp and is the most high-end NoSQL out there. Literally, the Oracle of object stores.

If you have an Oracle to hand, have a look at TNSNAMES.ORA and LISTENER.ORA. Greenspun's law applies...

Fair point. I didn't intend to diss C, and if one were to write Oracle from scratch today, C is (sadly?) still probably the best option given its performance and portability constraints.

What I had in mind was that for anyone who is technically capable of maintaining the core Oracle DB code base, there are more interesting and rewarding things they could be doing instead.

I would use something like typed racket or haskell for all the critical parts to increase safety. Then I would check the performance bottlenecks and rewrite them in C if needed.

Then I would use a more programmer friendly language on top of that. Something like Scheme, Ruby, Python and the like.

Stratified design, basically.

> I would use something like typed racket or haskell for all the critical parts to increase safety

I am not sure about Haskell, but, from my limited experience, Erlang runs at levels very close to C (my C, at least)

In terms of speed? Erlang's not even in the ballpark that C is in. I'm pretty sure Haskell significantly outperforms Erlang as well.


Well... At least my C is regarded as very readable ;-)

as has been stated before in other threads in this topic, the decision to use oracle products is rarely a technical one. its a business one, made by business/managerial types. and so that is who oracle plays to. if you build a product that treats the client's developers as interchangeable incidentals, you're going to do the same to your own developers.

I don't know much about this sector, but how does Oracle compare to its direct competitors? E.g. is SAP friendlier with the developer/technical community?

IBM with its DB2 product is a direct competitor, and seems to do a bit better, blue suits & company hymns notwithstanding.

SAP is a special case, as it has a more limited target audience. The financial environment has a heavy, erm, taint on the typical SAP developer. Most of them are in it for the money, so I don't think a lot of them care all that much. College students in Germany often joke about selling your soul to become a SAP consultant… Whereas most Oracle developers or DBAs I've met are still more engineers than business types.

Some companies just don't need a flourishing developer community. I think Oracle – especially after buying Sun – isn't one where this would seem advisable, but apparently they think different. Wonder how that will work out…

Yes. If it is a situation to side the customer or the developer, SAP would side the developer, Oracle most definitely the customer.

Other than the aforementioned DB2, the only other competitor out there for Oracle is SQL Server.

That has some big customers -- a large part of Disney's online infrastructure relies on SQL Server, for example.

Oracle the database isn't really Oracle's main product. They're real product is a bunch of industry specific applications and middleware (and related consulting services) that happens to need a Oracle database to run. So as such they're not really directly competing with SQL server (or postgres or whatever)

That's a good point. I suppose I should have specifically labelled DB2 and SQL Server as competitors to Oracle 10x or whatever their current DBMS version is. :)

Oracle has brilliant opportunities at the moment: they own a great processor (Sparc) that they could closely integrate with their database, application software and even Java... and (finally!) give IBM a run for their money. They have the cool and fast technology of both Sun's JVM and BEA's JVM (JRockit). They have acquired other brilliant technologies, and have in practice endless resources to acquire more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_acquisitions_by_Oracle http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/acquisitions/index.html

But... although it's simple to appreciate the advantages of combining technologies, it's very very hard to actually do. For example, the IBM 360 project, of a series of machines of increasing power (and price), that were all compatible, so customers could upgrade, is a simple idea. But implementing this was a bet-the-company project, it was celebrated as an incredible, miraculous achievement, and the lessons learnt from it remain popular to this day (The Mythical Man Month, by the leader of the 360 project, Fred Brooks.)

To pull off these technical feats, you need the public superstar developers, but also the hidden superstar developers (the x100 coders; the people who, after working closely with them for a while, you observe, oh that guy's a genius); and then the x10 coders, who want to hang out with the geniuses and learn from them. It's places like HP used to be, where Woz wanted to work, at almost all costs (Woz himself being a x100 guy.)

If you only have x5 or x7 coders; and if you don't support them (with infrastructure, secretarial etc - not just compensation, adequate decision-making power, and some kind of recognition.), then, well, you can't do these technical feats. You may seek but not find; ask but it shall not be given; knock but it shall not be opened. Though this is not a disruptive issue, the same factors occur of the difficulty for an established successful company to change its culture and business architecture. And Oracle doesn't want to change anyway.

