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Archive for March, 2010

I read Penelope Trunk’s blog Brazen Careerist.

http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/. I added it as a link on my web page.

She has aspergers syndrome and mentions it every chance she gets. Frankly it used to get on my nerves. Sort of like saying you have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) every time someone see you. But we all do that in a way. Right?

Anyway, I have a teenage niece who had aspergers and most of the family kept their distance because she is, well, different. But the last time we got together with her parents several months back I spent a good part of the afternoon with her. Penelope’s blog helped me to understand how to interact with her.  It wasn’t a strain at all. Perhaps I understood an nth more than I had before. It was enough for us to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. One thing I realized was that you don’t try to make a person with aspergers into anything but what they are. Of course I believe this goes for anyone you know.

It turns out she has some very focused interest and an untapped well of creativity. I would never have seen this if I hadn’t been plopping over into Penelope’s blog now and then.

Of course Penelope has good career advice too but I could do without the asperger’s this and aspergers that but then maybe people with aspergers need to say that they have it. So shut my mouth.

Now I am part of the problem because I mentioned aspergers 6 times in this post.

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I have been watching “The Pacific”.  A good mini series on HBO. Of course people compare it with “Band of Brothers”. But it is a different story and should be viewed that way.  But that isn’t why I am bringing it up. All my life I have fought my wars in business offices, board rooms and across conference tables or over a thousand cups off coffee. It is a sign of civilization that unlike my father and grandfather, I didn’t have to go to a real war.  My Grandfather fought in the trenches during WWI and carried a scar across his jaw the rest of his life from an enemy bayonet. My father who fought in WWII was lucky. He was in the Solomons and New Guinea but was never wounded. But he caught malaria and this sent him back to the states in 1943. Lucky as I said. The 24th division was in on a great deal of combat. He might never have come back. But he did.

Makes those wars I fought seem puny. Maybe you have a bad boss or a bad job or you get laid off. But you are alive. There will be another day. I am not demeaning the battles I fought (or you are fighting) because maybe our efforts in WWI and certainly WWII were to preserve our right to go in peace and not die in some awful far distant place. We need to put it in perspective. We need to keep it in perspective.

My wars may well be past. It’s not worthy of a book. I wrote one once. Few read it and maybe it is deservedly so. It is about something anyone could have done if they had the will. It is not quite the same as defending a ridge with the enemy a blink away with one goal. To kill your ass.

Perspective is good.

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In 1994 I helped save a small obscure technology called Oak. It later became the Java programming language.

It wasn’t well publicized or perhaps not publicized at all. Other had to get credit for saving it or else it would not have been saved at all. HR folks are usually considered identifiable heroes. I knew that going in but did it anyway because I knew Oak was platform independent and would shove a red-hot poker up Microsoft’s plan to dominate what worked on PC’s and later laptop computers. A friend of mine from Borland who later went to Microsoft and reported directly to Steve Balmer once told me that Balmer and Gates hated Java.

But that’s not the story. The story is that by the time I showed up at Sun my so-called career was pretty much a wreck. I had been laid off from Borland in late 1992, a failed director whose boss had left him hanging out in the wind to be torn apart by the very wolves he had brought me in to tame. So at Sun I was very cautious (needing a job) but I eventually caught this disease that was running around the company.

It was the Save Sun disease. In 1993 Sun was struggling and losing its way. The general feeling was the era of the power desktop or workstation was in eclipse and that the PC was in ascendancy.  The Solaris operating system (OS) was being threatened by the Microsoft NT OS. Anyway, I liked Sun and thought well, I ought to look for some obscure technology in the company that would give Sun a leg up. Sun was always innovating so there was a great deal scattered around.

I actually found three.

There was Oak but that group was in a real internal battle with itself. In early 1994 I found out that it could run on any platform. In 1994 this was BIG. Its was architected by James Gosling.

Then there was Self which was a decent object oriented programming language developed by Dave Ungar and Randy Smith.

The 3rd was TCL which was a scripting language developed by John Ousterhout.

I was the HR guy for all 3 projects. So I had the proximity to all. Now to be truthful only the 1st and 3rd needed saving because all three were being cancelled as independent projects. TCL was growing as a team but whether it gave Sun some sort of compelling dominance was in question. Same with Self. It was an interesting technology but alone t was just another programming language in a hardware company.

Ultimately I chose to intervene in Oak because of the platform independence. How I did this is another post but it seems that I chose wisely for once.

Gosling was the main reason outside of the compelling technology reasons. He was willing to compromise and figure it out. Both Ousterhout and Ungar felt that their projects should go forward just as they felt they should. There was very little room for compromise of “give”. So Oak (java) won out and got saved. Interesting enough TCL could have become the scripting language for Java but Ousterhout refused unless the new language was called TCL-Java. That wasn’t going to happen. Ungar lost his project too but eventually he played a critical role in developing Java’s ability to compile which had been its Achilles heel. But that was only after after his project had been put on the back shelf. But if Java works better today, Ungar played a key role.

As for me, I needed Java as much as it needed me. I needed a success even if it wasn’t recognized at the time.


