Tag Archives: Sun Labs

Photos from Sun’s Last Days

Below are some of the photos I took during the last month or so at Sun Microsystems’ Menlo Park, California campus as we were getting ready to become Sun-Oracle.

Long ago, when Sun was getting ready to build the MPK campus, Facilities surveyed the staff on what we liked best about our original Mountain View campus.  The surprising answer came back: the gardens and fountains between the MTV buildings.  MPK has a large and well-designed set of gardens with many fountains.  Since the campus sits in the San Francisco Baylands, songbirds visit as well as seagulls, hawks, ravens, and Canada geese. Cats and squirrels are also frequent guests along with the occasional mouse or rat. There are usually a few pet dogs around as well. The MPK central walkway runs between Building 10 at one end and 18 at the other with landscaping to either side.  I originally moved from MTV-1 to MPK-18, then moved to MPK-17 and finally about five years ago, to MPK-16.

I must have typed my Sun Employee ID (#398) tens of thousands of times over the last twenty five years.  Just a few more to go when I complete my RIF paperwork…

Java Java Closed Permanently
Broken Java Java Cafe Sign
Inside campus
Rain on Leaves
Red Leaf
MPK campus walk
Sun Campus Raven
MPK-16 sign
My Office Door
Full office
Moving out
Empty office
Sun Badge #398

Images 2010 by Katy Dickinson

1/31/2010 note: This blog entry was mentioned in Tip of the blogger’s hat: Katy Dickinson takes a last look at the Sun campus on the “InMenlo” blog by three longtime Menlo Park residents.

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Goodbye Sun – It’s Been a Great Ride!

My last blog post at http://blogs.sun.com/katysblog/:

I have been laid off by Sun-Oracle. It has been a wonderful 25 years!

I joined a relatively-unknown startup three years before it went public. I enjoyed working with some of the greatest Engineers on Earth and together we made Sun a success which changed the world. I had a splendid ride. I worked for Sun since 1984 in Engineering, Marketing, Quality, Operations, Legal, Standards, Strategy, and finally for the Chief Technologist’s Organization and Sun Labs. I am looking forward to the next adventure.

I hope that the SEED worldwide mentoring program participants, mentors, and managers will create new programs and opportunities in all of the new places they will go. For those who stay with Sun-Oracle: keep contact and support each other. There is nothing like SEED now at Oracle. Consider creating it, locally or globally. It will take too much time and an unreasonable amount of work but it will be worth it. It has been an honor and privilege to create this worldwide Engineering community and to work with such inspiring people. I hope you will continue to work with each other and with me. Please connect with me on LinkedIn and Facebook.

I have two wonderful kids who have grown up running around at Sun. Jessica is now a Junior at CMU (in Qatar for a Semester at CMU-Q) and Paul is in High School. Sun is their lifetime context for work. My husband, John Plocher and I met at Sun and I were lucky enough to work at Sun together for 17 years.

2005-2010 http://blogs.sun.com/katysblog/ entries and new additions are now available here at https://katysblog.wordpress.com/.

I welcome your job recommendations. Your support is always appreciated.

How to Find Katy Dickinson After 29 January 2010

Katy Dickinson Process Queen 2006 Poster, used with permission

Image Copyright 2006 Sun Microsystems, Used with Permission

Blog entry by Katy Dickinson


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Changing Times, The Last Bash

There has been much excitement and speculation about the upcoming Sun-Oracle change in control. The big strategy announcement by Larry Ellison is at Oracle in Redwood Shores, CA, on 27 January. Ever since the EU cleared the takeover on 21 January, many have been sending “Goodbye to Sun” messages. Here is one from Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz We started this leave taking process last year with the Tribute to Sun website of stories and pictures from 1982-2009, put together by Marketing SVP Ingrid Van Den Hoogen’s team.

James Gosling (The Father of Java) even made us a “So long, Sun….” image featuring the mascot for Java, Duke, with Tux the Linux penguin in mourning. Buy one for yourself!

The week before last, Sun Labs had what we expect will be its last Friday Bash. Last week, there was a going away lunch at Ming’s for two researchers who are moving on.

DSCN8994 DSCN8971 DSCN8974
DSCN8972 DSCN8992


Images Copyright 2010 Katy Dickinson

Blog entry by Katy Dickinson

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“On Leadership” – Ivan Sutherland’s SEED talk, now on YouTube

I am very proud to announce that the SEED worldwide Engineering mentoring program just published “On Leadership” – its first public video. Thanks to SEED Matthias Mueller-Prove (in Germany) who first suggested making Ivan Sutherland’s important 2006 SEED talk public.

A Sun Labs team including Mary Holzer, Sheri Kaneshiro, and Alan Lancendorfer took SEED’s rough internal video and created a polished product which is now available for free viewing as the featured video on the Sun Labs home page. Tanya Jankot and Sheri Kaneshiro created the original 2006 video for SEED. John Plocher and I followed my daughter Jessica’s instructions on How to Post Videos Longer Than 10 Minutes to YouTube.

If you want to see the video of Ivan Sutherland’s 2006 SEED talk “On Leadership” on YouTube, link to the play list to see all 8 segments in sequence. This video is Copyright 2006-2010, Sun Microsystems (uploaded with permission).

In his inspirational talk to SEED’s annual meeting, Ivan Sutherland (Sun Vice President and Fellow, Internet pioneer, and Turing award winner) speaks from a lifetime of experience working with many of the leaders and key innovators in the field of computing. Ivan answered the following questions from the SEED audience:

  • “Where does change belong: managing change or leading change?”
  • “What is the future of Computer Science (in the next five years)?”
  • “Is leadership a property of nature or nurture?”
  • “What makes people want to become leaders?”
  • “How does ambition fit into leadership?”
  • “Can one person encompass both leadership and management?”
  • “Is leadership the same in different situations?”
  • “What is the difference between taking the lead and being a leader?”
  • “Does being a leader once qualify you for all time in the future?”

Since I set up and hosted the meeting at which Ivan spoke, you can hear a tiny bit of my voice just at the end of “On Leadership”.

I hope you enjoy watching it!

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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Getting Ready for Christmas

My daughter Jessica
arrived home a few days ago but soon left on a ski trip with her fiance Matt
and his family. She comes back this afternoon. While she was briefly home, we
went to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace. My mother and I also went to
the Dickens Fair after Thanksgiving with my brother
and his family, so we have had quite the Victorian Christmas so far. (I have seen Gilbert and Sullivan’s
twice this year!) I have also visited family, participated in the annual Sun Labs Christmas Cookie Exchange, and enjoyed the SunCaroler’s Menlo Park campus walking concert,
the 1st annual Willow Glen Lions Holiday
Party, and other delights of the season.

Dickens Fair

Marley confronts Scrooge

Pirate’s Cove

Dark Garden Tableau

Pete and family at the Dickens Fair

Ko-Ko and Katisha, The Mikado

Ballena Bay Pewter, Dickens Fair

SunCarolers annual walking concert

Willow Glen Lions Party

Sun Labs Cookie Party

Family visit

Uncle Wayne’s Workshop

Paul, Lynda, Daniel (cousins)

Paul and Jessica

Paul and Jessica

Jessica and Matt


Images Copyright 2009 Katy Dickinson and John Plocher

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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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