JavaSoft, a division of Sun Microsystems – 1996

I was a contractor when I started in the Sun Microsystems Laboratories, and as a result, my security in the job was suspect. Oh, I think I was doing fine working on Tcl/Tk. I was learning something about X Windows, and I learned Test-Driven Development. Learning Tcl/Tk taught me an entire new paradigm of programming, that of scripting languages. Learning Test-Driven Development has been amazingly useful for the rest of my career. And befriending an industry pundit like the head of the Tcl/Tk team was exciting. In more mundane concerns, it was one of the best commutes I have ever had, 12 minutes from Menlo Park to Mountain View. The campus was next to a small lake, and adjacent to the Bay, and the walk I took everyday through that park was good for me.

But being a contractor bothered me. I had to go through hoops to get my badge to work (Sun reset them every six months). I did not get paid vacation, had any holidays forced upon me (and they weren’t paid either), and the medical benefits were non-existant at first, and then later, they were poor. And expensive. I was not treated the same by other personnel in the labs as everybody else was. And, as a contractor, I would have been first on the chopping block if there had been problems.

And there were problems. Our team was in a political competition for resources. We had a lot of people on our team compared to all of the other groups in the labs. We supported platforms other than Solaris (which is why they hired me).

And we weren’t Java.

Is this the first time a programming language had a mascot? I think that this is a 90s thing.

Java 1.0 had been released a few months earlier by developers in the Labs who had worked on it for 5+ years. It was the Labs’ biggest success story. Java 1.0 spread like wildfire throughout the industry, as it was much easier to develop websites with it than with C and C++, popular at the time. Sun Labs was pushing it for use everywhere, going so far as to develope a computer with everything written in Java. (Customers never saw this one. It was SLOW!) Java had all of the political clout and money, and Tcl/Tk was a weird little corner of the labs that was NOT Java.

Sun spun Java into another division called Java Soft. Late in 1996, Java Soft had an opening for an engineer to work on Java for the Mac. I interviewed for the position, not knowing anything about Java.

I honestly don’t remember much about the interview. They asked some technical questions, and gabbed with me about culture fit.

I still have two emails from that period. The first is a “well, we aren’t saying yes; we aren’t saying no”:

Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you.  The team thought you
would fit in here, but wants to interview some more people to see if we
can get someone with a bit more relevant experience.  So you are still
under consideration, but it is going to take some time for us to make a
decision.  Please feel free to ping me for an update on the situation
any time.

Note that there are hard carriage returns in that text; that was what email was in 1996, folks!

And then later:

Things have changed, and we’re not actively looking for a Mac person
at the moment, pending discussions with Apple on how we can work more
closely with them.

Well, it turns out that Apple basically agreed to take all of Java’s Mac development in-house, so Java Soft closed the Mac developer position.

So, no Java Soft for me. They did not have any Windows positions open…


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