% fortune -ae paul murphy

A guy called Joe

Once upon an eighties year a young man straight out of a liberal arts program lucked into a job as a clerk in a 3090J environment. From there he eventually became a DASD configuration specialist functioning as part of a team responsible for a half dozen System 390 sales.

In the mid nineties he accepted a better offer - from Hitachi, and five years later found himself selling DASD and tape automation for StorageTek.

By late 2004 Sun was headed for deep trouble: on the positive side its products were four times faster, and an order of magnitude per cycle cheaper, than IBM's - but IBM's account control combined with the after effects of the NT bubble meant that their stuff sold where Sun's didn't.

Part of the response was to buy StorageTek - because Sun's board knew their own products were genuinely superior, had been led to see the problem as one of getting Sun sales people in through IBM data centers doors, and saw the StorageTek people, people like Joe, as already inside.

Confronted with new bosses, new marching orders, new products, and enough careerism in IBM's mainframe marketing group to block his return, Joe smiled through his pain and called on his old customers to sell them stuff he understood: x86, tape, some Hitachi disk - and because his managers judged him on revenue rather than margin contribution, even some third party disk into an HP SAN installation.

What he didn't do was sell SPARC, learn about Solaris, or buy into the user centricity of the Unix idea - indeed his overall reaction to the SPARC/Solaris combination was similar to that of the stereotype illegal meeting his first Walmart super center: baffled disbelief, total rejection, and a desperate scramble for the old certainties, the old perceptions, and the absolute social certainties underlying the comfortable gossip, and deep contempt for everything Unix, he shared with his friends and contacts.

Unfortunately for Sun, Joe is a personable guy with real selling skills and he didn't exactly hang out a sign saying: "I'm an idiot, shoot me" around his bosses - many of whom, of course, shared his bewilderment at being expected to shill for the enemy of all they believed in. As a result some joes moved up the ladder where they found each other in the chameleon culture of selling what's selling - and now? Well, "Sun is the brand and Oracle is the company".

Was it really that simple? Not entirely, but the underlying mistake: believing that people bought in from an opposing culture won't try to continue their old ways while undermining yours is dead common - history abounds with empires or royal houses which fell to the idea that barbarians hired to fight barbarians will miraculously change their ways. It doesn't happen: in reality a barbarian who interacts with barbarians stays a barbarian - and in the four bitter years Joe spent with Sun he took a few small SPARC orders (which he discounted to the limits of his authority) but he never initiated a sale, never mentioned Sun Ray to a customer, never learned what the company was about, and is still today as loyal to what he learnt in the 80s as he ever was.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.