Resistance is Futile: The Oracle Acquisition

The thing to understand about the illumos community is that it started out traumatized: most of us went through the baptism by fire that was the acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle.

My own part in all this was very minor, but I had a ringside seat on larger events. I recount here what I saw; your own memories of this history may, of course, be very different!

Part 1: In the Gloaming

I had started working as a contractor for Sun in March, 2007. They liked me so well that, after a year, they wanted to hire me full-time into the Solaris engineering group, as a social media and community expert. When I got the offer, I called up a friend, a VC in New York who’d been trying to help me find work (not easy, as I was living in Italy at the time).

“I got a job at Sun!” I told him excitedly.

There was a long silence.

“Well,” he finally said, “it’ll look good on your resumé.”

“Huh?”

“Jonathan [Schwartz, Sun’s CEO] has been shopping the company all over Wall Street for nine months. It’s only a matter of time til it’s acquired.”

This did not give me pause. A job with a company on the auction block, back in the US, was still better than poorly-paid work or no work at all in Italy. I’d been through an acquisition before, and did pretty well out of it, though I certainly didn’t get rich. How bad could it be? More to the point: could it be any worse than the career stagnation I was suffering in Italy? I took the risk, left Italy, and went to work for Sun in Colorado. My first day in Sun’s Broomfield office was April 1st, 2008.

It was a shock, but not a surprise, when we heard in March, 2009 – from the media – that Sun might be acquired by IBM. Gloom, doom, and rumors of boom followed – and we were already reeling from round after round of layoffs. After about a month of worrying, we learned that we were, instead, to be acquired by Oracle.

At first blush, this seemed like a better fit and perhaps less overwhelming than IBM. I was cautiously optimistic. An old friend of mine used to work for Oracle and had loved the company, only leaving when she moved with her husband to a city where Oracle didn’t have an office. That had been years before, but I kept an open mind, and set about trying to understand what my life at Oracle might be like.

I was working in two areas – community and social media – where Sun was forward-looking. In employee blogging, Sun was so liberal that the hard part was encouraging employees to be as enthusiastic about it as the CEO.

My video work, though instigated by my managers in engineering, had been harder to “sell” to the official media team at Sun. They wanted all Sun video to show (expensive) professional production values, and were not keen to embrace enthusiastic amateurs like myself. There were stringent guidelines and a multi-week compliance process for the use of the Sun logo. As a result, the most successful video ever made about Sun technology contains no Sun branding at all.*

I was not deterred, and found others who thought as I did about video and podcasts. Sun being the “collection of feuding warlords” that it was, there were eventually three different media hosting platforms made available by various groups within the company, as well as YouTube and blip.tv. Over time I used them all to host my hundreds of technical videos. I knew these to be valuable, and had viewing statistics to prove it, so I was confident that my new colleagues at Oracle could be persuaded.

The acquisition took many months to complete, in part because of an anti-trust investigation by the European Commission. But Oracle was confident of eventual victory, and began dictating changes within Sun well beforehand. And, wherever we lacked concrete knowledge about our future, there were rumors, most of them frightening.

Sun.com was one of the oldest domains on the Internet (one of Sun’s slogans had been “the network is the computer”). Over time it had sprawled to 400 separate sites, a jungle that needed taming – but which also contained an enormous amount of computing industry history.

Suspecting that this status as an Internet historical place would not protect Sun.com, I offered my colleagues this advice based on painful experience.

continues…


*NB: I had nothing to do with this video, and only met its perpetrators later, though I work very closely with them now.


 

One thought on “Resistance is Futile: The Oracle Acquisition

  1. Chi

    Hi Derdre,

    Hope you are well. I too was a former Sun employee for 15+ years. Thanks for the interesting and insightful perspective on Sun. It was very sad to see the company with so many important contributions to IT went out in this way.
    What are your current adventures? Take care.
    Regards,
    Chi

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