Tag Archives: process architecture

How to Make an 80th Birthday Video

My mother, Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, turned 80 last month. To celebrate, I made a video from pictures of her life provided by many members of the family. The video contained a selection of the 1,346 best pictures I found from the last 150 years. Recent photos were available in digital form but older images had to be scanned. I was able to use some pictures from the 80th birthday video I made for my father, Wade Dickinson. However, scanning technology has improved so many of those 2006 photographs had to be re-scanned.

Here is the process – how the video was made, with generous technical support from my husband John and music advice from my daughter Jessica and brother Pete:

  1. Decide when the story starts: establish the historical, social, and geographic context
    • I started 80 years before my mother was born, with ancestor pictures.
    • I included pictures from my mother’s parents’ childhood, courtship, and marriage.
  2. Collect many many images
    • Include pictures from each decade, if possible.
    • Show important people and places: siblings, the house where she grew up, where she went during the summer.
    • Scan yearbooks, invitations and announcements, certificates, awards, diplomas and other documents important to her life.
    • Presenting both formal and informal pictures tells a fuller story.
    • Include images from both family and work life. My mother is an artist, so I included pictures of her drawings, paintings, and sculptures.
  3. Scan pictures
    • Crop if needed to focus on what is important in the picture.
    • Leave off photo borders and frames (not always possible with old fragile photos).
    • Scan many more than you will need so that you have a choice of images with both landscape and portrait orientations
  4. Put the images into a web page photo arrangement template.
    • I used the “Keepsakes” photo layout pages which are part of Apple iPhoto – there are other programs available.
    • I included a variety of page layouts for one to six pictures per page – keeping the same color background for each page for continuity.
    • I wrote footer notes with dates and names and key places – sparingly, not on every page.
    • I had planned to display the image sequence using iMovie but that application badly degraded the image resolution, so I used iPhoto instead.
  5. Collect music to go with the images
    • We wanted a music  medley with tracks from several periods in my mother’s life.  Some songs I bought from iTunes. Jessica sang others and sent me the recording.
    • We wanted the music selections timed to start and end as certain images displayed.  This required much work.
    • John exported the iPhoto slide show into iMovie to create a timed sound track. He then exported the sound track back into iPhoto for the image display. This was complex but created the best sound/image combination using the tools we had.
  6. Decide how long the show will be – we aimed for 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Show early versions to friends and relations and ask for feedback.
  8. Make a paper book of the video for a lasting momento. This is very easy to do with iPhoto Keepsakes but there is a 100 page limit. The resulting book arrives quickly and is of good quality.
  9. This project took about 40 hours of work over two months to complete.
  10. My mother loved it!
IMG_0556 . IMG_0557
IMG_0621 . IMG_0831

Images Copyright 2011 by Katy Dickinson
28 March 2014 – links and references updated

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Business Process Architecture: What Project Managers Need to Know

As I wrote on 13 January 2010 in Planning Poker and SEED (Estimating and Rating Tools), I recently attended an interesting meeting of the PM PM SIG. They kindly asked me to return to talk tomorrow at their 7:00 am meeting on the topic of “Business Process Architecture: What Project Managers Need to Know”. This talk is based on my 6 January 2010 Process Success Measures material.

I included my two favorite process quotes:

  • Lawes are ordained as rules of vertuous and sociall living, and not to be snares to trap your good subjects: and therefore the lawe must be interpreted according to the meaning, and not to the literall sense.
    – King James I, England, 1604
  • If rules cannot or ought not to be enforced, they should not exist.
    – “Standard Code” for US Trains, 1899

You can see my presentation slides (including Peanut Butter Robot instructions and a list of useful tools) at:

Blog entry by Katy Dickinson

28 March 2014 and 6 January 2017 – Links were updated

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Planning Poker and SEED (Estimating and Rating Tools)

I went to a breakfast meeting of the PM PM SIG (Project Management Special Interest Group) today to hear Kevin Thompson of cPrime talk about “Wideband Delphi (Agile) Estimation for Project Managers”. It turned out to be a fun talk about an easy-to-use estimating tool called Planning Poker by Mountain Goat Software. I was surprised by the similarities between the Planning Poker estimation method and the participant selection method we have used for many years for Sun’s SEED worldwide Engineering mentoring program.

