Tuesday, August 28 2007

So I’m at home in Montana now, just for a few days– Saturday 8/25 through Friday 8/31. I had the opportunity to judge at the Last Chance Grand Prix Trial for Grand Prix - San Francisco on Friday, which was fun; the TO was generous enough to let me serve as scorekeeper (a role that can be either extremely helpful, with a good scorekeeper, or extremely damaging, with a bad one, to the tournament) for the eight simultaneous tournaments, which gave me some valuable experience– and I was able to do a bit of floor judging as well, near the end.

So it seems that, at the end of a summer’s internship, one ought to write some sort of summary of the experience. So then, I’ve entitled mine “SunSet” in the spirit of Sun’s amazingly bad puns– SunScreen for the firewall and background check, SunDial for the HR group, SunRay for the thin clients, etc.

“So how was Sun?” Well, Sun was an interesting experience. Sun is a company filled with brilliant and famous people– from Whit Diffie (who invented public key cryptography, and therefore much of the Internet as we know it), whom I had the privilege of meeting and speaking to a couple of times, to Darren Reed (who created ipfilter, and is therefore also responsible for a large bit of the Internet as we know it), who was actually on the same team (Solaris Security) as I was. And many others. I was fortunate to be able to meet a huge number of great people at Sun, and when I got to sit and speak with them, it was truly an experience– from asking Diffie why he had said he was unconcerned about cryptography after the rise of quantum computing, to being able to discuss my own research with one of the Sun Fellows (the extremely elite class within Sun), and a thousand other similarly exhilarating experiences.

When I think back on those moments, Sun seems, to me, to be a company even more filled with possibility than its fearless leader says it is. If you put all those brilliant people in a company together, surely it’s going on to do great things.

The thing I noted, though, was how different Sun was from my last internship at VeriSign. It’d be too easy to just say that it’s because VeriSign has only about 1/10th the population– there’s a significant difference in culture, attitudes, and how work gets done between the two companies. This runs through every area of the companies– from Sun’s hard-sided (“real”) offices for every employee (even their interns!) compared to VeriSign’s cube farms (but nice cube farms), to VeriSign’s emphasis on corporate strategy and directed synthesis of bits of its organization, as compared with Sun’s unofficial motto of “let a thousand flowers grow.” (This, of course, referring to how Sun wants to give its engineers enough freedom to develop new, brilliant, and unexpected ideas, such as DTrace and ZFS.)

Which one is better? Well, that, of course, is the $10M question. But I don’t think it’s as simple a question as it would seem– especially not for me. I do think that Sun’s environment helps to recruit the very most experienced people– ones who don’t want to only work under direct orders from higher up the management chain. I do think that VeriSign’s coherence of action makes for a strong company. There are obviously advantages to both companies; for my part, being able to learn from both styles of corporation has been very interesting– and will greatly shape the sort of company for which I choose to work in the future.

How it will shape that choice, of course, remains to be seen.

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