It’s a small world after all!

No, this isn’t an advance leak of Disney’s movie based on the It’s a Small World right (check boing boing for that!), but a quiet reminder that it really is a small world here in High Tech…

Turns out that Microsoft Blogger John Porcaro is a fellow ex-Sun dude. I was there in 85-89, he was there until 1990. I still have, here in my office, the little lucite block I got the day Sun went public… As far as we can tell, we never interacted with each other, but it’s c00l running into a little piece of your history by suprise, especially here in the blogger world. Brings up fun memories…

The time I spent at Sun was a fascinating time, not just a small company growing and going public, but it was a time where the industry was really starting to change the larger world around it. I started working with a group that was supporting third party developers who were porting NFS, YP/NIS and XDR/RPC to non-Sun platforms. (for those of you who think SOAP and XML/RPC are new adn unique, go take a look at XDR/RPC — things are a lot more sophisticated today, but the basic concepts and challenges are amazingly similar). NFS was one of the first serious attempts to open up a protocol and let others use it, rather than lock it down and hide it away — Sun understood that it needed to be endemic to succeed, took the chance, and it worked. In many ways, a precursor of some of the open source movement today.

The first vendors to sign up for NFS were Gould and their Firebreather box, and the Mt. Xinu folks. That meant I got to work with Ed Gould a bit, which was, for a fairly young and earnest unix geek, a real thrill.

Later on, I moved over to Sun’s support world, where I spent time on the phones. Really gives you a perspective on the customer view vs. the engineering view, and it really made me aware of and an evangelist of the customer wherever I’ve worked — IMHO, every engineer and coder should be required to spend a couple of weeks answering support calls, except most of them couldn’t handle it. But it’d make for better products.

As support, I became somewhat of an admin specialist, and did most of the support of sendmail, uucp and similar stuff. This was back when ethernet was new and most networking was by modem, and SunOS fit on an 80 meg hard drive (yes! megs. not gigs! with room for your home directory!). By the end of my life at Sun, I got involved in a stealth project to get a neat new product shipped, a box that became known as the Sun/4-260 — sun’s first generation Sparc chip, and the first time (to my knowledge) that an OS shifted processors, since prior to that, Sun’s were 68xxx boxes.

I ended up leaving Sun because, like many support organizations, it let the support budget get squeezed, and there were too many calls, too many hours, and too few engineers, and I got tired of the grind. Besides, this company called Apple was starting up its first real support organization, for a product called A/UX, and were looking for someone to come in to help create the organization. They ended up hiring my boss at sun to manage the beast, and I came across as the senior geek and 2nd lieutenant, of the group that ended up being the core of what eventually moved to Austin and became Apple’s support universe down there….

Ever wonder how life would be different if you’d made different decisions in your life? What if I’d stayed at Sun? There have been days when life at Apple looked dark that I considered looking to go back (my boss who moved to Apple eventually did, and is now in Colorado way up the food chain), but to be honest, the one time I came *this* close to leaving Apple, during the darkest years of the Spindler era, was to go to SGI. But the position just didn’t feel right for me and I just wasn’t quite ready to give up on Apple (even though it seemed everyone else had, even inside Apple), so I stayed.

Not a bad decision, in retrospect, but at the time, most folks who knew what was going on thought I was an idiot…

And now you look at Sun, and it’s in some pretty rough times. I’m rooting for it to turn it around, but will it? I’m not convinced.