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On Sun Folks Leaving Oracle

Larry Ellison

More often than you’d think, I’ve been asked about the cultural clunking between Sun and Oracle. Recently, several high profile departures of Sun people from Oracle have prompted a few of those questions again. It’s, of course, good to keep things in perspective: these are just a handful of folks being profiled out of the thousands who came over.

Last week, Paul Krill asked me for input on a story published today on the topic. In addition to the round-up of events and comments in the story, below my longer responses.

Culture Clash

It seems like the cultures of Oracle and Sun clash. What are the cultural (how the business desires reflect the way employees go about their jobs, day-to-day) differences at Oracle and Sun?

I think the assessment of cultures not fitting is pretty near the truth. Sun spent a good deal of engineering time doing something close to “applied research and development,” as with the dynamic language folks building on-top of the Java VM. While many technology companies – most, actually – focus on 6 to 12 months out, Sun in it’s last years kept it’s eyes in part a longer horizon calling for engineering talent that was exploratory and “cutting edge.” People like Google do this, of course, but they have a here and now revenue flow from the more pedestrian “making better junk mail” business model of selling online ads. Without here-and-now revenue flows like that, it’s difficult to keep up a large emphasis on emerging technology R&D.

Oracle, in contrast, has built its business model around creating and buying up existing, successful portfolios (database, Siebel, PeopleSoft, etc.) and honing their portfolio into classic enterprise software cash machines. The software is evolved and added to, but customer demands are more important than speculating and taking risks
on new ways using IT. Oracle’s guarded uptake of cloud is a nice example here. I suspect they’ll sort through Sun’s assets and follow the same practice. Oracle’s revenues and overall enterprise brand-value are the envy of many other vendors, so clearly the model works.

Losing People

What’s the effect of losing these high-profile folks?

First, it means Oracle is probably not interested in the projects they were working on – Java aside (I’d say Gosling is a special case in all this: he’s probably well off enough that he can choose his employer and him leaving Oracle doesn’t really reflect on the Java commitment). I don’t expect to see much emphasis from Oracle on extending the
prominent languages that run on the VM aside from Java [though, as pointed out, Groovy might be a stands-out at Oracle, who knows?]. In contract, VMWare/Spring Source is very invested in getting groovy running on the VM, while languages like clojure are seeing quick fame.

There’s still plenty of smart folks at Oracle – for example, they have a nice, pragmatic cloud asset in William Vambenepe who, despite Oracle’s flashy marketing that cloud is a lot of marketing claptrap is doing excellent work sussing out exactly how cloud technologies can start helping IT. Getting more Oracle-ites engaging to that degree would be great for Oracle to carry the positive nerdiness of the Sun/Java world that Oracle is well positioned to draw revenue from.

More Context

Related, be sure to check out RedMonk’s coverage of Oracle gobbling up Oracle: from me, from Stephen, and from James.

Disclosure: Sun was a long-time client, Oracle is not a client.

Categories: Companies, Programming.

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