Big telecoms trade show and the mocking of “Sun”

Posted on February 26, 2012

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I’m not at the big Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona this week but with proceedings kicking off I thought I’d mention one of my favourite events-inspired stories. (Trust me, it’s a rich seam.)

Hopefully this isn’t just about sounding like an old fart, casting my mind back to the 1990s. I hope it puts some perspective on any industry which, however great it might be, probably shouldn’t believe its own hype.

I was in a crowded pub – you know the type, the standard English/Irish pub found in other countries’ city centres – in Geneva, at the end of a day of the ITU Telecom 99 show. (Love that the old website is still there.) There was a pre-bubble-bursting triumphalism in the industry, by which I mean telecoms/computing, coming together as they were back then.

Spirits were high, the evening was late, and I got talking to a young English guy, who quickly told me he hadn’t flown in for the show but lived there.

He mentioned he worked for Sun. This caught the ear of a few people I knew nearby, mainly from the computer industry. Even back then, long before Sun Microsystems lost its independence, there was a feeling among Wintel big boys such as Compaq and Dell that Windows would win the day and god help older OSes such as Unix and anything as crazy as Apple’s software.

They started to goad the engineer I was talking to. Many of them knew their stuff – typically moving from technical/engineering roles themselves, to sales, then marketing – but they should have known better.

It turns out, back in 1999, long before anyone had heard about the Large Hadron Collider or the like, that the fella in question hadn’t said he worked for “Sun” but “CERN”.

Over the next hour he won around those mockers, regaling them with stories of not only firing particles at each other but taking pictures at the moment of impact. He probably had about four PHDs and was a lovely guy to boot.

Geneva… CERN… Sun… the first Internet Bubble… I wonder what Sir Tim would have said.

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Posted in: Work