“Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009” Technical Report

Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009 Sun Labs Technical Report

Lately I have spent most of my time writing, revising, and editing the soon-to-be-published 107-page-long Sun Labs Technical Report titled “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009“. Tanya Jankot, Helen Gracon, and I pooled our knowledge about all of Sun’s mentoring programs and the 7,300 mentoring pairs with whom we have worked. Thanks to the many who helped in collecting the information and reviewing the document.

Sample SEED Data

  • 93% of mentees who sent in quarterly reports thought meetings with their mentor were worthwhile.
  • SEED mentees received 1-Superior performance ratings at an average
    annual rate of 40%, twice that of the general Sun employee population.
  • SEED mentees were promoted at an average annual rate of 33%, more than twice that of the general Sun employee population rate.
  • Promotions fell by 38% during the 2007-2009 Economic Bust period.
  • Men and women mentees report the same program satisfaction (90% average), regardless of their mentor’s gender.
  • SEED (and Mentoring@Sun) mentoring pairs who work at a distance have for many years reported the same satisfaction level as those working locally; however, mentors and mentees both report that working at a distance is more time consuming.


This paper provides a summary of mentoring information, best practices, metrics, and recommendations developed during 1996- 2009 by Sun Microsystems, Inc. Sun provides network computing infrastructure solutions that include computer systems, software, storage and services. The company has a strong corporate culture that values and promotes mentoring. Sun has offered several internally-developed formal mentoring
programs, including:

  • SEED (Sun Engineering Enrichment & Development),
    Katy Dickinson has been SEED’s Director since 2001
  • Mentoring@Sun, managed by Helen Gracon since 1996
  • New Sun Vice Presidents, managed by Helen Gracon since 2004

Mentoring increases effectiveness and efficiency to achieve business results by doing real work, real time. Developing a corporate culture of mentoring is a good way to establish a network of communication across organizational silos, promote a wide variety of talents,
and broaden the diversity of ideas and innovation available to the company. The ROI on Sun mentoring has been calculated to be 1,000% or greater.

Mentoring is near the top of most lists of tools that are effective at promoting professional development and advancement in industry. As a business method, mentoring works well generally and also is particularly valuable to women and minorities. These benefits are of special interest to engineering companies and are in addition to more objective productivity measures of mentoring success such as increased performance ratings, higher retention, and more promotions. SEED has been sponsored since 2001 by Dr. Greg Papadopoulos, Sun’s Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Research and Development.

Table of Contents

The report includes the following sections, some of which were published in earlier drafts in Katysblog:

  1. Introduction
  2. Summary of Sun’s Mentoring Programs
  3. Mentoring in Engineering and Computer Science
  4. Formal vs. Informal Mentoring
  5. Internal or External Mentoring Program?
  6. Mentor Selection Systems
  7. Picking Your Mentor, Picking Your Mentee
  8. Best Practices for Mentors
  9. Mentoring Program Web Tools and Process
  10. Mentoring in Good Times and Bad
  11. Sun Mentoring: 1996 to 2009 – Conclusions

These sections are followed by 33 pages of appendices, including an extensive set of metrics charts on selection rates, executive participation, demographics, satisfaction, performance, promotions, attrition, meeting length and frequency, etc.

Originally published: 14 August 2009
Key Links Updated, photo added: 8 April 2016

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