Planning Poker

Planning Poker is based on the Delphi estimation method pioneered by the Rand Corporation in the 1940s, then refined by Barry Boehm in the 1970s.

I volunteered to participate in the demonstration during this morning’s meeting. I pretended to be an Expert on Chickens. I was quizzed by a team of three estimators who had to decide how many chickens would be needed to feed dinner to twenty people. Here is how we used the Planning Poker estimation cards:

  1. Discuss the work to be done, clarify details, each estimator gets a set of cards
  2. A Facilitator asks each estimator to pick one numbered card from their set (each card has one number: 0, 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…).
  3. Once each estimator has picked his card, the Facilitator asks that all the cards be shown
  4. If estimates differ (for example: two people estimated 5 chickens and the other estimated 13 chickens), assumptions which drove selection of the low and high numbers are discussed
  5. More operational definitions and details are requested from the Expert as needed (for example: I said that one third of the twenty diners were vegetarian but the chickens were very small)
  6. The estimation cycle repeats until there is agreement (our group agreed that 13 chickens would feed 20 people)

This method reduces bias of team members just agreeing with each other’s estimates for social or hierarchical reasons. Since everyone picked his number card in private then turned over the cards simultaneously, each had to make a first estimate based on his own understanding.

SEED Selection

Here is how SEED selection for Recent Hire mentoring terms works:

  1. Each SEED application is read independently by at least two executive Selection Committee members. Each member ends up reading about the same number of applications.
  2. Each Applicant is ranked H-High, M-Medium or L-Low, with roughly 1/3 of the names in each category. For example, if there were 84 applications and 7 on the committee, if the goal is 40 Participants, each Selection Committee member would read 24 applications and have more-or-less eight High, eight Medium, and eight Low rankings to distribute.
  3. The committee gets a week to make their evaluations. Then, they meet by phone for a one hour meeting. During the first half of that meeting, a Facilitator says the name of each applicant and the two Selection Committee members who have rated that person give their rating: H, M, or L. After all applicants have been given two ratings,
    discussions follow.
  4. Discussions are often around differences of interpretation of the application materials and relative value to Sun Engineering of the applicant. Energetic discussions happen when the same Applicant is rated High by one and Low by another.
  5. Another common discussion is about how many Medium/Mediums to include to achieve an appropriate and balanced diversity among the Participants. Diversity of demographics, geography, and professional area are all considered.
  6. All SEED applicants rated H,H and M,H and L,H are accepted and also some rated M,M. SEED does not accept applicants rated L,L (low by both reviewers) or M,L.

Because the Selection Committee are all executives who may be rating staff reporting to other committee members, keeping the ratings private until the actual phone meeting helps reduce bias of members just agreeing with each other’s ratings for social or hierarchical reasons. As with Planning Poker, discussions start with outlying values rather than discussing all the details and assumptions for each rating.

Using Planning Poker or the SEED selection method means that potentially complex decisions can be made very quickly and with relative ease. This makes it easier to recruit team members, especially in the case of SEED where the members are very busy executives.

Read more about the SEED mentoring program in Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009 by Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot, and Helen Gracon (Sun Labs Technical Report TR-2009-185, August 2009).

Planning Poker set

Images Copyright 2010 Katy Dickinson
Links updated 25 March 2014

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Process Success Measures

In 2002, I gave a lunchtime presentation on process design to Sun’s Six Sigma Black Belt community. In that talk I proposed two measures for process success. While any individual process will have its own particular success measures, two simple metrics for overall success for any process are:

  1. The process is used long-term by a variety of people.
  2. It is updated and improved by people other than the ones who created it.

