The Observation Deck

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Month: September 2005

On a Sunday night shortly after we bought Kealia, I got a call at home from John Fowler. He asked me if I’d like to join Glenn Weinberg and him the next morning to meet with Andy Bechtolsheim at Kealia’s offices in Palo Alto. It’s hard to express my excitement at this proposition — it was like asking a kid if he wants to go throw a ball around with Joe DiMaggio. And indeed, my response was something akin to the “Gee mister — that’d be swell!” that this image evokes…

When we walked in to Kealia’s offices the next morning, there, in the foyer, was Andy! Andy blinked for a moment, and then — without any introductions — began to excitedly describe some of his machines. Still talking, he marched to his office, whereupon he went to the whiteboard and started furiously drawing block diagrams. Here, at long last, was the Real Deal: a fabled engineer who didn’t disappoint — a giant who dwarfed the substantial legend that proceeded him. After several minutes at the whiteboard, Andy got so excited that he had to actually get the plans to show us how some particular piece had been engineered. And with that, he flew out of the room.

As we caught our breath, Glenn looked at me and said “just so you know, this is what it’s like trying to talk to you.” While I was still trying to figure out if this was a compliment or an insult (which I still haven’t figured out, by the way), Andy flew back in, unfurled some plans for a machine and excitedly pointed out some of the finer details of his design. Andy went on for a few more minutes when, like a raging prairie fire that had suddenly hit a fireline, he went quiet. With that, I kicked the door down (metaphorically) and started describing what we had been working on in Solaris 10. (After all, John hadn’t brought me along to just sit back and watch.) As I went through revolutionary feature after revolutionary feature, I was astounded by how quickly Andy grasped detail — he asked incisive questions that reflected a greater understanding of software than any other hardware engineer I had ever encountered. And as he seemed to be absorbing detail faster and faster, I began delivering it faster and faster. Now, as others have observed, I’m not exactly a slow talker; this might have been one of the few times in my life where I thought I actually needed to speak faster to stay in front of my audience. Whew! Most impressive of all, Andy had a keen intuition for the system — he immediately saw how his innovative hardware and our innovative software could combine to deliver some uniquely innovative systems to our customers. He was excited about our software; we were excited about his hardware. How much better than that does it get?

Needless to say, ever since that morning — which was nearly a year and a half ago now — I have eagerly awaited the day that Andy’s boxes would ship. If you’ve talked to me over the last year, you know that I’ve been very bullish on Sun; now you know why. (Well, now you have a taste as to why; believe it or not, Andy’s best boxes are still to come.) Not everyone can own a car designed by Enzo Ferrari or a lamp crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany — but at just over two grand a pop, pretty much everyone can own a machine designed by the greatest single-board computer designer in history. Congratulations Andy and team on an historic launch! And might I add that it was especially fitting that it was welcomed with what is easily the funniest ad in Sun’s history.

So MIT’s Technology Review has named me as one of their TR35 — the top 35 innovators under the age of thirty five. It’s a great honor, especially because the other honorees are actually working on things like cures for cancer and rocket science — domains that I have known only as rhetorical flourish. Should you like to hear me make a jackass out of myself on the subject, you might want to check out Richard Giles‘s latest I/O podcast, in which he interviewed me about the award.

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