Goodbye Big Blue

After over twelve years I am leaving IBM.

At the beginning of May I will be starting a new job at the Financial Times, working on the ft.com team as a Senior Developer. I’ll be working in London at the FT offices at Southwark Bridge, and Lana and I are moving from Ireland back to the UK. We are looking to base ourselves in St. Albans so I’ll be joining the commuter rat race on a daily basis.

After 8 1/2 years in Hursley (covered here) and nearly four years in Dublin working on Lotus Connections, leaving has not been a decision I’ve taken lightly. That being said, it is time for a new challenge and to experience a different environment. I’m incredibly excited by the new opportunity and also the team I’ll be working with on software engineering projects to help drive forward the already successful digital delivery of such an iconic news organization. I’m also looking forward to the opportunity to further expand my experience of agile development, something that the ft.com team practice heavily, and to get the opportunity to use and assess technologies which for various reasons would not be options in the type of products I’ve worked on in IBM.

I’ve worked with a huge number of fantastic people in my time in IBM and many that I consider not just as colleagues but as good friends. It would be great to keep in touch via LinkedIn and/or Twitter.

Reflections on Lotusphere 2010

(Lotus Knows. Remix, by DJ Steve Porter)

Lotusphere 2010 was my second Lotusphere conference, and the first I’ve spoken at. I previously attended in 2008 as staff. My memories of 2008 revolved around trying to understand the deep connection between the Lotus brand and it’s clients and partners, as well as having the first chance to meet many of the people I’d been working with since joining Lotus in Dublin in June 2007. My time in the Meet The Developers lab that year was mainly spent talking to people who knew little or nothing about social software and Lotus Connections in particular.

The one thing I did take away from 2008 was an understanding of how long and hard the week was. As such I wasn’t too worried about not attending in 2009. This year however my hunger to be involved was well and truly back.

As I’ve previously mentioned, this year I was presenting with Mitch Cohen from Colgate Palmolive. He never misses an opportunity to promote their products :-)


(via Mitch’s flickr stream)

Our session was a Show ‘n Tell, which basically means we don’t just talk about a subject, but actually do it onstage. Think of a daytime TV cookery show and you get the idea! For those who may not have presented at Lotusphere, presentations have to be finished by mid-December. Given ours needed to be step-by-step slides that people could take away and follow this led to lots and lots of prep-work of both the slide-ware and demo environment. Early January saw us have numerous teleconferences to do run-throughs, but it wasn’t until the first Sunday of the conference that we had the opportunity to go through it in full, in person. Thankfully the timing was spot on, and the live demonstrations solid enough. On the day the session was well attended (I was secretly dreading we would get one man and his dog given we didn’t have the best time slot and that we were up against some other popular and even related sessions.) What’s more our material seemed to go down well and was delivered without hiccup. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that Show ‘n Tell sessions are a huge amount of work to prepare. Much work, but worth it in the end. Many thanks go to Mitch for being a great co-presenter and a pleasure to work with.

Away from the session, most of my time was spent in the Meet The Developers lab on the Lotus Connections stands. I think the one solid thing to say this year is that Connections has firmly established itself in the marketplace and the Lotus portfolio. Nearly every person we spoke to had questions about deployment, adoption or even issues they had. In previous years, both from my own and other’s feedback it has been much more about “what is Connections?” which we had very little of this year. In general the Connections sessions I went to seemed to be very well attended and full of people with hands in the air when the “Have you deployed?” and “Are you in production?” questions were asked by the speakers.

It was also nice to meet in person various clients and business partners I’ve dealt with over the past two years, either for the first time, or to re-aquaint. It was also nice to meet various people I’ve connected with on Twitter, as well as even more of the folks in IBM US who I speak to nearly every day but had never met face to face. Of course, there were also people that were there but whom I never got the opportunity to catch up with, so if you fall into that category then please accept my apologies but you know how it is!

Outside of the actual conference, I found I was a bit more relaxed about things this year, with it not being my first time to either the conference or Orlando. I didn’t feel the need to make the most of every minute and had a few more early nights than previously (ok, early means no earlier than midnight anyway!) Regardless I still found myself absolutely knackered by the Thursday and have spent the majority of the weekend catching up on sleep.

One downside of spending the week at Lotusphere is that, despite best intentions, it always puts me behind in terms of the day job. Not just because of the five days spent in Orlando, but the effort in preparing the session as well. That’s the other thing I’ve been trying to catch up on this weekend, and I suspect I’m in for a few late nights over the next week as well. However, from going with the attitude that I’d be quite happy only attending every other year I am now chomping at the bit to get my place lined up for Lotusphere 2011. Hope to see you there!

Lotusphere 2010

I’m fortunate enough to be both attending and speaking at Lotusphere 2010 in Walt Disney World Florida this year. Whilst I attended in 2008, this is my first chance to speak at this conference. I’ll be presenting with Mitch Cohen on: SHOW303: Putting *Sparkle* in Your Social Applications! Customization and Branding with the New IBM Lotus Connections 2.5. In this Show ‘n Tell session we will be taking you through live examples of how to customize the user experience of Lotus Connections, including:

  • Changing the default product theme to match your own branding
  • Customizing Profiles by modifying what information gets displayed, and how to create different profile types
  • Providing new Community themes alongside those we ship with the product
  • Extending the Communities and Home Page UI by creating and deploying new widgets

As well as showing how to do all this in the session, participants will also go away with step-by-step instructions to follow which will allow them to accomplish everything they see.