I was reminded of those key measures this week when I used two very different but successful systems for which I have had the honor to be one of the architects:

  1. Sun Labs’ Archivist, an archival and clearance system for intellectual property
  2. El Camino Real Department of Missions (DOM), a management system for small congregations, many of them working and worshiping across cultural lines

Both the Archivist and DOM systems have now been in use for many years and are successfully managed by people who were not involved in their original development. I am proud of these projects and their phase transition from development to long-term sustained use. I am also pleased to see how well their pattern matches the two success metrics I proposed in 2002. Below is more about Archivist and DOM.

Sun Labs’ Archivist

In 2000, James Gosling, Jos Marlowe, and I started a two-year project to create a new archiving and clearance system for Sun Laboratories. You can read some of the history of this system in “Sun Labs: The Second Fifty Technical Reports A Commemorative Issue” by Jeanie Treichel, Katie Chiu, Christopher Wu and Jeanne Wang (Sun Labs Report TR-2009-101, published in March 2009).

We based the process for Archivist on a system created while I was the Process Architect for the Sun Standards group. That group needed a fast way to submit contributions to an SSO (Standards Setting Organization) such as the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), while protecting Sun’s intellectual property. Part of the SSO submission system was the Technical Information Clearance Process (TICP) which was a core piece of what became Archivist. The SSO submission process project team included Carl Cargill, Catherine Mccarthy, Lisa Goldman and Philip Rosenzweig. Sadly, Phil Rosenzweig died on one of the planes in New York City on 11 September 2001, before the SSO submission project was complete.

Here is the original Executive Overview for Archivist from 2000:

    Sun Labs is faced with a dilemma: we wish to derive the benefits of quality control and process while at the same time shortening our time-to-release. In particular, we wish to protect our intellectual property and increase our patent portfolio while simultaneously speeding up the time it takes to review technical information prior to publication. This process architecture is our attempt to resolve the dilemma. The Archivist is both an archival mechanism and a clearance process.

Think of The Archivist clearance process as a state dinner: the menu is fixed and protocol is closely observed. Think of The Archivist Fasttrack as a scramble-bar cafeteria where one can select individual dishes. The advantage of a state dinner is that it is safe, repeatable, and the participants know exactly what to expect (with regard to structure). The advantage of a cafeteria is that it is flexible and very fast. We expect that as the Fasttrack cafeteria grows in its selection and quality of service, the volume of users will shift from The Archivist clearance to Fasttrack clearance: thus, cycle time will be greatly reduced.

Here is the 2000 description for use of Archivist for clearance and archiving:

Clearance is distinct from archival. Archived material may or may not go through clearance.

Examples of archived material are:

  • An email or a note describing an idea
  • Audio and video tapes
  • Objects (such as boards)
  • Letters
  • Notebooks

Examples of documents that have been cleared are:

  • White papers (either on paper or the web)
  • SML Tech reports (paper or web)
  • Third-party publications (e.g. conferences, encyclopedias)
  • External presentations

Rule of thumb: if you think your document will be leaked or by any means published outside, use the process.

Sun Labs started in 1991, so Archivist was not the first archiving system for Sun Labs but it has been by many times the longest lived. In creating Archivist, we identified two key customers: Ivan Sutherland (Sun Fellow and Vice President), and Jeanie Treichel (Sun Labs founding Program Manager and Technical Reports Editor). Ivan Sutherland is famous in Sun Labs for his saying “It’s not an idea until you write it down.” There were many other reviewers and contributors but we knew that if Ivan and Jeanie were happy with Archivist, it would be good enough for everyone else.

Archivist has gone through several major revisions since it was created in 2000. It has been used by hundreds of Sun Labs staff in the US, UK, and France to enter over ten thousand items. Archivist continues in active use today under the management of Sun Labs’ technical staff.

As of now, I have 113 of my own documents entered into Archivist. Recently, Helen Gracon and I entered into Archivist most of the key documents from the Mentoring@Sun program. More about Mentoring@Sun is available in the recent Sun Labs Technical Report “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009” (by Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot, and Helen Gracon).