" they own a great processor (Sparc)"

I'm not so sure about that.

For years x86 has been chewing up the market for Sparc processors, and one of the reasons that Sun had such poor finances is that it was selling x86-based servers more than Sparc based servers (they cost considerably less, and perform better).

Fujutsu's Sparc implementation significantly outperforms Sun's.

Contemporary Xeons outperform both these days.

Besides, Sun has had a long history of massive screwups -- and they put "don't tell anyone we screwed up" clauses in their support contracts. One company just gave up when they got their UltraSPARC3 rig, found that not only was it not nearly performant enough to meet expectations, but also in order for it to function reliably, they had to disable the 2nd level cache on every CPU, or else a cache glitch would bring down the entire server (32 procs).

It's not a great processor. It hasn't been for a long time. Sun has been the "flock of chickens" vs the POWER "bull" as a result.

For those who don't get the chickens vs. bulls reference:

"If you were plowing a field, which would you rather use?... Two strong oxen or 1024 chickens?"

- Seymour Cray

There are a lot of other great Cray quotes.

Of course, look at any modern Cray ads and Cray is using the same 1024 chickens everyone else in the livestock industry is using.

Sparc isn't failing because it's inferior to x86. Sparc is failing because Solaris is failing, and no other OS is built from the ground up for Sparc. You can run Linux and other Unix-likes on it, but given the choice between x86 and Sparc, you choose x86 because that's what's least likely to cause incompatibility issues.

Well, to be fair, Seymour Cray is sadly not around anymore to build some better oxen and Cray has changed hands quite a few times.

It's a circular problem actually. Sparc is failing because Solaris is failing, and Solaris is failing because Sparc is inferior.

Cray got reborn in the form of SGI's Altix, which to abuse the analogy would be a pack of wolves compared to the POWER bulls.

The successor to Altix is an x86 cluster using the same high-performance, zero-latency interconnects that they used in Altix (part of the technology that SGI gained from the Cray acquisition).

x86 costs quite a bit less than Sparc. It has far higher performance than Sparc. It runs everything that Sparc does, including if you want it, Solaris. So what's the selling point for Sparc?

Java? Oh, wait -- that's what enabled everyone using a Sparc server to save money by abandoning it.

Amazon saved $17 MILLION by dropping Sun. Ebay dropped Sun (and saved millions in maintenance costs as a result) after a 2-day outage because their Sun boxes crapped out on them, and Sun support dropped the ball.

There are others, of course. Sun tried to stem the bleeding by partnering with AMD, and also by acquiring Afara and attempting to put their CPU designs into practice. x86 ended up beating them at their own game -- lower power consumption, higher throughput, lower cost...

Sparc's probably doomed. I think that Oracle bought an albatross there. There is some worthwhile technology that they might be able to use, like the system interconnects that Sun got when they bought the company that made the Connection Machine, assuming I'm remembering the name correctly. (Thinking Machines, IIRC?)

And its a great metaphor for http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amdahl%27s_law, which was one of the "secrets" to the success of the Cray 1: even when you couldn't use the vector hardware it was blindly fast (80 MHz in the mid-70s).

When I learned about their "no service unless you sign this NDA" policy plus their attempts to blame their customers ("your machine room's environment isn't good enough") for this problem of their own making (see my other comment in this thread: they cut costs by omitting parity/ECC) I knew they were never going to make it in Big Iron. Sun's predecessors had defined an informal SLA or social contract that Sun just didn't recognize or was able to implement.

When I learned that their internal sales force total focus on big contracts made it literally impossible for most startups to buy medium levels of Sun kit (by and large no more than could be put on credit cards (Sun's "VARs" were supposed to handle this business but few did, clearly Joyent found an exception)) and that people were buying less desirable Dell servers simply because Dell would actually sell and deliver them (HP's sales function was also totally screwed up at this time) it became clear that no small company that was going to become big was going to do it on Sun hardware (SPARC or x86).

At that point it became crystal clear Sun was doomed; final straws included Sun cost cutting or otherwise screwing up their servers (details on request, but e.g. Joyent stopped buying Sun hardware while they continue to use Solaris).

If I want to get nasty, I'd have to wonder about how much Sun's recent (post Java 6) stewardship of Java made Oracle want retain Gosling and his peers.

