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Transcript of Kim Polese Interview

Gather 'round the hearth -- it's storytime with Silicon Valley Radio. Kim Polese brewed Java until it was the hottest programming language on the market. Then, with dreams of making well-needed Java tools and applications, she and the Java team parted ways with Sun and ventured out to form their own company.

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Why don't you tell me how you broke away from Sun. What was the decision that was made there among the Java group?
Kim Polese: There are four of us: me and Sami Shaio, Jon Payne and Arthur van Hoff. All four of us are part of the original core Java team. It was a combination of a personal decision for each one of us, and a realization that this was the right time, the opportune time in the market. Each one of us, I think, had always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

We had gotten Java out of the incubator. Java 1.0 was very solid, and there was now a platform that had been established. What had to happen next was the applications and the tools had to be built. There was just a tremendous opportunity in the market, and each one of us kind of realized, okay, this is the right time so let's go for it.

SVR: How did Sun respond to that?
Polese: Sun actually responded very positively, because they realized that this was really a validation of Java's maturity as a technology, and the fact that we would each stake our finances and our careers on going out there and creating applications for the technology meant that it truly was a very solid, very well-established base on which small companies could spring up and create products and make successes of their own.
SVR: Was working on Java the most exciting time during your seven-year tenure at Sun?
Polese: Oh, absolutely. The last three years have just been tremendously exciting. It's really been like a start-up at Sun, because there was just a very small team of us that all had a vision and a lot of drive and zeal and sort of crazy passion for what we were doing -- and not a lot of direction. So we got to pretty much pick a direction and make our own decisions and create the success that we did.
SVR: Since Java's relatively new, a lot of people still don't have a grasp of it. Do you want to explain what Java is and how it might change the way the Web is developed?
Polese: Java, in very simple terms, is a programming language. It's not too much more mysterious than that. But the reason that everybody's gotten so excited about it is that it actually is the first time that people have been able to transport software programs along with Web pages. Before Java, the Web was just a way of transporting information -- text and pictures -- but you couldn't transport software.

When you're sending software across a wide-area public network like the Internet, it introduces all sorts of complexities: security, the fact that you're trying to reach Macs and PCs and Sun workstations and all sorts of flavors of UNIX. There's just a lot of huge challenges involved. So the software of the '70s and '80s, the languages of the '70s and '80s, like C++, couldn't fit the bill. There wasn't a language that existed before Java that could.

So Java was the first language that made it possible to transport programs along with a Web page. And suddenly you could play checkers. Or you could run a spreadsheet. Or you could get live sports scores or stock quotes along with your Web page, instead of just seeing dried, dead text. So that's really the excitement that Java created. There was sort of a sweet spot in the market that it really hit.

SVR: So it will make Web sites more robust and dynamic?
Polese: Yes, exactly. It'll make them come alive. That's what Java does: it makes Web sites come alive and makes it possible to do more than just simple animations. Because Java's a powerful, general-purpose programming language, you can create full spreadsheets or word-processing programs or very sophisticated financial-portfolio management applications. So it's much more than just a multimedia animation language, as some people sometimes think.
SVR: What are some concerns people have with Java? Are there security concerns that have developed because Java allows open transport of software?
Polese: Java actually is the most secure programming language that exists. And if you're going to be transporting software across the network, you're going to need a programming language that's behind it. So Java is the best choice for that.

No one, to this date, has introduced a virus in a Java program. And I think that's a pretty important statistic to be aware of. Java's been out on the Net in public use for a year. And there never has been a virus introduced into a Java program. What we did was very deliberately put the source code out there, put the full specification out there, and opened it up to the developer and user community to help us iron out the bugs and find any holes that might exist. That's what's been happening. There have been a few very obscure security bugs that have been detected that some researchers at Princeton University have sort of been spending their lives trying to find for the last year. They found a few, and we've instantly plugged them. And no damage has been done.

That's actually, again, a validation of the philosophy behind Java, which is: let's put it out there; let's get people testing it and helping us make it really solid and iron all the problems out. So in terms of security, I wouldn't say that Java's any less secure than any other technology that's on the Net today.

SVR: Creating your own business -- what's been the biggest challenge there?
Polese: The biggest challenge is always focus, just trying to remove all the noise from the outside world. And also, making sure that the timing in the market is right. Because this market, the Web software market in particular, is moving so fast that you can either be behind or you can be way ahead. And it's very difficult to try to find the right timing and the right product and the right opportunity, and make it all come together.
SVR: What are your biggest plans right now? If you had a number-one goal, what would that be with this company?
Polese: I would say to solve some of the big problems out there on the Web. There are just a number of technical and business challenges that people are trying to solve.
SVR: What are some that come to mind immediately?
Polese: Delivering on the real Java vision, which is being able to transport bits of programs securely and dynamically across the Web and have them arrive at any machine, whether it's a Mac or a PC or a handheld device. There's a lot involved in that, so building all the infrastructure around that is really what we're interested in trying to help make happen.
SVR: When you were in Berkeley, were you interested in computers?
Polese: Oh yeah, absolutely.
SVR: Where you a comp-sci major?
Polese: I was a biophysics major with a computer-science focus. So my background is technical.
SVR: What are your interests outside of the world of Java?
Polese: Dance. Actually, I dance pretty seriously; I'm in a dance company.
SVR: What advice would you give to another start-up company dealing with software, or to applets dealing with the Internet?
Polese: I would say: focus on a problem that needs to be solved, and try to focus as much as possible. That is the challenge. There are just so many problems that need to be solved out there in the market right now. There are so many holes that need to be filled. So you try to do that at the same time that you're trying to stay ahead of the market. That's the other huge challenge, because everything is moving so quickly. You might wake up tomorrow morning and find out, 'Oh well, someone's already working on that.' So you move on to the next thing. Be flexible. Be able to move quickly. Be able to change course if you need to.

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