El Camino Real Department of Missions

From 2003-2007, I was the volunteer Convener for DIEM (the Department of Intercultural Evangelism and Mission), providing oversight, finance, and management support to thirteen mission congregations (Latino, Anglo, and Asian) of the El Camino Real Episcopal Diocese. I served as Convener under two Bishops: the (late) Right Reverend Richard Shimpfky, and the Rt. Rev. Sylvestre D. Romero.

2003-2007 was a difficult time of transition for our diocese but nonetheless the elected and appointed DIEM members developed a solid process for Mission Liaisons, as well as the “Mission and Vision” structure for the missions as a group. The “Mission Congregation Liaison Job Description” was only one page long but it represents an amiable solution to years of discussion on how best to provide mission oversight.

In 2008, I was elected to DOM (the successor to DIEM) for a three year term. At last night’s monthly DOM meeting, I was pleased to get slightly updated versions of the process documents DIEM created in 2005 while I was Convener. DOM and its nine remaining missions is now managed by our new Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, with the Rev. Canon Jesus Reyes acting as Convener.

28 March 2014 and 6 January 2018- links and formatting of this blog post were updated

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How Speed Mentoring Works

SEED (Sun Engineering Enrichment & Development) is Sun Microsystems Engineering’s world-wide employee mentoring program, started in 2001. Speed mentoring is SEED’s newest offering: a series of short focused conversations about specific questions. This business method can serve as an introduction for mentees and mentors both to mentoring and to each other.

The first SEED Speed Mentoring session was held at Sun Microsystems during lunchtime on 9 December 2009 in Menlo Park, California. Thirteen mentors and twenty mentees signed up. 88% of the mentors and mentees reported being satisfied to very satisfied with their experience. No one reported being dissatisfied. Thanks to Helen Gracon, Rob Snevely, and Rick Aaron for supporting me in running this event!

Topics most discussed were:

  • Career development (77%)
  • Improving professional visibility (65%)
  • Technical skills development (54%)
  • Improving leadership or management skills (50%)
  • Discussing best path to success (46%)

Some replies to the follow-up survey question “What would you say to someone who was interested in participating in a future SEED Speed Mentoring session?”:

  • Excellent service from Sun. Anyone who is interested in career development, should avail this one.
  • Go for it but don’t expect it to answer all your questions.
  • Know what you want to get out of the sessions ahead of time. Try to conduct some research on who the mentors are ahead of time.
  • Sure. Do it. It’s a few hours that has a decent chance of broadening your perspectives.
  • Go in with a plan of what you want to discuss. Be aware of the limitations of such an exercise.
  • I would highly recommend it. It doesn’t take much time at all but can quickly provide some feedback and give one’s thinking process a nudge.
  • Please participate, since it inspires you to do routine things differently. It provides useful pointers to making career changes. It helps to make better choices Towards technical skills gained at work.

There are probably many successful ways to run a speed mentoring event. Here is SEED’s instruction document (approved for public distribution), complete with a flow chart:

How Speed Mentoring Works (4 pages, PDF format)

Pictures from the first SEED Speed Mentoring Session:

DSCN7913 . DSCN7916
DSCN7920 . DSCN7928

Images Copyright 2009 Katy Dickinson
Edited and updated 15 May 2018


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Mentoring in Engineering and Computer Science

Work to balance the diversity of Participants in terms of demographics, professional area, and geographic location.

The context of the Engineering community is key here. It bounds the SEED program and defines its organizational character. Compare this to the Mentoring@Sun program, started in 1992 as a general Sun-wide mentoring program. The SEED program was developed by Sun in 2001 to address Engineering organization needs that were not met by Mentoring@Sun. That is, SEED is an internal mentoring and leadership growth program designed to meet the needs of a key professional area, running in parallel with a more general internal program.

  • Both SEED and Mentoring@Sun are very effective at making connections between organizational silos, what Helen calls cross-pollinating.
    For more on this, read my blog entry Internal or External Mentoring Program? (30 June 2009).Scope:
    SEED mentors can be from any part of Sun so long as they are at principal-level or above in seniority. SEED mentees, however, must all be working in Engineering, which is defined as:

    “Hardware and software engineering positions where the primary job purpose is to perform engineering research, design, and development activities resulting in innovative Sun products for external customers. Also included are staff positions providing strategic support to engineering research, design, and development activities.”

