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OK, so I'm a couple of weeks late on the New Year. Hey, I am using a Java-powered watch, so what do you expect? Maybe when the watch gets a JIT, I can get the correct time and date.

Went out for a couple of drinks last night to my hang-out in The Valley... the Bucket-O-Bits. In its past life, this sleazy dive was the high-brow Ely McFly's, the center of everything cool about Silicon Valley. Ely's was next door to Apple and near a dozen start-ups. Hot marketing managers would stand in line, gold AMEX card in hand, for the honor of buying the house a round of drinks. I drank good gin at Ely's. Enough to kill a normal man; but of course, old Joe isn't normal. I am a survivor.

The crowd wasn't there, yet. Just Joe, working on his second gin and tonic, sitting at the bar, thinking about the past year, pondering the upcoming year.

Each year brings new technologies, new opportunities and fresh inventories of failed products into the local surplus stores here in The Valley. Old Joe keeps his perspective by regularly visiting such stores as Haltek and Weird Stuff. In those places, staring at me, are pallets full of products that some engineers designed on the usual rush schedules, some marketing guys promoted even though they were way underpowered and six months late and some sales guys sold even though the customers didn't think they wanted them.

That software I worked through Christmas one year to get into distribution? Over in the "$5 and less" bin. The Digital Video cards that needed superhuman ASIC development schedules to make it in time for MacWorld? Look in the "Free! Just haul them out of here" section. Go to places such as Haltek and Weird Stuff. Look around there, soak it up. It keeps you humble. I see lots of engineers walking around in these places, thinking. But there are few marketing or sales people. They move on, quickly. I think there is a message in it all. Try to do good stuff, but don't leave any of your blood where you work. It isn't worth it.

Sometimes, the planets line up and the product is a hit. Most of the time, something happens. Apple was a hit, Fortune Systems wasn't. Small changes at any time could have reversed the order. As the bottom of the glass is fast approaching, I hold the hope that some history can repeat itself. The project that renewed the spark in a dying company, remember? Yea, Joe was there, in the middle of it all. Things were bad, and over one too many beers, a sales guy gave you an idea. Suddenly, a team was born, a goal was set and the freight train was in motion.

Running on all cylinders, the project came together. Your software worked in beta, the ASIC worked on the first spin. The marketing guy, who you thought was worthless, became brilliant in his pitch to PC Week. At an otherwise dull Comdex, people were talking about your product. Your booth is packed for all five days. Suddenly, the supply-base manager is having fits, trying to get enough parts. The sales guys are stuffing the channel full of the new product, and selling through the junk in inventory as well. The Western Region is 150% of quota. The stock blows through $10 and hits $18 in a month. Higher than it had been since the IPO days. Your stock options are in the money. This year, you can go to Europe instead of Santa Cruz. The president of the company buys everyone on the team a weekend at a spa in Napa. Life is good.

It happens sometimes. When it doesn't, your labor of love ends up in the bargain bin at Weird Stuff.

Round three of the gin and tonic is heading my way. People are starting to show up in this dump, and they are a lot younger than old Joe. The Bucket-O-Bits is their Ely's. They will toast the success or lament the failure of their year's work.

New year is here. Look back quickly. Order a round of drinks and toast to new hopes. Such is life in The Valley.

About The Author
Joe S. Valley is a scarred veteran of the Silicon Valley wars. It was either writing this column or heading back into therapy. His company can't afford mental health care coverage anymore, so writing is the only option. There are a million stories in the Valley and Joe knows lots of them. Got a good story? E-mail him at [email protected]

 

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