March 16, 2008

A runner's high

Friends have been asking me how I'm doing at Sun and what the transition from startup to corporate has been like. I haven't been at a company with more than 1200 employees since 1995 (Apple), and the minus Palm and Real, everything since Apple was <100 people. The answer is surprising well! I had my own doubts as I joined Sun, mostly around my ability to fit into such a large organization. I definitely have a startup mentality when it comes to personality, problem solving, and communication style . Let alone dress code ;-) It took awhile to adjust to all the paperwork needed to get things done, and the fact that while most offices are empty, I can't sit in them because they belong to a mythical employee named "Flex Workspace". Other than these minor issues, however, it was much easier to get engaged than I expected. While Sun has something like 35K employees (holy crap Batman!), the Java team is much, much smaller. Most of the time it feels like I joined a smaller company (dare I say a startup!) inside of Sun. While I'm grasping bits and pieces of what Sun does outside Software, my focus has been on Java and its links to our greater Software efforts. Given my own fears going into this, I've been intrigued why it went better than even I expected. The answer, I believe, has to do with the runner's high. I've always believed there are at least two kinds of artistry that fuel one's success in the workplace: product and execution. Product passion is the belief that what you are building will rock the world, or at least your customer's world. I've almost always chosen jobs based on the my inherent belief that the product I'd create there would rock the consumer world. Microsoft, Apple, Bungie, StoryCatcher, DoDots, Palm, Real, and Dash were like that. Product success metrics are simple: 1 - Customers must find what you make indispensable. They can't live without it. They can't imagine what their life was like before your product. 2 - Walt Mossberg and David Pogue have to love it. Not because they are PR gods whose mighty word can strike down or lift a consumer product, but because they review products from the perspective of simplicity, elegance, and applicability to the "everyman" who is the real consumer of CE products. If we miss the mark there, the product is for naught. 3 - It has to be the best product ever made in its category. The product's NetPromoter score must be above 70%. It must be a Top 2 product in its category. And an occasional "Kicks Ass" award from the press doesn't hurt. 4 - When you stare at your own product, it should make you smile. I went into Sun knowing that it would take a bit of time to find my product passion. Sun doesn't directly create consumer products. They develop a platform (Java) that helps fuel great solutions, including cool consumer products. Billions of phones. Blue-Ray. Kindle. Livescribe. The list goes on. Would I be happy if I wasn't making an actual, award-winning consumer product? I'm also not a traditional Java programmer. I spent years writing C and Win32 code, but never really went Agile or OOP, and I definitely am not a server oriented programmer. I like to write little apps that solve problems I have, and I really love to develop games. As I got older and moved away from code development as my day job, I've slowly moved to a model where I want to combine cool code widgets and Internet services I've found with logic I write, wrapping it all in a simple but visually zippy UE using intuitive tools. I think it would be slightly arrogant to say that Java does this today, but it will soon (more on this at JavaOne!!). Hence, my product passion comes less from where Java is today (though it does rock for millions of developers) than where it will be soon. The amazing thing that happened at Sun is that my execution passion pegged >= 110%. Execution passion is that feeling you have when you are doing the job you were hired for at the best of your ability. Your knowledge of what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and how to work with your team is in tune with what the organization expects of you. Your are being pushed to and beyond the limits of what you've done in the past, but you take it in stride. You feel pride in the fact that you come in the morning, kick butt, and go home (to work some more!) knowing the plan for the next day and the next year is obvious. When I was but a padwan Product Manager, I wondered how Proctor and Gamble product managers stayed sane?! For gods sake, you are selling boxes of soap! Naming it "Tide" or "Tide Extra Free Evergreen Eco Safe" doesn't stop it from being soap. Product passion?! How do you feel passion about your job? As I gained wisdom (primarily through mistakes BTW!) I learned the answer. It's execution artistry. Only a master Marketing Jedi finds execution passion, the artistry that allows them to dominate markets with or without product passion. I liken this feeling to the "runner's high". I've heard other runners comment and I'll agree that there is a feeling you get running after about 10-15 minutes of hitting your standard cadence that is totally euphoric. You are running, but it feels effortless. You can stare at the landscape around you and ponder the universe, all while your body is automagically running at nearly full speed. You are in the zone, and the goal is to stay there as long as possible. I really enjoy what I do at Sun. The challenges, opportunities, and my team all lead to execution passion / the runner's high. While I won't say that I hit that pace every day (paperwork and organizational inertia do dampen the effect), I've hit it enough to be more than happy. In the past if I didn't have 110% product passion, it was harder to achieve execution passion. At Sun, they are more closely aligned, with execution passion sometimes exceeding product passion. That's not only a new thing for me, its a good thing in general. Balance in the force makes for a happy Jedi. I'm doing better than even I expected at Sun because I quickly found execution passion and I know that JavaFX is (becoming) my product passion. JavaFX will change the way people look at Java, delighting existing customers and bringing new people into our community who've never considered or used Java before. I'm super stoked to write Java FX apps, although as a "Marketing dweeb" I'm not supposed to focus on that. Luckily that's what 12am to 2am are for ;-) Execution + Product passion. A winning formula for new employees. Now back to the process of pasting my picture on a fake Sun badge named "Flex Workspace". In mere minutes I'll own half the offices at Sun!! Muuhhaahahahaha!
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