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It has taken about 3.5 weeks of NOT working but I feel untapped energy returning to my psyche and to my body. My mind is clearing but today at lunch when some friends asked me the greatest two values of HR, I went off again like I had never left.

1. Truly understand the business
2. Put your efforts into influencing people in a way that enhances the chances of success for the company based on that knowledge.

By the way, this is rarely HR programs. But so many HR folks are clueless that they happily while away the days and months and years on useless programs that have nada to do with the business outcome.

However, we do have to deliver the essential services. Comp, benefits, staffing to have the freedom to do the primary things (1 & 2 above). But when the job is all essential services, then frankly most of that can just be outsourced.

Anyway, I am still detoxing. Not ready for prime time yet (or maybe not working is prime time). Maybe in a month or two I won’t feel like “going off” when someone asks me that sort of question. Maybe I will just veg.

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Freedom of will has always been of the most interest to me. Not someone elses opinion, ranking or approval. No, I am so independent that I exist in a vacuum. Appreciation now and then is nice but it can’t be the governing factor if you want to be a more independent individual. In my last job (I just left) my boss wanted me to run an executive leadership offsite for the interim CEO. She said it would make me look good in the eyes of management.

I told her that I would gladly do it but that looking good in the eyes of management would be the last reason to motivate me.

Of course, she said. I forgot.

I tend to gulch which in Ayn Rand terms refers to Atlas Shrugged and Galt’s Gulch. A place  refuge from the world that is destroying itself economically and politically (I guess they are the same) in her tome to individualism. My gulch tends to be of the mind. I just don’t do good work when I am seeking the approval of others.

As meeting went, it was the best leadership offsites I have ever “run”. I let the managers run it themselves and I made sure that the meeting started on time and that the food showed up. I said little of importance during the day. But here are a few of my highlights.

I believe lunch is here. We may want to stop for a half hour so people can get something to eat.

The cookies and coffee just showed up.

Damn the agenda. If this is working for you let’s just go with it.

I was on top of my game.

Of course the purpose of the meeting was to draw the sword of success from the stone of indecision. People walked away feeling very good about the day but in the end we failed because the interim CEO wasn’t the one chosen by the board as the going forward CEO and a new guy came in with his own agenda. By the way both the guy who didn’t get chosen and the new guy are both “good guys”. But the event went for naught except that it served as  a model in how not to over agendize a meeting.

Good food though.

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A friend asked me today if I were 48 again what would I change? She was talking about work of course. I told her that 48 was not the focal year of change for me. 38 was. 48 was OK. I landed at Sun Microsystems and had a wonderful 6 years. But 48 was a year of exhaustion. Laid off for the 3rd time I was simply looking a quiet hole to hide inside of. Sun turned out to be more than that but that is for another day.

So 38. What would I have done differently? I had just been laid off from Atari and was looking for my next job. I grabbed the first thing offered to me and that started my tumble down the big honking hill.

I would have forgotten title, pay and the notion of career and gone for the money and taken more chances. My target would have been early stage companies and start ups. I would have gone for less bureaucracy, more leverage (aka STOCK). Yeah, higher chance of failure but failing never bothered me. Work is like baseball. Lose today? There is another game tomorrow.

Hell, I moved around enough as it was. 3 companies in 1983. Another 3 in 1986. I was the paradigm of staying out by anyone’s standards.

I was a decent networker. It would have taken time but instead of just looking for a job (any job) I would have gone for companies where I had a chance of making money on a IPO or acquisition. But I took the safe and cowardly way out (over and over again). I thought the way out (like I am OUT now) was through the top.

Higher title
More base salary
Larger Bonuses

They all help but they just fueled our lifestyle. There was no “out”. Be a good little zoo animal and don’t make scare the tourists (or upper management..or the board).

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Oh the Hell with it. Before I get back to influence I have to talk about voluntarily being off work. For the first time in years I am free of it. I know it goes against our national ethic but it slams me back to the late 1960’s and 1970’s when I was willing to give myself permission to NOT WORK!

In the early 2000’s CE (not BC) I made enough money from a start up to not really have to work but after riding out the DOT BOMB period of 2002 and 2003 people started to call me back in and in I went. As a consultant, yes and life wasn’t too bad but then that spiraled down into work that looked and felt like a regular job until by November 2008 I was back in a regular job. 15 months of that and I finally hit the wall. Now I am out again.

I sometimes run in the morning and I can see people racing off to their jobs and I don’t envy them. I think, there but for  “just enough” money goes me.

In Silicon Valley you need a great deal of money or a pension to retire. I found out that you can be a poor millionaire. In other words your cost of living and lousy ROI (return on investment) can leave you in a position where you have to constantly go into your principle to pay the bills.

But if you want OUT you have to learn to cut back on expenses in favor of freedom from the strain of having to be someplace. It also helps if you finally have a son who is out of college and in his own job and paying rent to keep his room and board and not having out the universe costs for health care. We didn’t have this all worked out in 2002 but finally in 2010 we have arrived or at least for the moment. I really don’t have to work so when I do work, it will be something I actually “want” to do. I have no idea what exactly that is but I will figure it out.

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