Open letter to my Sun friends at Oracle (updated from 2010 post)

The final sunset. Photo by @adrianco

In the summer of 2010 I wrote the following blog post, and given the latest news about how it worked out, I thought it was worth migrating the post from blogspot to medium and adding some commentary to update it.

Here’s the key quote, which is still true today. Many people have transferable skills, but lack the specific experience: “What can you do to “escape”? The tools are right there, you don’t need to invest significant money, you just need to carve out some spare time to use them. Everything is either free open source, or available in the free tier or for a few dollars on the Amazon cloud.

The main update from 2010 is that I joined AWS last year, and we’re now a big company ($16B annualized revenue run rate), growing fast, hiring lots of people, and still building products that are changing the world.

I’ve set up my twitter account for open DM’s and will try to keep on top of my LinkedIn messages in the coming weeks. I’m always happy to hear from old friends and colleagues looking for what to do next.


[August 2010]

I recently heard about Illumos via a tweet from Alec Muffett, and responded with my own tweet “I predict that #illumos will be just as irrelevant as Solaris has been for the last few years. Legacy.” — personally I haven’t logged into a Solaris or SPARC machine for about four years now. There are none at Netflix.I have also been talking to a few friends who stayed at Sun and are now at Oracle, and there is a common thread that I decided to put out there in this blog post.
This week I presented at a local Computer Measurement Group meeting, talking about how easy it is to use the Amazon cloud to run Hadoop jobs to process terabytes of data for a few bucks [slideshare]. I followed a talk on optimizing your Mainframe software licensing costs by tweaking workload manager limits. There are still a lot of people working away on IBM Mainframes, but it’s not where interesting new business models go to take over the world.
The way I see the Oracle/Sun merger is that Oracle wanted to compete more directly with IBM, and they will invest in the bits of Sun that help them do that. Oracle has a very strong focus on high margin sales, so they will most likely succeed in making good money with help from Solaris and SPARC to compete with AIX, z/OS and P-series, selling to late-adopter industries like Banking, Insurance etc. Just look where the Mainframes are still being used. Sun could never focus on just the profitable business on its own, because it had a long history of leading edge innovation that is disruptive and low margin. However, what was innovative once is now a legacy technology base of Solaris and SPARC, and it’s not even a topic of discussion in the leading edge of disruptive innovators, who are running on x64 in the cloud on Linux and a free open source stack. There is no prospect of revenue for Oracle in this space, so they are right to ignore it.That is what I meant when I tweeted that Illumos is as irrelevant as Solaris, and it is legacy computing. I don’t mean Solaris will go away, I’m sure it will be the basis of a profitable business for a long time, but the interesting things are happening elsewhere, specifically in public cloud and “infrastructure as code”.You might point to Joyent, who use Solaris, and now have Bryan Cantrill on board, but they are a tiny bit-player in cloud computing [2017 now part of Samsung] and Amazon are running away with the cloud market, and creating a set of de-facto standard APIs that make it hard to differentiate and compete. You might point to enterprise or private clouds, but as @scottsanchez tweeted: “Define: Private Cloud … 1/2 the features of a public cloud, for 4x the cost”, that’s not where the interesting things are happening.So to my Sun friends at Oracle, if you want to work for a profitable company and build up your retirement fund Oracle is an excellent place to be. However, there are a lot of people who joined Sun when it was re-defining the computer industry, changing the rules, disrupting the competition. If you want some of that you need to re-tool your skill set a bit and look for stepping stones that can take you there.When Sun shut down our HPC team in 2004 I deliberately left the Enterprise Computing market, I didn’t want to work for a company that sold technology to other companies, I wanted to sell web services to end consumers, and I had contacts at eBay who took me on. In 2007 I joined Netflix, and it’s the best place I’ve ever worked, but I needed that time at eBay to orient myself to a consumer driven business model and re-tool my skill set, I couldn’t have joined Netflix directly.
There are two slideshare presentations on the Netflix web site, one is on the company culture, the other on the business model. It is expected that anyone who is looking for a job has read and inwardly digested them both (its basically an interview fail if you haven’t). These aren’t aspirational puff pieces written by HR, along with everyone else in Netflix management (literally, at a series of large offsites), I was part of the discussion that helped our CEO Reed Hastings write and edit them both.
What can you do to “escape”? The tools are right there, you don’t need to invest significant money, you just need to carve out some spare time to use them. Everything is either free open source, or available for a few cents or dollars on the Amazon cloud. The best two things you can have on your resume are hands on experience with the Amazon Web Services tool set, and links to open source projects that you have contributed to. There isn’t much demand for C or C++ programmers, but ObjectiveC is an obvious next step, it’s quite fun to code in and you can develop user interfaces for iPhone/iPad in a few lines of code, that back-end into cloud services. Java code (for app servers like Tomcat) on Android phones, Ruby-on-Rails, and Python are the core languages that are being used to build innovative new businesses nowadays. If you are into data or algorithms, then you need to figure out how to use Hadoop, which as I describe in one of my slideshare decks is trivially available from Amazon. You can even get an HPC cluster on a 10Gbit ethernet interconnect from Amazon now. There is hadoop based open source algorithm project called Mahout that is always looking for contributors.
To find the jobs themselves, spend time on LinkedIn. I use it to link to anyone I think might be interesting to hire or work with. Your connections have value since it is always good to hire people that know other good people. Keep your own listing current and join groups that you find interesting, like Java Architecture or Cloud Computing, and Sun Alumni. At this point LinkedIn is the main tool used by recruiters and managers to find people.

Some technology updates: nowadays I’d take time to learn Python and Go rather than Objective C or Java, and play around with deep learning rather than Hadoop — the gluon.mxnet.io “straight dope” tutorial is a great place to start. My Netflix era and Battery Ventures era slide deck tutorials may also be useful context.

Good luck, and keep in touch, you can find me on LinkedIn or twitter @adrianco.


Originally published at perfcap.blogspot.com — updated on September 1, 2017.