    Again, the Engineering professional context provides specific program boundaries: only these positions are included, others are not. (This would sound like inappropriate exclusivity if Engineering did not make up about half of Sun’s employees.)

    Training Focus:
    Each mentoring program should provide training that helps the pairs feel comfortable from the start and work well together for the entire term. Training is particularly important in special cases, such as when mentor and mentee work in different professional areas (Microelectronics and Finance, for example), have a wide gap in their relative experience or seniority (such as a Senior Director mentoring a recent college hire Member of the Technical Staff), are working at a distance (for over half of SEED mentoring pairs, the mentor and mentee work in different cities, states, or countries), or come from very different cultures.SEED offers two hours of individual training by phone for each mentoring pair. Using a standard set of materials (Helen and I update these annually), pair training is tailored to their strengths and challenge areas. The geek personality is common enough that our mentoring training materials have a special section for Engineering. Engineers are professional problem solvers who are usually very smart analytical logical thinkers. Sometimes it can be a stretch for them to see the other person’s point of view. Many of them do not suffer fools. Mentoring training for extreme geeks may focus on teaching how to disagree agreeably (using tactful phrases) and learning when problem solving may not be what is needed or wanted by their mentoring partner.

    Management Style:
    Managing an Engineering mentoring program requires communicating well and maintaining trust with Engineers. SEED is a prestigious leadership grooming program, so the decision of which applicants get accepted can be controversial. The selection system must be fair and seen to be fair. Selection criteria for SEED are based on the values of the Engineering community (such as: demonstrated technical excellence, creativity, leadership, holding patents, publishing papers, earning an excellent letter of recommendation by an executive, etc.) Many of SEED’s selection criteria are also reflected in job promotion criteria for Engineering staff. Sun Engineering has an egalitarian open door culture which values data-driven decisions and a transparent management style. While respecting confidentiality, SEED routinely makes a great deal of program information available to Sun Engineering. SEED program participants regularly contribute suggestions on how to improve the program and its web tools.

    What is the Geek Personality?

    A brief digression into the personal and social context of Engineers since this has such a strong influence on mentoring in Engineering…

    While Sun Engineering staff include a very broad range of personality types, there are some unusual concentrations. SEED mentoring training includes a section on Myers-Briggs style personality types. This provides a good context and vocabulary for mentoring pairs to discuss differences and commonalities and promote mutual understanding. (We skip this section of training for staff who think the use of personality types is Psychology black magic.) Sun used to offer personality assessments as part of its regular career coaching benefit. In 2002, I used a survey to collect information from 143 Sun Engineering staff about their formally assessed personality type. While not a statistically valid sample, it is nonetheless interesting:

  • 59% of the Sun Engineering staff reported that they had been assessed as I
    (introvert)About 50% of the US population are I (introvert)
  • 66% of the Sun Engineering staff reported that they were NT (intuitive thinkers)About 10% of the US population are NT (intuitive thinkers)

(Yes, this does mean that Engineers are abnormal, statistically at least).

Introverts have been defined as “people who find other people tiring” (see “Caring for Your Introvert” by Jonathan Rauch, The Atlantic, March 2003). A t-shirt popular with Engineers says “You read my t-shirt. That’s enough social interaction for one day.” (see Think Geek T-shirt). SEED works hard to make its communications comfortable for an introverted group. For example, we lay out the expected interactions and always allow the participants to engage at their own comfort level. One analysis of downside to being an introvert is that:

      “In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. ‘People person’ is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like ‘guarded,’ ‘loner,’ ‘reserved,’ ‘taciturn,’ ‘self-contained, private’ – narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality. Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more


    likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty.”(Ibid, 2003 article by Jonathan Rauch)

For more on Social Context, Gender, and Mentoring, see my blog entry Picking Your Mentor, Picking Your Mentee.

