Stories from the Old Days at Sun

Reminiscences of the Original Employees of Sun Microsystems, Inc.
 

Sun's First Office

"Sun's first office was this rent-by-the-hour place on the comer of Walsh and San Tomas (Santa Clara), and I remember reading an article that came out about that time that said if the U.S. was going to be hit by a nuclear bomb, that particular spot – that comer –would be the most efficient place to hit. They called it ground zero. And I was talking with [Sun co-founder] Vinod Khosla, and I asked him what he would do if a missile were coming in. He said he'd get a folding chair and a six-pack of beer and go out and watch it – you couldn't run away fast enough anyway. I thought that was interesting."

– Steve Klesczewski, Employee #20


The Original Sun Logo

"The original sign with the Sun logo was one of the biggest capital expenditures the company had undertaken at that point – it cost around $3000. We went out and hired some art students to design the sign, had some college kids pour the concrete out in front of building one... and that of course was just before some marketing consultants we hired told us to rotate the logo 45 degrees and change the color from orange to the current Sun blue – which is a blue no one had ever seen or used before. Blue projects stability, was the reason..."

– Greg Stroud, Employee #45


"...So we rotated the logo officially, but in sales we still had all these business cards with the logo square. And you know how Scott is. We had to use them all before we could reorder with the new logo. He told us just to hand our cards to people at an angle."

– Jay Puri, Employee #26


The First Big Break

"We were competing for a big contract at ComputerVision – it was between us, DEC and Apollo...and we got word that they had decided not to go with Sun. The same day we heard, Vinod got on a plane and flew out to their offices in Boston to convince them to reconsider. He sat in the lobby all day – until the vice president was on his way home – before he finally got a chance to talk. And he wouldn't give up. He told them Sun would do anything. They could name their terms. Did they want the technology for free? Sun would consider anything. And at last they did reconsider, and they did go with Sun."

– Mitch Bradley, Employee #50


Sun's Personality Back Then

"We didn't have one. We formed it as we went. We were young, enthusiastic, naive in some ways... We didn't know how to do everything yet, so we weren't set in our ways. We did some things because we didn't know any better, but the way we did them sometimes ended up being better anyway."

– Laura Tong, Employee #10


A Near Disaster

"When the Sun-2 was coming out, we stopped ordering parts for Sun-1s, and we were just going to cut over production to Sun-2 just like that. And somebody caught that and got us to order parts for Sun-1s. And it's a good thing we did that because the Sun-2s ended up being six months late. We could easily have gone belly-up in the meantime."

– Marty Rattner, Employee #7


The Early Pranks

"The April Fool's Day thing had its roots way back in the early days. I remember somebody – whose name will go unmentioned – would go around to offices where people had family portraits hanging, you know, the wife and kids' pictures, and he would swap their pictures with nude pictures from various magazines. He even did a life-sized one on the back of Scott's door. Anyway, sometimes people noticed, sometimes they didn't. I know there was one guy who had a swapped-out picture where his wife used to be, and he had numerous meetings with vendors in his office before we realized it hadn't been changed back yet."

– Steve Klesczewski


The Hours

"Bill Joy's office used to be the sleeping room. People would keep sleeping bags in there, and it got used pretty regularly."

– Mitch Bradley


The First Beer Bust

"I think the first beer bust occurred spontaneously in a conference room in the Santa Clara office. We were thirsty; Laura Tong went and got a couple of six-packs, and the rest is history."

– Bernard Bove, Employee #23


Wednesday Donut Day

"I used to go by Winchell's once in a while to get donuts – chocolate glazed was the favorite – and I remember Bob Sackman, one of Sun's venture capitalists, came in one Wednesday and there were no donuts, and he was asking where they were. So from then on I brought them in on Wednesdays."

– Cyndi Jung, Employee #17


The First Christmas Party

"It was classic Sun. There was no heat in the building [2550 Garcia]; the electricity was off; there were no windows; but we had the best time. We were drinking beer, playing mini-golf up the stairs, hitting golf balls out of Scott's office – shooting over the building next door – it was a blast."

– Greg Stroud


The Love Boat Party

"One of my favorite parties was, well, we called it the Love Boat cruise. I think it was the company's one-year anniversary. We were picked up outside Building One in these buses that took us to one of the Red Fleet cruise boats in the Bay...and I remember we stopped for beer at a Safeway along the way...People were dressed up like Love Boat characters – Doc, Gopher, I think Owen was Captain Steubing. Everything else about that night is kind of vague. I remember doing some kind of Congo dance."

– Cyndi Jung


Exciting Demos

"John Gage (Sun's director of science office) used to do these amazing demos, and one day, in front of a big gathering, something in his machine shorted out and his demo ended rather abruptly. But he was completely unfazed; he just asked if anybody had a pack of cigarettes, and he took the little foil off the pack and somehow wrapped it around a fuse or something and got the connection back. I was amazed, everybody was impressed. That's the way his demos were. Magic."

