I was deeply saddened upon reading about the recent layoffs at Oracle Corporation prior to the Labor Day weekend. Some of the casualties were former teammates of mine when I worked for Sun Microsystems in the early 2000s. The 2,500 jobs eliminated came from Oracle’s chip and hardware business that Oracle acquired when they purchased Sun for $7.4 billion back in 2009.
Since its birth on February 24, 1982, Sun Microsystems was a success. The company was started by four ambitious and brilliant engineering and business graduate students from Stanford University (Scott McNealy, Vinod Khosla, and Andy Bechtolsheim) and UC Berkeley (Bill Joy). The first product developed (the Sun-1) was based off an antiquated networking system called the Stanford University Network (or SUN which later became the idea for the company’s name: Sun Microsystems).
By the mid-90s, Sun’s growth had exploded in both revenue and head count. By 1998, Sun’s revenue had increased to $10 billion thus making Sun one of the most influential and successful companies on the planet. However, after several missteps, poor leadership, and the dot-com bust, Sun began to decline and had to lay off thousands of employees from 2001 to 2009.
My career at Sun started in 1994 after Sun acquired the microprocessor division of the company I was working for. While many were nervous and unhappy about switching to Sun, I was jumping for joy. I knew an amazing opportunity lie ahead of me and knew I would have a blast working there.
I was right. Sun did not disappoint.
Perhaps the sweetest memories I have of Sun were the Hawaii trips and company parties. I remember my first big project back in 1995. The team was hastily assembled into a conference room and was issued a daunting challenge: complete the project by the end of the year and we’ll all be heading to the island of Kauai. The project manager scribbled the challenge on some notebook paper and the director of the division immediately signed it to approve the trip. December of that year, we were all back in the same room popping champagne corks and passing out leis.
The trip to Princeville, Kauai was amazing. We stayed at a four-star Sheraton resort. The bathroom sink had marble surfaces and brass fixtures and the pillows had fresh leis and mints placed nightly. We partied every night and got to do free stuff during the day. I remember opening the door to my room and facing three of my coworkers. We were all dressed in fancy terry cloth bathrobes holding cocktails. We then headed to the hot tub where we smoked cigars and drank into the night. At the final banquet, I received a marble clock with my name and the project embossed in gold. One of the highlights of the trip was receiving a video call from our CEO Scott McNealy who personally thanked all of us for a job well done. While he watched, we all raised our Blue Hawaiians and toasted our leader.
The next project I was involved in was a short one. I was deployed at the last minute to assist with the final push. The incentive trip for this project was the island of Maui. Again, we crushed it and the trip was on. Because I was not on the project that long, I asked if I would qualify for the trip. The Engineer I was working with was a super cool dude and liked me. He said “Don’t worry; I think you’ll make it. Let me ask”. Moments later he poked his head through the door of my office and with a big smile on his face said “Pack your bags man, you’re going to Maui”. This trip was even better that the Kauai trip.
The company parties were epic with live entertainment, exotic food stations, and ice sculptures. We had parties in aquariums, science museums, and fancy hotels.
The party came to an end for me on June 14, 2005 when my positon at Sun was eliminated. It was one of the saddest days of my life. There were tears and hugs among my coworkers. After 12 amazing years, my time with Sun had come to an abrupt end. I felt like I had just broken up with a girlfriend I was madly in love with. Fortunately, my severance was generous which gave me time to process and grieve.
Today that sense of loss returns as I remember a once glorious company that was reduced to ruin and extinction. The sad reality is that Oracle’s recent actions have gutted Sun. There’s nothing left. It’s gone forever.
In short, I am so grateful for the 12 years I worked at Sun Microsystems. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside some the best and brightest and to have worked on some of the most amazing chip projects. Most importantly, I am grateful for my colleagues who later became my friends.
I still tell people today, Sun was the best job I ever had. We worked our asses off, we had fun doing it, and we were handsomely rewarded for it. Or as our former CEO Scott McNealy used to say: “Kick butt and have fun”.
As I say goodbye, I want to thank you Sun for the greatest ride of my life and for the most spectacular sunset I will ever see.
A former colleague and friend next to an old Sun Microsystems sign at Oracle’s Santa Clara campus on August 31, 2017