Finding Mentors for Engineering

Since 2001, I have matched almost 1,200 mentoring pairs; 70% of the mentors were executives (Directors, Vice Presidents, Principal Engineers, Fellows, etc.). SEED gets an average of 90% participant satisfaction rating on its quarterly reports, year after year. What do these executive mentors look for in mentees? Why do so many find SEED to be such a satisfying program? Most of the questions mentors ask when I contact them about working with a potential mentee are structural: availability, time commitment required to participate, potential areas of difficulty (like being in the same management chain or speaking different primary languages), and physical or time zone proximity are common questions. Along with those are asked more substantive questions about intellectual common ground, interests, and personal compatibility. Somewhere in this mix, almost all potential mentors ask something like “Why me? What does this person want to know that I am uniquely able to teach?” (For more on mentor questions and preferences, read my 6 July 2009 blog entry Picking Your Mentor, Picking Your Mentee).

Notice that relatively few questions are about the topic or professional area to be discussed. SEED Mentors have served from all areas of Engineering worldwide, plus Operations, Sales, Service, Legal, Information Technology, Finance, Human Resources, and Marketing. Most of the non-Engineering staff were recruited as SEED mentors at the specific request of a mentee who asked to learn from them. I originally recruited the General Counsel as a mentor because a Software Engineer wanted to learn more from the lawyer’s success as a business leader. (He enjoyed the experience and has served as a mentor five times since.) I recruited a Finance Vice President because a Systems Program Manager wanted a mentor who really understood financial planning, revenue and cost management. Sun Microsystems is an Engineering-driven company, so most non-Engineering staff are eager to help (as well as extend their own connections in Engineering).

I have observed that the more experienced or senior a mentor is, the more willing they are to discuss a very broad range of topics. It is usually the more junior mentors who question their breadth of ability or the value of their experience outside of their immediate area of professional expertise. The mentors who seem to get the most out of their SEED experience are the executives. One Software Vice President told me that his hour with his mentee was his vacation, the only time all week when he knew the answers. A different Software Vice President told Helen that he always looked forward to meeting with his mentee: it was his only non-confrontational meeting. This positive experience is reflected in SEED’s metrics for repeat mentor participation:

  • 48% of the total 460+ potential mentors on SEED’s current list have been mentors more than once. This includes principal-level senior staff
    plus executives.(This does not count their service in Mentoring@Sun or other Sun mentoring programs.)
  • 65% of those repeat mentors are executives.
  • 54% of all of the executives who have ever been SEED mentors have mentored more than once.45 executives have have served as a SEED mentor five or more times.4 Sun executives have mentored ten or more times with SEED.

A Marketing Vice President wrote in evaluation of his sixth SEED mentoring experience:

“This continues to be a great program and I get a lot out of it — possibly more than the mentees.”


Information is from my experience since 2001 managing Sun’s SEED Engineering-wide world-wide mentoring program, and from the Mentoring@Sun general mentoring program, and the mentoring program for new Sun Vice Presidents managed by Helen Gracon since 1996. Helen Gracon also provides training for SEED. This is part of a continuing series on mentoring programs. Other entries in this series:

For more about SEED, see the program home page at http://research.sun.com/SEED.

By Katy Dickinson
Director, Business Process Architecture
Chief Technologist’s Office & Sun Labs, Sun Microsystems

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Mentoring Program Web Tools and Process

Web tool design is a technical art which requires an unusual combination of software programming, usability engineering, and program management skills. As Director of Sun Microsystems’ SEED Engineering-wide worldwide mentoring program since 2001 (and the program’s Process Architect), I have been gifted with two talented staff members who can do this work. Tanya Jankot has been SEED’s Applications Engineer since 2003. Before Tanya  Justin Yang held the position of SEED Program Manager for two years.

SEED developed its own set of tools for mentoring program and information management. These tools have not been “productized”. Why not use an external-to-Sun set of web tools? For the answer, read my 30 June 2009 blog Internal or External Mentoring Program?