– Marty Rattner


The Roots of Sun's Tight-Fistedness

"There are lots of stories about Sun's- what's the euphemism - strict cash control policies back then. For example, we purchased all our furniture from a surplus warehouse, used potted plants to cover up stains in the carpet...Basically, we were just cheap, cheap, cheap. And this tight-fistedness has remained an integral part of Sun's culture even as we've enjoyed tremendous success."

– Jay Puri


"We used to sneak showers at the company next door...McNealy and I would schlep in there, try to look like we were supposed to be there, take a quick rinse-off and run like hell before anybody saw us. So, anybody who says Sun's a cheap company now..."

– Greg Stroud


"There was a tradition – it's still in effect today in some parts of Sun – that the company would buy free lunches for anyone who came in on Saturday and Sunday. It was really just a way of making sure people didn't go home for lunch and not come back."

– Bernard Bove


The Night Bell

"We had this weird phone system for a while – once the receptionist left and there was no one to answer the phone, the phone would ring over the intercom through the whole building so everyone could hear it. Somebody would have to answer it. The engineers really hated that but there was no other way for people to get through."

– Laura Tong


Why They Came to Sun

"When I came and interviewed at Sun, Scott was showing me all around the place, and I remember him showing me this refrigerator sitting by itself in the warehouse. And Scott opened up the door, and it was full of soft drinks and beer and stuff. Scott said that was for the employees, and you could have some whenever you wanted to. I was thinking 'wow, what a liberal company.' So, after I started working for Sun, one afternoon about 5:30, I took a beer and passed one out to someone who was working with me, and I noticed all of a sudden people were looking at me with these cold stares. The next day Scott came up to me and said, 'Uh, Steve, uh, the beers are only for Fridays.' I almost quit on the spot. I mean, talk about suckering a guy into a job by exploiting his weak spot."

– Steve Klesczewski


"I first came into Sun on a Saturday, and there were people from all over the Bay Area there to see this machine. There were engineers in every comer, talking about it, arguing over the feasibility of the technology, trying to interview for jobs. There was a certain amount of appeal in working in that kind of atmosphere."

– Marty Rattner


"Some of my first meetings with [Sun co-founder] Andy Bechtolsheim were just beyond description. I mean, he would be going over design changes, and he talked so fast – he had more of an accent then too – that you just couldn't keep up with everything he wanted changed. And then he'd listen to somebody's suggestion, think for a second, then change it all over again, all in a second. Things that would take other people months to think out were stream-of-consciousness to him."

– Don Guerrera, Employee #31


"What really impressed me about Andy was how flexible he was. He was always willing to change his mind. He was just interested in what would make the design better."

– Mitch Bradley


"The thing that struck me about Sun was that no one had a title. I thought I was interviewing at some socialist, egalitarian society because everyone was a 'member.' Andy was a 'member' of the technical staff, Scott was a 'member' of the manufacturing staff. Nobody had an office; we were all in bullpens in this rent-by-the-hour place. Eventually, they made me a member of the material staff; it was like a club membership."

– Greg Stroud


The Bill Joy Font

"Bill did a lot of talks – formal and informal – with customers and engineers back in the early days, and he always did up his own visual aids. He would sit down a few hours – or minutes – before a presentation and make up a unique set of foils with these multicolored felt pens. We called it the Bill Joy font. This scared me to death the first few times because we'd have an important meeting with a large prospective customer first thing in the morning and when I'd check in with Bill late the previous night, he'd still have no presentation prepared and would be unconcernedly working on some software program. But he always came through with a presentation that had customers hanging on his every word...It was exciting!"

– Jay Puri


When They Knew Sun Was a Success

"I knew Sun would be big because we thought big. From day one, we didn't think of ourselves as a start-up but as a full-service computer company. When we were $1 million in sales, we thought and acted like a $10 million company. When we got to $10 million, we acted like a $100 million company...Now, Scott wants us to put processes in place to be a $10 billion company. Sun has done a better job than any other company I know of planning for the next phase of growth – it's not easy you know – you can over-reach and flame out or you can under-reach and miss the opportunity."

– Jay Puri


"It really didn't take long to see it was going to be a success. Most of us knew the sales numbers, and it was doubling every few months. It just kept ramping up, and you got this feeling it was going to keep going."

– Marty Rattner


"Back in the old days you'd tell someone you worked for Sun Microsystems, and they'd just say 'who?' Now you'll be on an airplane or something and you'll see people reading articles about Sun or talking about Sun – and whether you tell them you work there or not, you know that you were part of something that really made a difference."

– Laura Tong


See a few more stories on the SunReunion 1.0 site.