Ten year stretch

Although the actual day completely passed me by (it was technically Sunday) I’ve just broken through the ten year barrier with IBM. Seems like a good time to reflect on my career.

I graduated from Leeds University in 1998 with a IIi in Information Systems. I’d been sponsored through my degree by Ford Motor Company with whom I’d spent a total of 18 months working for. I had a job offer from them, but was interested in working for a company for whom my skills would be directly relevant to the business, not just helping make cars cheaper or easier to sell. That’s a slightly harsh way of putting it, and Ford was a great place, but ultimately I wanted to work in a software company.

I didn’t know much about IBM or indeed Hursley at the beginning of my final year. However Neil Simpson, then Hursley HR manager, came and spoke to us as part of a professional development course and that introduced me to what IBM were doing in sunny Hampshire. I interviewed at a recruitment day in Leicester, followed by a two day assessment centre at Hursley. I received the offer directly from Neil over the phone whilst in one of the computer labs at uni on a rainy day in November. Later on Neil and Dr. Dave Watson returned to Leeds to talk to us again (they didn’t get the chance to say all they wanted first time around!) by which time I’d already accepted.

I started on 7th September 1998. My first role was in the LANDP team. LANDP is a retail banking oriented product with origins in helping DOS and OS/2 become distributed client-server application platforms with integration for various financial devices. The team was small (about 15) and covered development, test, service, documentation and more. In many respects it was the perfect starting role: a product where I could make an impact, gain broad experience and learn lots. I started off taking over responsibility from a departing team member for the application development bindings. This involved putting my C/C++ skills from uni to the test as well as learning about COBOL, Smalltalk and other languages. One missing capability was Java and that was the thing I spent my time on for LANDP V5, creating new Java language bindings that became one of the big ticket items for the release. This also led to my first invention file and subsequent patent grant. I also had the opportunity to participate in a meeting of the J/XFS spec committee in Boeblingen as well as implementing support for J/XFS on top of the Java bindings.

After two years on LANDP I made a move over into what was then called Software Group Services, but is now known as IBM Software Services for WebSphere (ISSW) The rationale was to build on my development skills with real customer facing experience. I was to be a WebSphere Application Server consultant performing short duration, high skill engagements. At the time WebSphere 3.5 was the current version of the product. As a still relatively green IBMer it was potentially daunting to be going off on solo gigs where you are expected to be the expert, and it is to the credit of the forward thinking management that they took me on. I think it was a bit of an experiment on their part, but one that paid off and has been subsequently replicated many times. My first gigs were kept fairly simple and involved spending a fair amount of time in the La Hulpe facility in Belgium assisting on, and teaching, J2EE/WAS application development courses. From there I moved onto typical install/configure gigs (it’s hard to believe the amount of money customers paid to just get earlier versions of WAS installed!) and then to more design/architectural led engagements.

One constant feature of the work was travel. The team operated across the EMEA region. This took me to over 30 customers in approximately 15 countries over the two years I was in the team. Highlights included two weeks on a sales proof of concept in South Africa and lots of time in Stuttgart with a major motor manufacturer. In fact those two gigs were my favourite types of engagement: proof of concepts and critical situations. I loved it when the pressure was on.

Once again after two years I was looking for something else and the experience had helped to solidify my desire to build my career in development. I moved onto the team responsible for the Web Services Gateway component of WAS ND. Here I became the security specialist, implementing support for WS-Security in WSGW and later the SIBus web services componentry of WAS. WIthin this team I built a reputation for prototyping work, thanks largely to the mentoring and opportunities thrown my way by Paul Fremantle. This included building early prototypes of what would eventually become the core technology on which WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus would be built on. Naturally enough then I moved over to the WESB team at a time just before work on the first release of the product started. That was in turn the most hectic and fun experience I’ve had in IBM to date. We built a product from pretty much scratch in a record amount of time. We weren’t agile, we just put in Herculean effort for months on end with endless evening trips to the Hursley clubhouse or Dolphin. I wouldn’t like to see the food expenses paid out for that product! I spent two more releases on WESB (well, one and a half really) and I also utilised my Mr. Prototype reputation to get involved in some of the early work around what became the assemble piece of Project Zero. I got itchy feet again, but although on slightly different products and teams over the time, the four years I’d spent in essentially the same development org was fantastic.

TIme for something new again, and a completely different challenge. I’ve blogged previously about why Lana and I wanted to move over to Ireland, but that opened up a new avenue of exploration for me with a move from WebSphere into the Lotus brand, working on Lotus Connections. In the year or so that I’ve been here we’ve built a team from pretty much scratch, developed and delivered the Home Page feature of Connections 2.0 and I’ve been able to go to Lotusphere as well as meet a great team of colleagues and customers along the way. Onwards and upwards from here!

The moral of the story? Well like most people I know who joined IBM out of Uni, I said I’d stay for a couple of years, get some good training and have it on my CV. In reality I’m still here ten years later. Is the company perfect? No, not by any means, but then I don’t think any company is. Is the work interesting? Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t still be here. I’m all about challenge and interest in what I do. Whilst remuneration is of interest, I’m more focussed at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy as far as my career is concerned. IBM gives me the opportunity to grow my technical career and work on interesting things. As long as it does that I’m happy and contented, at least as long as I don’t have a house and kids I guess! What should be apparent from my meanderings is that I’m not afraid to move around and experience new things, which I think helps to colour my view of my employer in terms of giving me the opportunity to do that, including across geographies and technologies. It also gives me access to some fantastic people who have helped me to grow my career, and helped me seek out great opportunities. So thanks especially to: Alan Perry, Kevin Turner, Alexandros Alexandrakis, Matt Perrins, Jo Hodgson, John Ferris, Justine Grose, Paul Fremantle, Jens Diedrichsen, Beth Hutchison, Mike Roche and countless others.

Ten more years? Who knows…

Peace. Out.