Sun CEO Departs in Geek Style, With a Haiku

Photo of Jonathan Schwartz by Webmink/Flickr.com

Sun’s erstwhile CEO Jonathan Schwartz announced his retirement Wednesday night in a uniquely geeky way: With a haiku posted to Twitter.

Financial crisis
Stalled too many customers
CEO no more

Schwartz’s decision to announce his departure in the form of a short, Japanese lyric was, perhaps, a veiled jab at Sun’s new boss, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, a noted Japanophile who has spent years building a $200 million house, in the wealthy Silicon Valley suburb of Woodside, that’s said to be a replica of a 16th-century Japanese emperor’s castle. It’s likely that the hard-charging, Samurai-inspired Ellison has no particular love for the pony-tailed, Java-loving Schwartz, who bet the farm on an open-source strategy that didn’t pan out and brought Sun’s share price from a split-adjusted peak of $250 to a recent low of $3.49, making its acquisition by Oracle easy. Now Ellison has started cleaning house, slashing back-office personnel and shaking things up in an effort to return Sun to the kind of profitability it once enjoyed.

It’s not the first time that technology and haiku have collided, and in fact, open-source computer geeks seem to have a real affinity for the form. In the early 2000s, spam-filtering service provider Habeas inserted a copyrighted haiku into the header of every authenticated e-mail message; the idea was that if the bad guys tried to spoof the header, they’d be committing a prosecutable copyright violation. Impish programmers have often inserted haiku error messages into the systems they manage, geeks have been collecting spam haiku since the earliest days of the Web, and there’s even an open-source operating system named Haiku (it’s based on the now-defunct BeOS).

With Schwartz showing the way, will other CEOs turn to haiku when they get pushed out? Probably not. They would do well, though, to consider the brevity of life and the futility of their ambitions. As the 17th century haiku master Basho wrote:

Ah, summer grasses!
All that remains
Of the warriors’ dreams.

(Translation: R.H. Blyth)

Disclaimer: The author has long-standing haiku blog, tinywords, which has nothing at all to do with technology.

(Originally published on Wired.com’s Epicenter blog)