Java Tips, Views and Techniques

New Leadership for Sun Microsystems

New Sun CEO

Sun finally has a new chance at making it back in the game with a new CEO. Scott McNealy did the best he could, but ultimately it has never been enough to get Sun back on top. Their only saving grace was Java and that's not enough to keep the company revenues flowing. Hopefully we will see a little more innovation out of Sun with a new CEO.

Google Dream Team

At $1 million of revenue per employee, Google has the funds to share the wealth and they do so quite freely. Compensation of employees has always long been a topic of debate especially as a company gets bigger and starts to build those mid-level positions. Alan Deutschman explores this compensation issue at Google and how they plan to attack this in an article on Fast Company. Upon interviewing Sergey Brin he quickly discovers what their formula is.

Brin has been thinking a lot lately about how to revamp Silicon Valley's basic approach to compensation, which long relied on stock options. When there are only a few hundred people in a company, stock is a strong motivation, he says, because everyone gets enough options to have the chance to really make a lot of money. But "at thousands, it doesn't work that well as an incentive," because there are so many people that the options have to be spread too thin. "And people want the chance to be really well rewarded." Even though Google now has some 3,000 employees worldwide, he says, "I feel the compensation should be more like a startup's. Not entirely, because there's significantly less risk. But more like one. We provide the upside -- maybe not the identical upside, maybe a little less -- and higher odds of being successful."
There is also a couple notes about how to address the mid-level positions and keep them properly compensated.
In addition to stock grants, Brin says that Google is trying to do more with "bonuses and refreshers" and especially looking to develop more financial incentives for people in the fast-growing middle levels of the company. Still, he admits that "there are some inherent flaws with compensation incentives in a large company." That thought sends him off on a more philosophical tangent: "As you grow larger, you should be more efficient," he says, "or split into smaller companies if there are diminishing returns. The key is to look at the advantages you get from being larger."
Obviously, most of Google's new success is due to it's "Dream Team" of highly-paid, brilliant, and well-educated employees. It poses an interesting environment for employees on campus as noted by Nelson Minar, a mid-level engineer.
Of course, Google is far from the first Silicon Valley powerhouse to cultivate a reputation as a place for the most brilliant engineers. Like its predecessors -- Microsoft, Oracle, Apple -- Google can be elitist and a bit haughty. Nelson Minar, a midlevel Google engineer, starts off well by saying, "At Google, a lot of people are motivated by the beauty of what they do. A key thing in the engineering culture is a lot of pride in the technical challenge. Larry and Sergey have set the tone that we're in this for the long run." But then he realizes too late that he's sliding into arrogance when he says, "At Google, my assumption when I meet new engineers is they are as good as I am or better. When I worked at other places, the first question was, Is this person worth my time?"
Ultimately, what does this all lead to? What happens when everyone at the company is rich? What happens to the work ethic and dedication to the job. Will it turn out like it did at Microsoft in the 1990's? I think it is human nature and probably inevitable.
Still, it's likely that individuals at Google will have a harder time feeling they can have an impact on the company now that it has thousands of people, not hundreds. And many talented individuals will surely leave for startups once Silicon Valley discovers its next big thing. Some of the people who stay will find motivation harder to come by once their stock grants vest and they no longer need to work to make a living or even to buy real estate in the nation's least affordable housing market. At Microsoft in the '90s, engineers and marketers took to wearing buttons around the office that said "fuifv." You can guess what the first two letters stand for. The last three meant "I'm fully vested."

More Money for Developers

Ten Thousand Dollars

With the economy recovering and new ideas floating around there is plenty more money for developers and programmers. Venture capital is flowing and everyone is looking for someone to implement their latest "Web 2.0" project. With all this new money and ideas, conditions still aren't that good for a lot of developers especially those in larger companies where corporate overhead still manages to bring the everyday coder down.

Ultimately, it comes down to how developers are managed and retained in companies. If companies truly want to get ahead, they need to retain top developers to implement their technology solutions they so desperately rely on today and in the future. An article written by Eric Schmidt from June 1999 on Fast Company called "How to Manage Geeks" seems to ring true today as it did over six years ago. This was just on the eve of the dot-com craze and it has similar implications today. The classic quote that sums up what it's really about for developers:

If you don't want to lose your geeks, you have to find a way to give them promotions without turning them into managers. Most of them are not going to make very good executives -- and, in fact, most of them would probably turn out to be terrible managers. But you need to give them a forward career path, you need to give them recognition, and you need to give them more money.

A Search Engine better than Google

Preview Seek Preview Seek

Is it possible that someone has developed a search engine that is better than Google. From first impressions it does seem to have more features and maintains the same if not better quality of search. There is a lot pages out there on the web and not ever search is going to produce effective results but this new search engine seems to help a little more with refining those results. Preview Seek has launched their new Preview Seek Search Engine Beta so you can see for yourself if the search experience is a little better than Google.

Getting Fired for Goofing off at Work

You never think it will happen to you but everybody does it. Everybody wastes time and goofs off at work and it could ultimately lead to your untimely change of career. The average worker wastes over 2 hours a day surfing the Internet, chatting with co-workers and running personal errands. Is this News.Com Article it becomes quickly apparent that workers are spending too much time at work with nothing to do.

Perhaps it is time to implement shorter work weeks with less hours per day at work. Obviously workers have too much time at work to waste. The real reason may come down to "face time" where workers need to be present in case there is a problem or a manager needs something. This tends to be the real reason for the hours spent at work. However it seems like technology could easily solve these problems if we could get past the social barriers that still require "face time".