> One company just gave up when they got their UltraSPARC3 rig

On the other hand, the Niagara family seems very interesting. Sadly, never had the chance to characterize its performance under my loads, but I suspect there is a lot of stuff they can do better than the same price x86 box.

A T3, with its many multi-threading cores resembles much more a "flock of chickens" than a Xeon does.

There is Solaris x86 (x64) now, but it was always the red-headed stepchild, badly supported, minimal HCL, no work done on the compiler to optimize for that architecture, lagged behind for patches, both from Sun and from vendors like Oracle.

A world in which you could have Solaris on your Intel boxes and your SPARC boxes and compile fat binaries a la NeXTSTEP that would "just work" all the way from the desktop to the datacentre is a compelling one. But Sun lacked the courage to invest in Solaris on Intel until it was too late.

Gosling also wrote about being at the mercy of suppliers impacting SPARC and it probably contributed to the problems.


Do some Googling and mroe reading and you'll find their problem was that they cut costs by assuming the memory supplied was perfect and that they didn't need to include parity checking or error detection and correction. This is the UltraSPARC3 problem that Tamerlin is talking about.

OK, my mistake. I assumed Sun were still great at building processors (and they got killed only because they were disrupted, in the Christensen sense, like Digital were.)

I now make a further assumption that the remaining echo $((`wc -w`-6)) 315 words about the importance of technical talent are OK. :-)

From the middle of the article:

"Also, asked whether in hindsight he would have preferred Sun having been acquired by IBM (which pursued a deal to acquire Sun and then backed out late in the game) rather than Oracle, Gosling said he and at least Sun Chairman Scott McNealy debated the prospect. And the consensus, led by McNealy, was that although they said they believed “Oracle would be more savage, IBM would make more layoffs.”

That's interesting, given that Gosling now decides to quit 'of his own accord', which is probably a lot cheaper than to lay someone off.

Technically Oracle may not lay people off that readily, but I don't see how you could interpret Goslings treatment in any way but to force him out of the company. He had his compensation reduced, they clipped his wings and on top of all that used him to act at being a trained parrot.

Gosling's layoff concerns were probably more about his friends and the people that worked for him.

Yes, but if they treat him like this I can't see people lower on the totem pole being treated much better, I'd rather expect the opposite.

I think the implied trade-off is between "IBM axes former SUN-division Foo, 5000 fired" and "Stuck in an unpleasant, but decently paid, job with benefits and no particular obligation not to just pack up and leave when a better opportunity comes along."

Oracle has already fired close to 7,000 people of the original 27,000 that were part of the merger, in June they announced a further 1,000 people to be thrown out but at the same time said they would hire 2,000 new ones mostly for the sales division.


I don't see how IBM could have done much worse, and I think that Java would have fared a lot better under IBM, which in the longer term would have probably meant more rather than less job security for the people working near Gosling.

If he was talking about the company as a whole IBM would have had to fire more than 8,000 people to date do be doing as bad for the employees as Oracle did, now of course we'll never know so we can't really make any statements about that but I find it hard to conceive of it being so bad. IBM is very image conscious and I think they would have had a hard time murdering the core team around java at this clip, let alone destroying the technical core of Sun and replacing it with 'sales'.

IBM has a policy of shipping as many jobs overseas as can be managed. They've moved tens of thousands in the last decade. What I've heard from friends suggests that it's not a pleasant environment for rank-and-file employees. AFAIK, Oracle doesn't have the same zest for shipping jobs overseas.

IBM's done worse before. In the late 90's my father was part of a first round of IBM layoffs -- in which they cut 6000 jobs... in Dutchess County, New York.

That was the <i>first round</i> of layoffs. Another few thousand got cut a year so later.

And I don't know how many they cut outside of Dutchess County...

Were they closing down the facility in Dutchess County? How big was it?

IBM has a LOT of facilities in Dutchess County -- including their own HQ in Armonk. There are several significant plants there, and I think they still have some semiconductor manufacturing there -- which might help explain the severe pollution in the Hudson River from that area on down to New York City.

IBM's presence before that massive layoff was such that almost everyone in Dutchess County with a corporate job worked at IBM, it really felt like you either worked for IBM or you worked at the mall or a gas station. (I doubt that this is quite the case, but you get the point hopefully.)

