One of those new green shoots was Berkeley’s Computer Systems Research Group, which had managed to attract some money undertaking contract work for government agencies and corporations. One such contract given to Joy was to work with third-party software to run programs for an arm of the US Defense Department. Joy refused, saying he didn’t trust the third party’s code. Rather than risk a program failure, he went home and rewrote it. Hauled in to explain why he didn’t follow instructions, and asked how he thought he could rejig the software that keeps millions of bits of data moving in the right direction, he replied: “It’s simple – you read the protocol and write the language.” In a stroke, he had solved a significant instability problem and set the world of coding on a new course.
Forty years later, he remains every bit the softspoken pragmatist. Already a legend in software after his work at Berkeley, he was invited to join startup Sun Microsystems in the early 1980s to invent a smaller, simpler workstation and the enabling microprocessor that would take computing out of the realm of universities and governments and put it into industries. Soon, as a full partner, he led a team that invented Java, one of the most popular programming languages. This boosted Sun Microsystems into the stratosphere and put Joy into contact with other entrepreneurs such as Bruce Katz, the man behind the famous Rockport shoe brand of Massachusetts and owner of the 43.5-metre Royal Huisman sailing yacht Juliet. Their chance meeting during a business conference led first to a friendship and then directly to Joy building 58-metre sailing yacht Ethereal.
“It was sailing with Bruce aboard his Juliet; such a great experience […] and because we both like design, we talked a lot about it. I inherited that dream”
“It was sailing with Bruce aboard his Juliet; such a great experience. I actually met Bruce before he built Juliet. He had a lifelong dream of building [his own boat to sail around the world] and because we both like design, we talked a lot about it. I inherited that dream,” says Joy.
After 21 years at Sun Microsystems, Joy made a huge career shift, becoming a venture capitalist with the Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) in 2005. He put his analytical ability into identifying and investing in disruptive early-stage “green” technologies, notably wind, solar, energy storage and semiconductor technologies for mobile devices. The late Tom Perkins, an avid sailor, nurtured Joy’s nascent interest in sailing while former US vice president Al Gore, a KPCB senior partner, influenced him to build the most efficient, eco-friendly yacht possible.
“I really wanted to do a project with Pieter. He could make you understand how things were going to feel”
When the time came to fulfil his sailing dream, Joy wanted the same team that created Juliet: Ron Holland as naval architect with the late Pieter Beeldsnijder for the interior and Royal Huisman to build it. “I really wanted to do a project with Pieter,” says Joy. “Bruce’s description of working with him was just so great.” Beeldsnijder and Joy hit it off. “It was such a pleasure to watch him work. He was very much an old-school person. He wouldn’t sit at a computer, he would sketch with pencil. He could freehand perspective drawings. He was a wizard and he could make you understand how things were going to feel. He was such a joy to be around. His effervescent happiness in doing the design was infectious,” Joy recalls.
Left page of second spread – Right: Joy (right) with Bruce Katz (centre) on Katz’s Juliet. Below: relaxing with Shannon on board Ethereal. Bottom: Shannon greets a visitor
Right page of second spread – Top: Joy (right) with Bill Gates (left) and Michael Dell in 1992. Sharks in French Polynesia (above), photographed by Shannon. Raja Ampat (left), a favourite destination for Bill and Shannon (below)