Nearly every work related thought I have now ends with, “but this could change because of the Oracle thing.” The subject of this blog is one of them. While riding the ICE train to Mainz after speaking at JUG Köln, I was catching up on email and came across a (likely now irrelevant) org chart for some group other than my own. I noticed a box filled with the names of individual contributors that lead straight to a Director level person, rather than going to a middle-manager first. I’ve seen such boxes on many org charts at Sun, and the corresponding inter-personal pattern for those whose names reside in such boxes is often, “I have more influence because I report directly to a Director”. This notion seems to be encouraged in the Sun culture as a carrot to motivate engineers who do report to a middle manager to want to become “more senior“ by getting into one of those boxes. The thinking is that influence can be measured by your tree-depth in the org chart. I’m happy to report that this is not the only path to having influence at Sun (but it does appear to be the better recognized one).

Here’s the path I’ve chosen. Rather than seeking to differentiate myself by communicating my value-add for maximum Sun-internal visibility, I decided to invest more effort in looking outward to help grow and engage in a community of developers around a specific technology, namely JSF. Whatever influence I perceive I’ve earned as a result of this decision comes not from my position in the pecking order, but from direct engagement with the community. I may not have the direct ear of upper management, but by engaging the community, and helping to advocate and influence their vision of how JSF should evolve, I have the indirect ear of upper management. I think this is a better path for me because I believe the voice of the community should carry more weight with, and be heard more clearly by, upper management. Such an approach certainly brings upper management closer to the customer, which is the cornerstone of building shareholder value. Thankfully Sun does support and recognize this path to seniority, but acceptance appears to be spotty across the company as a whole. Jonathan Schwartz’s emphasis on employee blogging is one way that Sun supports this path. Of course, all this could change because of the Oracle thing.

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