I am fairly certain that until that massive layoff, there were hardly any tech companies other than IBM in the area. I didn't find any, at least. The only job opportunities I ever found in the area were at IBM.

I think they did close down a few facilities entirely during those layoffs. My mother's job moved from Meyers Corners to Poughkeepsie around then, because they closed down the MC facility IIRC. They probably sold or leased it out or something, it was a pretty large office building from what I remember.

It's pretty easy to imagine that when Gosling was employed by Sun, he enjoyed significant power to shape his own job. Under Oracle, he clearly did not have the power to make his own job into what he wanted. It's not much of a stretch to believe that lower-tier technical staff didn't have that power to begin with, and hence did not feel the same sting of new management.

Yes, that's probably very true, in part this is Gosling being a similar sized fish in a much larger pond.

But if I compare that to google where there are lots of 'names' from just about every era of computing working and being reasonably happy I can't help but notice the contrast.

That changes the atmosphere of the place and that definitely does filter down to lower levels.

IBM and SUN had tons of competing products. They compete in: OS's - Solaris vs AIX; Hardware - Sun's Low end x86 vs systemX, SPARC vs Power, Disk Storage, Tape Storage; And probably a bunch more I can't think of.

Oracle and SUN weren't really competitors in many spaces. So IBM would have been better for Gosling -- but there was more hope for the rest of the employees at Oracle.

So where does a guy like Gosling go now? Google seems to be serving the role that Bell Labs once did in giving all the top technical dogs a big playground but other than that it's hard to guess where he might fit in.

Oracle sounds as bad a company internally as externally. I'm hugely grateful that I've found other languages, frameworks and databases to base my career on and minimise Oracle's involvement in my life.

Although I never worked for them, I loved the hardware and software output from Sun. It was good to have them in the tech ecosystem. I can't say the same about Oracle.

I sympathize with all the great Sun engineers that got a bad deal, but didn't Sun do poorly from an investor perspective? And isn't that important?

As much as I really hate Oracle (I'm a programmer and don't like their products), they do really well for investors. They make fat profits each quarter. I don't really understand why - why people buy their overpriced, complex products - but they do.

The sales organization gets priority in Oracle. They're never going to start a project by asking "what would be cool?", but rather "what do our customers want?". Not the path to the most technically satisfying jobs, but companies like that stand a better chance of making money.

I've worked at a few (smaller) software companies, and from what I can tell the ones that go out of business do so because they make really cool products that either 1) don't get connected to the right customers or 2) are missing some critical feature customers need because developers didn't understand the business space. Both problems are the result of a poor or unsupported sales organization.

As a technical guy I get irritated by the sales people as much as anyone else, especially when they try to promise away my nights or weekends. But a software company won't survive without them. Based on my own experience I'd say the most successful companies could better be described as sales organizations that do software instead of software companies that do sales.

I agree. I also think managers with discipline and ok intelligence are better than managers that are really intelligent with little discipline.

The disciplined managers focus on what needs to get done and do it. (The don't spend part of their day reading HN ;)

Oracle is very good if you're the sort of company that wants to make one phone call and buy a turnkey system to do something very boring, but important, that isn't really core to your company. You simply place one call and say "Hi I need a payroll system for my company with a few 100K employees spread around the world", then Oracle takes care of providing everything from hardware and OS right up to support and training, with each component bearing the Oracle brand. Very few companies can offer that.

Oracle is marketing and support organization, notba software company. I wouldn't want to work for them, and don't like their products, but I respect that they deliver real value to their customers.

It seems kinda odd to me that gosling isn't going out and getting a great job at a hot startup.... He could write his own ticket.

It really isn't oracles job to retain him, they dont really need him it seems.

I can answer that one... their pointy haired bosses read the ads in the airports and business magazines that say "98% of Fortune 500 companies" use Oracle

From the article: "All of the senior people at Sun got screwed compensation-wise. Their job titles may have been the same, but their ability to decide anything was just gone."

It need not have come to that if they had used their "ability to decide" in managing Sun properly. You cannot hang your hat for very long on "we made good software but were unable to sell it".

