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Org Charts and Influence

Posted by edburns on April 21, 2009 at 9:52 AM PDT

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

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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I believe Oracle is big into JSF. So this Oracle thing may be good for you.