Tools and Process Overview

The original SEED program was based on a year-long need analysis and program design in 2000 by a team mostly made up of Sun Human Resources (HR) and Engineering staff. The process itself was created on-the-fly during the first pilot term in 2001. The SEED mentoring program has expanded to a much larger audience in recent years and SEED’s web tools have developed and been redesigned accordingly. In the program’s first year, 2001-2002, there was just one term. In 2008-2009, there have been 12 overlapping terms in four groups (Recent Hires, Established Staff, PreSEED, and special pilots). Since the SEED team and I were creating a new mentoring system essentially from scratch in the 2001 pilot term, our guidelines for process and tool development were:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Check in with customers and stakeholders frequently
  3. Only include the minimum: question the need for each step before it goes in, and again at every review, and again before publication
  4. Let the process define the web tools
  5. Assume that process and tool users will have access to only the most basic web resources and performance
  6. Collect and analyze data routinely and make decisions based on those data

These guidelines have continued to serve SEED well. We also kept using the concept of a “pilot” to expand the program. In pilot terms, the rules, process, and/or scope are somewhat different from the regular SEED program. The Established Staff group was created in 2002 and the PreSEED program was created in 2008 using pilot programs; both have been very popular offerings. A pilot allows us to put something imperfect out there to see
what works. Sometimes pilots fail (for example, the SEED-2 or SEED Alumni term in 2007 only attracted ten participants).

SEED now has two major formal processes, for participant selection, and for mentor selection. These processes are published in full detail for the use of Sun internal program participants. Flow charts are also available in the appendix of “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009” the Sun Labs 2009 Technical Report  (includes a copy of the Research Disclosure Database Number 482013, defensive publication from Research Disclosure, Published in June 2004, Electronic Publication Date : 17 May 2004).

In November 2008, Tanya created and gave an internal-to-Sun presentation on developing simple web technologies using the SEED tools as examples. Her presentation was created to educate other Sun project teams and web teams. The information following about SEED web tools is derived from Tanya’s presentation. Her overview statements about the SEED’s current web tools:

  • The technology was built to model SEED mentoring processes which were already designed and pilot tested (we tried to fit the tools into the existing work flow rather than build processes around the tools).
  • The tools have evolved with the program: need for greater automation to allow scaling, new requirements as the program expanded across geographical areas regions, organizations, etc.
  • SEED relies on existing Sun corporate data systems as much as possible, only
    gathering additional information not already available elsewhere.

More specific details follow about SEED’s web tools and the technology and process behind them. Screen shots and other confidential data have been removed from Tanya’s original presentation material.

Developing Simple Web Technologies for the SEED Mentoring Program

Tools Behind the Program

  • The systems supporting the SEED program have evolved with it over time. They currently include:
    – A system to manage each term’s application process. Details are in Term Application Materials and Term Application Management, below.
    – A system to support the mentor matching process. Details are in Mentor Request Management, below.
    – An archive of program applicants, participants, mentors, etc. which enables long-term program management and metrics. Details are in
    SEED Program Database, below.
    – Applications to support regular program activities, such as regular quarterly feedback reports and bi-annual events for mentees, mentors, and the mentee’s managers.
  • Tool development goals:
    – Ensure the integrity and confidentiality of applicant and participant data.
    – Increase the ease-of-use for program participants and SEED staff.
    – Increase program efficiency and quality of data available to the SEED team, extend the number of participants, raise the value of participant experience, and justify their trust in the program

Simple Technologies

  • “SAMP” (Solaris, Apache, MySQL, and Perl & PHP)
  • htaccess and Sun confidential employee records access authentication
  • Queries to the Sun confidential employee records system
  • Email
  • Other technologies available within Sun and Sun Labs, such as a name auto-suggest widget and a survey tool.
  • And still making use of old-fashioned static web pages

