Chris Gulker

The geek gene conveys Guy, along with stooped shoulders, pocket protector, acne and Glasses

Monday 05 May 1997 23:02

In Silicon Valley, you got to have a Vision. In Valley parlance, Vision is a sure thing, uncontestable gospel truth, the fat lady's sung and you can take it smiling to the bank.

Vision is worth more than Microsoft stock options, more than all the fancy wheels sitting in a venture capitalist's parking lot, more than today's Internet IPO.

You've got to be a Visionary - and that's if you want a job parking cars here.

A Silicon Valley leader had better ooze Vision, gush Vision and spout Vision. If a tour bus company can't run a crowd past you every 15 minutes for a never-failing Vision geyser, you better look for other work.

You have to wear Glasses, to prove you have Vision. Almost every Visionary I know wears Glasses - look across the page at Bill Gates. Maybe Glasses make for better Vision.

Have I said that Vision is vital in the Valley? Just for one heretical moment, let's make believe that someone could become a high-profile CEO without Vision. The corollary is that the easiest way to clobber a Silicon CEO is to suggest that they have no Vision.

Recently, Silicon Valley CEO Kim Polese was on the cover of Time magazine, featured as one of the 25 most influential people in all of America.

Kim was a member of some of Sun Microsystem's edgiest, out-there technology teams, including the one that developed a little concept called Java. Striking out on her own, she founded Marimba, a company that is at the leading edge of "push" technology.

Marimba will push more than news and football scores to your computer's screen saver: it will actually push the software your computer needs to perform tasks. Marimba presages a world where no one has to spend hours fiddling with software updates, conflicts and all the other stuff that drives most computer-users to utter, blinking distraction.

In short, her firm is focused on making computing easy, like a telephone or light switch. Some observers think that if computers every truly get easy, the real information revolution will begin, dwarfing today's phenomena.

The idea is so good, and Kim is so capable of selling the concept, that Marimba has shot to the top of most people's lists of hi-tech firms to watch.

There's a problem, though. For one, Kim Polese doesn't wear Glasses. She doesn't wear Glasses, and, she's, uh, pretty obviously not a Guy.

Being a Guy wouldn't mean much, except that most every Silicon Valley Visionary is male. Nerds are supposed to be Guys - you know, dudes. One popular novel refers to the high priests of hi-tech as ironmen - apparently no ironwomen need apply.

The geek gene, by popular account, conveys Guy, along with stooped shoulders, pocket protectors, acne and Glasses.

While the Silicon Valley press is not particularly well known for its abilities outside topics like the finer points of low-level network protocols, there has been some editorial sniffing on the subject of Polese's Vision.

One Ziff-Davis pundit, Charles Cooper, titling his effort "Kim Polese and the Castanets" (Castanet is the name of one of Marimba's technologies), has a problem "with the cult of personality that's grown up around her".

Mind you, there's absolutely no cult of personality lurking around Guys like Marc Andreeson, Steve Wozniak, or Bill Gates.

Cooper asks: "But is she as influential as Time claims? Why shouldn't Eric Schmidt, Sun's former CTO [chief technology officer], or Bill Joy, Sun's co-founder, get more [of] the credit for the Java revolution?"

Joy and Schmidt had nothing directly to do with creating Java, while Polese was on the Java team and its forerunner, code-named Oak. But, what the hey, they probably had to sign some checks, or requisitions or something.

Cooper gets to the point. Quote: "She just escalated with Java," said one executive. "Kim did a lot of work. But whether she had the Vision is completely in dispute." Unquote.

Now, in journalism, when you want to take a shot at someone, you can take the high road, and tell the reader whose opinion it is that you're offering, or the low road, and leave the anonymous words attributed to an unnamed soul.

The difference is this: if the writer names the source, the reader can judge whether the source is credible. If the writer doesn't name the source, then the reader is left to wonder, "Who said that?" Was it Bill Gates? Or some clueless schmuck?

Now it's a good thing for writers to challenge popular wisdom. It's also true that some writers only challenge those things which themselves challenge popular wisdom.

And that, in turn, poses the question: "Who wrote that?" Was it a Guy with Vision? Or just some clueless hack?n

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