The smartest thing Marc Fluery has said in a while

It's not often that Marc Fluery has something intelligent to say and it's rare that it will be articulated in a manner that the rest of us can consume. In this case, we at least have the former. In this interview from BusinessWeek, we get some interesting insights that we all probably knew already, but it's always good to hear it again.[blockquote]At top of the pyramid, you have these top 2% of developers that are 10 times -- in some cases 100 times -- more productive than the rest. It's true in proprietary developments like Microsoft and true of open-source too. The value is the QA [quality-assurance testing to make sure the software works and finding and fixing bugs]. They cover more ground than we could ever test.[/blockquote]This ultimately is correct as the few will carry the rest, and I'm sure that Marc considers himself to be in that 2% or his ego would never forgive him.

He's also right about a few other things such as the desire to make money. Making money is one of the greatest motivations of a capitalist society and even the non-capitalistic societies have a form of incentive, monetary or not. The world and the international market works on a capitalistic economy regardless of whether or not a specific country endorses it. This leads us to his take on the "Myth of Open Source".

Think for a second, who works for free? I think it gets perpetrated because it's such a nice myth -- you would get love and peace, the old hippie dream you know? And it's mostly true, but across all of software, not just open-source, you have a pyramid of productivity. It's an art still -- a black art of creating great software.
Nonetheless, the best story he had was about his business presentation when the audience members took jabs at him.[blockquote]O.K., so I go in [and start to do my] total business presentation. This guy in the front row says "You've got to stop banging on people whose motivation is something other than money." There's always a Hari Krishna in the audience: "It's illegal to make money at this. We're all garage bands, and you sold your soul to the devil for a handful of dollars." So I go, "Have you contributed anything?" and usually they say no and I stop it there.[/blockquote]
Turns out the guy is the founder of a pretty significant chunk of Linux, so Point A goes out the door. So I say, "You are what I call amateur open-source or hobbyist open source, which is you have a job and then you do this because that's your passion." And then somebody in the audience yells "You mean amateur open source as opposed to asshole open source?"
So there's always that. It's normal. There are always a bunch of amateurs because they've never made money at it, and it kind of pisses them off that there was a way to do it.

JavaOne 2005 - The Song Remains the Same

2005 JavaOne Conference

It's been two years since the last time I attended the JavaOne conference and it seems the song remains the same. Java may be 10 years old but the marketing angles are centuries old. The vendors should always consider the two most important things when marketing to the sheep at the JavaOne conference as summed up in the 2003 quote:

If you are a vendor trying to sell your worthless goods at JavaOne, there are two basic things you need to do. The first is to have some decent eye-candy at your booth. Don't bother trying to get anybody who knows anything because most of the people coming up to the booths don't know anything anyway. Just get some gimmick with some hot chicks and you're on your way. Second, don't bother with any giveaway except for a t-shirt. Although, a big giveaway through a drawing does attract a lot of attention too. Nonetheless, the t-shirt lasts forever because those who get free t-shirts wear them around if they think they are cool. Sink plenty of money and time into making the best t-shirt and just give it away at the booth.
Perhaps Hani was right and we do need a little better reporting from JavaOne. More photos of the swag and the booth personnel would be a nice start.


Jobs are Leaving; Is Innovation Leaving Too?

It's well known by now that jobs are leaving the United States and going overseas and maybe it's a bad thing and maybe it's a good thing. However, there is speculation that innovation is leaving as well, but is this really the case? This comment to a recently posted article explains it pretty well.

First I want to say that innovation is NOT coming to an end. What happens it that too many of us are employed to do unattractive, boring stuff. Take for example writing a book or creating a new song. You could possible say that all stories have already be written, and all songs invented yet. However people come up with new stories and song every time. That's the same for coding. May be before people came to you with a problem and you as an engineer you coded something that solved the problem. To do this you needed technical and intellectual capabilities but not a whole lot of imagination (well may be to envision a way of solving the problem but that's it). Today (and tomorrow) people won't get to you and ask you for a solution to a problem. I think that what has change (or is changing) is that now you have to invent the problem to solve. You have to be imaginative, you have to innovate and you have to create the solution. This happen because people in general think that everything has been done, so you have no choice but to prove them that they are wrong :) In programming, the limits are set by your imagination so innovation cannot come to an end. In a way what I'm saying (and I've heard that a lot in business classes) is that many of us will become self employed.
Despite the fact that the comment exhibits poor grammar and sentence construction, it does contain some basic insights and the main point seems to be the last sentence. Perhaps it is time to consider self employment and the possibilities it brings for innovation.

Google Closes Up Shop

The verdict from Steve Ballmer is clear; Google will close up shop and if any company gets in the way of Microsoft "we intend to buy it... and make it suck." Ballmer has pronounced that Google is not a threat and that they will be closing up shop in the next five years so Microsoft has nothing to worry about. With predictions like these why do we even bother using Google. Once again, Ballmer and his Microsoft machine are pushing their usual propaganda.

The Real Interview Process

There are many interesting exchanges that occur during an interview, but it always seemed like the most important thing to consider during the course of an interview is whether or not the candidate will ultimately work well with the team. Here is an interesting quote on the topic:

The most important part of interviewing, however, is simply the ahole check. I like to have candidates meet with three other people just so that we can screen properly for the misanthropes or headcases, which even then you can miss sometimes. We very rarely compare specific notes about technical chops - it's generally "she knows her stuff" or "she's full of it". Getting a feel for "is this someone we'd like to have around" is so much more important in the long run, especially because there's often no amount of technical skill that compensates for being a tool.
All the technical skills in the world really don't matter when you have a counter-productive team member. A single person can cause the production of all team members to decrease.

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