Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Book Review: Softwar An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle

Larry Ellison. Before reading this book, the last guy in the world I thought I shared anything in common with would have been Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle. I figured he was a slick sales guy. Not that great, just a business savvy corporate dude. Easy to understand, single minded in purpose. Stereotypes: arrogant, egotistical (okay, maybe i do have something in common after all). Turns out he’s far more interesting than that. I knew he was into cars, planes, and the fun stuff his financial success has brought him. I did not know about his children, his struggles with Oracle and weathering the ebb and flow of the tech industry, his dedication to his family in Chicago. The book was just as much about Larry as it was about Oracle, apropos given building an organization of this nature becomes just as much an extension of yourself as any people you may bring into the world.

I did not know that Larry at heart is a technologist interested in doing things right….a software engineer at heart. He despises the pandering the sales teams require, unintellectual annual boondoggles to Vegas, and other things he determined long ago to have little value but resigns to them as part of having to have folks like that who work for him. He’d rather spend his time (and money) on the engineers and programmers that work at the company. He invests himself in making superior product. The book reveals many discussions with CEOs around the world and Larry’s feelings about them. these discussions gave insight into how their minds work and how Larry, being a very effective salesman himself, pitches each generation of Oracle product. it also gives deep insight into the complexity the software they build at Oracle embodies and why it’s a ‘hard problem’ to design the tools and technologies Oracle builds.

I also respect the integrity with which the books at Oracle have been managed through the years. No funny games. Here’s a successful company story, but that success has countless failures as a means to an end. and that is an important lesson. The failures of Microsoft and Intel make front page of all the ‘free financial news’…the mostly worthless press releases and mindfree content from Fortune and the Motley Fool. Its easy to see the good and bad of these products because everyone has to deal with them to get through their day. What they fail to see is the behind the scenes tools like DB2, SAP, Oracle, etc…the databases where all the worlds information lives. Reading this book allowed me to get an inside perspective on a part of the software industry I’ve really had very little interaction besides a small company I worked for in college and a brief fling with a startup I founded that we shut down after about 6 months.

For me, this book was 500 gripping pages I consumed in a week. I was engrossed and have to give it a 5/5 stars for me. However, I really think most people would not like this book and I understand completely why it was 80% off the cover price. for most people the intimate chronological story of a man and his database would be considered boring, but I was engrossed.


Cheers Larry. its been a long road, and you made me feel a little less…different.

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