On Top of Tides

Many guys on the internet highly recommended On Top of Tides(浪潮之巅). But untill recently, I got the chance to read the first edition which was published three years ago.


On top of tides

In this book, the author Wu Jun who is the research scientist in Google, introduced the ups and downs of several world-wide known enterprises, most of which are IT companies in US, e.g. AT&T, IBM, Apple, Cisco, Motorola, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, etc. Those firms are so famous that many of us may, more or less, have been aware of their history and current status. Even you are not so familiar with them, you could find the introduction on Wikipedia.

But it’s not only a collection of wiki entries for those famous companies. Due to author’s rich working experience in AT&T and Google as well as Silicon Vally, he also provided his personal thoughts on how those companies operated and why they failed or successed. For example, he blamed the greedy board of directors and Wall Street banks to divide AT&T into three firms in 90s last century, one of which was Lucent as telecom vendor (later acquisited and merged as Alcatel-Lucent). And for several times, he looked down upon Nokia and Samsung who were better at mobile phone appearance than Motorola. At the same time, he felt sad for Motorola’s falling as a former technical giant. Since this book was published in 2011. Motorola hasn’t been sold to Google and later Lenovo while Nokia device department hasn’t be acquisited by Microsoft either at that time. I am looking forward to what the author thinks on these latest news.

Two interesting laws

There are two interesting laws in this book, one is Norvig’s Law by Peter Norvig, the other is the opposite of Moore’s Law .

Norvig’s Law

This law declares that any technology that surpasses 50% penetration will never double again (in any number of months). This is easy and straightforward. It means when a company gets over 50% of market share in certain area, it needs to discover a new field to get high penetration.

The opposite of Moore’s Law

Actually I cannot find any formal source for this one. Generally the opposite of Moore’s Law, which is self-explaining, means “all technology gets half the size, or half the price, or twice the speed every 18 months”. If the technology is not evolved, the money you will earn half and a year later would be only half of what you are earning now. It also keeps pushing the technolog to evolve as fast as possible. You see, even you double the evolvement of technology every 18 months, you just maintain the price and earning without any more.

My thoughts

Firstly, I think consumer market is the most competetive field which needs continuous innovations and ideas all the time. Sometimes, improvements are even not enough for multi-national enterprises.

Secondly, how insignificant an engineer is in a big company. In AT&T, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, there are best engineers of US or even over the world. But they still could not stop the falling of those giants, no matter how hard-working they were.

Last, how can we survive as a telecom vendor? We are so far away from consumers market that current prevailing so-called “internet thinking mode” is not applicable. Though all the vendors and mobile phone manufacturers are following the same protocols like 3GPP etc. Each vendor is making its own hardware and software. What if we try to build a platform for hardware and basic software? Then all the other vendors could add features based on it. Thus they could focus on feature implementations other than all HW and SW stuff. Still, it’s better not try to earn money from HW according to the lessons learned from SUN in this book.