And then there's the interminable delay in Java 7. In this case, "made", as in the past tense of "make" is the operative word. As I noted elsewhere, I'm not sure Oracle wanted to give Gosling and his peers decision making authority (let alone retain them) based on their recent preformance.

"But unlike Oracle, Davis and the Raiders have not had a winning season for awhile – not since my Baltimore Ravens flattened their hopes and the shoulder of quarterback Rich Gannon after a vicious pancake tackle by Tony Siragusa on the way to a Ravens’ Super Bowl winning season in 2001."

The Raiders were 11-5 the next year (2002) and went to the Super Bowl.

By "in 2001" he actually means the 2001 Super Bowl, so the 2000 season. The 2001 season was a Super Bowl winning season for the Patriots.

Good point, but after THAT... horrors.

“All of the senior people at Sun got screwed compensation-wise. Their job titles may have been the same, but their ability to decide anything was just gone.”

Probably the best thing to happen as the decision makers managed to decide Sun to the selling block.

I love the way Gosling uses "financial realities" as a delicate euphemism for "poor management"...

Darryl K. Taft is a horrible writer.

For real,

"That bent Gosling’s resolve like a wishbone in the hands of two eager siblings in mid-pull after Thanksgiving dinner, but even that didn’t break it."

And later - I'm not sure what I was actually reading about for half the article:

"But unlike Oracle, Davis and the Raiders have not had a winning season for awhile – not since my Baltimore Ravens flattened their hopes and the shoulder of quarterback Rich Gannon after a vicious pancake tackle by Tony Siragusa on the way to a Ravens’ Super Bowl winning season in 2001."

Yeah, I bet Franklin W. Dixon could write better copy ;-)


It's interesting that a pay cut and a down-grade in title isn't what did it but that their marginalization of his input and control is what pushed him over the edge.

Personally, I think that Gosling got what he deserved considering the pain he inflicted on myriads of developers with Java. (Yes, there are some nice technologies in the Java platform. But Java language is not one of them.)

I'm wondering what happened to the real mastermind, Guy Steele.


Nah, he was brought in after Java was going to help write the language definition document, given his fantastic demonstrated ability to do this: Scheme, co-author of the best one for C, Common Lisp.

He's now working on Fortress, a HPC language (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortress_%28programming_languag...). As far as I know, people doing research are still happy (enough), employed, etc., e.g. that project is still going with the most recent release a month and a half ago and the Maxine JVM in Java was fine as of the time Oracle sued Google, when I stopped paying attention to it.

JAVA handled by the micro managers. That means each new feature will be nicely documented first...in a contract. It will go through a rigorous due diligence process, the basic questions being 'Whats in it for Oracle', 'Does it help our performance', etc. Oracle makes good enough software but at a slow pace.

Gosling's not going to say 'I am really worried about JAVA and chances are it may not evolve'. But I think its quite clear from this interview.

You obviously make the risky assumption the managers in question know how to properly document and develop software.

This is just Larry "consolidating." (Larryspeak) http://goo.gl/fb/gNsvQ

a lot of Sun's prima donnas didn't make it in Oracle wolf pack. They had their day at Sun (it was an unbelievable feast during plague), and it resulted in the failure of the company on all fronts, business and engineering, software and hardware.

More accurately, we (for there are many of us) realized that we could go solve much more interesting problems elsewhere -- and in a much better environment besides. Why would anyone wish to suffer at a technically mediocre company when there are so many interesting problems yet to solve?

O-o-o-o-h! who can forgot this one. The technical brilliance of scattering profiler calls across Solaris sources (which endeavor took enormous engineering and marketing budgets at the time when Solaris was eaten alive by Linux) is, no doubt, a sound platform to "mediocrate" a company whose products in a highly competitive marketplace are among the leaders, technically and commercially (people actually pay to use them, whereis Sun had trouble convincing people to use its products, in particular Solaris, even for free)

Apples to apples - Oracle DB has excellent profiler capabilities and even useful tools around it. Of course, in this day and age, excellent profiler capabilities and tools is just a normal must-have, a technical mediocracy and nowhere a sign of technical brilliance.

Great, the more of "we (for there are many of us) realized that we could go solve much more interesting problems elsewhere", the less chances for the Oracle server to suffer the fate of Solaris.

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