Term Application Materials

  • SEED terms have an application period, usually lasting two to three weeks, with firm deadlines.
  • htaccess and Sun confidential employee records access are used for authentication
  • In addition to submitting a completed application form, applicants must also submit their resume, their manager must submit a letter of recommendation, and in some cases they must also secure additional letters of recommendation from Sun executives. All materials are submitted through web-based forms.
  • Design considerations
    – Applicants are located worldwide.
    — Application materials need to be as clear and simple as possible because for many employees, English is not their primary language.
    — Applications must be functional on all Sun systems and locations. This includes Sun hardware with Solaris software, Sun Ray systems, experimental systems, as well as a variety of Macs, laptops, and PCs.
    – Application materials must reflect Sun’s organizational structure and HR policies in an understandable way. Many applicants are new to Sun and are not familiar with its organization or policies.
    — Divisions, organizations
    — Job Codes, titles
    – Manager and executive recommendation letters are submitted confidentially but are a required part of an application. A secure mechanism is needed for applicants to view the status of their application but not the details of all materials.
    – In order to ensure that all materials are submitted correctly and not “lost” (i.e., a recommendation letter is submitted against an incorrect applicant SunID), Sun confidential employee records system lookup, email confirmations, and SQL audits of the database are used.
    – Each term’s application materials are stored in a separate database for easy management. Key applicant data that needs to be tracked long-term is loaded into the SEED archive database at the end of the application period.

Term Application Management (SEED Team Website)

  • A central website used by the SEED program staff to efficiently track the status of applicants and their materials.
  • At the end of the term application period, key applicant data is verified against Sun’s Human Resources records.
  • Used by SEED’s executive selection committee to review each applicant thoroughly.
  • Tool goals
    – Present useful summary data in a small amount of space.
    – Accurately reflect the status and materials received for each applicant.
    – Allow a complete review of each applicant’s submitted materials.
    – Make information easy to find to answer questions from applicants, participants, managers, and mentors quickly and accurately.
    – Print in a useable format.

Mentor Request Management

  • Upon acceptance to the program, all participants are required to submit a 10-name “Mentor Wish List” of mentors they would like to work with.
  • At the close of the mentor request period and receipt of all wish lists, the SEED program staff begins the mentor match process. For each participant, the goal is to match them with the highest priority eligible mentor from their Mentor Wish List.
  • A decision is made in each case where more than one Participant requests the same potential mentor. In SEED’s current terms, 80 mentees prepared 10-name lists, which resulted in 387 unique mentor requests. There were 10 potential mentors with multiple 1st Priority requests and 39 mentors who were requested by 5 or more mentees. This is a common problem: as many as twenty-two(!) potential mentees in one term have requested the same mentor. The primary basis for this decision is the priority order on the Mentor Wish List provided by the Participant. The Participant’s seniority (number of years at Sun) may be used as a tiebreaker, with the more senior Participant getting preference.
  • Tool Requirements
    – For each mentor requested, both name and SunID are required to be entered due to variations in name entry and frequent errors in entering SunIDs.
    – A name auto-suggest widget has been very useful in creating cleaner submissions.
    – The Mentor Request form includes a validation step in order to check for known conflicts in the SEED Potential Mentors list.

SEED Program Database

  • The SEED program database drives the long-term management of the program.
  • It allows us to track past applicants, participants, and mentors, as well as manage our list of 450+ Potential Mentors: mentors who have volunteered to work with program participants.
  • These records allow for regular metrics analysis of the program, currently done annually. Automated metrics tracking is a goal that is in progress.
  • Challenges
    – Maintaining the data so it is meaningful over time. For example, divisional organizational changes (reorg) make it difficult to summarize the number of participants we have had from each organization over the life of the program.
    – Keeping the mentor records up-to-date: removing broken links, updating titles in a timely way.
    – We need to maintain records of all program mentors, participants, and applicants, even after they have left Sun.


  • The systems and tools that support SEED have evolved with the program over time. They are not a single unified system, but being modular are easy to modify or extend when changes are required.
  • Using the technologies that are available and used by others allows you to be more efficient: learning from their work, and sharing components when possible.


This is part of a continuing series on mentoring programs. Information is to answer frequently asked questions, based on my experience since 2001 managing Sun’s SEED Engineering-wide world-wide mentoring program. Other entries in this series were integrated into “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009” the Sun Labs 2009 Technical Report.

25 October 2013 – links and text updated

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