I think that the combination of customer and product development perspective that Mitch and myself will provide should lead to a fun and informative session. If you are attending the conference I hope to see you there. Apparently we will be having a live Twitter Q&A during it as well!

Outside of the session I’ll be spending most of my time in the Meet the Developers lab where we will be happy to show people Connections 2.5 and some of the things we are looking at for future releases. So come along and say hello!

New look, new focus

This blog has been horribly stagnant for a number of months now. There are lots of reasons why that might be: Twitter, work pressures, general lack of enthusiasm for blogging. Probably all of those and more.

Previously I’ve kept work-related posts to a minimum and tried to focus on more personal stuff. That’s going to change in an attempt to revitalize my blogging. As an IBM software developer there are often things that I need to be careful about mentioning in public and that will certainly remain the case. However there are a lot of IBMers publicly talking about their work and where it takes them and I don’t see why I can’t too.

So from now on you can expect to see much more about Lotus Connections and my work interests in general. One thought I’ve had is to do some periodic posts on aspects of WebSphere Application Server that Connections administrators may find useful. I’ve been a user of WAS for ten years and have both consulted on it as well as develop parts of it in the past so hopefully I can provide some hints and tips of value to those not so familiar with the application server.

However it won’t all be about Connections and WebSphere. I’ve a great interest in agile development and in particular Rational Team Concert so there will likely be the odd post about that, as well as other software engineering and social computing topics that take my fancy.

Of course, it won’t all be work and no play – there will still be occasional posts about a new toy, hobby, pursuit or other activity. I’ll make sure to use categories well so you can skip past the stuff you don’t want to read.

If you still have me in your feed reader then thanks for sticking around and let me know what you think.

Four Peaks Challenge

A group of us from work have signed up a team to take part in the Focus Ireland 2009 Four Peaks challenge.

The challenge involves climbing the highest peaks in the four provinces of Ireland, namely:

The catch? We have to do it in three days, and the total distance to get round to them all involves travelling over 800 miles!

The second challenge for me as the token Englishman in the team is to learn how to pronounce them all :-)

Whilst I’ve done similarly silly things in the past (a three day, 30 mile trek around the Lake District, including Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and High Street) and a 5 day 100 mile walk from Brighton to Watford (ok, not exactly scaling any mountains on that one!) I’ve not done too much walking over the past five years. Therefore I’m itching for the excuse to get out training in the hills surrounding Dublin, which so been pretty much ignored since we moved over here.

The challenge takes place in June, so there’s plenty of time to get the miles in. There’s also plenty of time to get sponsorship in as well…

We aim to raise €4,500 for Focus Ireland – a charity that aims to help the homeless of Ireland. Needless to say, you can choose to give us a donation online (see how easy we make it) just by visiting here to sponsor our imaginatively titled team: Inspired By Mountains (geddit?)

RTE News on social software and IBM

RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, visited IBM Dublin on Monday 1st December for a piece on social software within the enterprise. It went out on the News On Two programme the same day. Yours truly is included in a couple of arty shots and a quick vox-pop

Featured is the internal IBM research project called Beehive. Beehive is, as Mike described in the clip, a kind of Facebook for the Enterprise, allowing employees to share the lighter side of life within the firewall. It’s great at fostering relationships between people who you may work with but never otherwise get the chance to know and meet.

Additionally, Beehive acts as a fantastic proving ground for ideas and research which may eventually end up being part of Lotus Connections, or indeed other IBM products. Indeed, Connections is heavily built on the productization of ideas and research from our own experiences within IBM. There’s much more on Connections over at the Synchronous blog (including the odd post from me.)

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.

Forthcoming trips and talks

I’ll be out and about over the next month and a bit doing a few talks on Lotus Connections:

First up I’ll be at the IBM Lotus Premium Support Seminar in Boston, MA on Wednesday 27th August where I’ll be presenting with Heidi Votaw, Program Director for Social Software. We will be talking about “Leveraging Social Software to Boost Innovation and Productivity Today” with an obvious focus on Lotus Connections 2.0. Unfortunately this is an invite only event.

Next, I’ll be at the IBM Lotus TechJam event being held at IBM in Staines, UK on Wednesday 2nd September where I’ll be doing a dive on Connections 2.0 with a definite technical slant. I’m not entirely sure how people can sign up for this event, but you can try contacting Dave Hay via the blog link above.

Finally (for now I guess) myself and my colleague Karim Heredia will be at the UK WebSphere User Group meeting in Edinburgh on Wednesday (why are they all on Wednesday?) 17th September. This talk will be titled “Lotus Connections – the WebSphere perspective” and will focus on deployment and administration considerations as well as how you can extend the social computing power of Connections out into other applications. You can join the WUG and sign up for the meeting on their web site.

Innovation that matters

About a year ago, IBM ran an internal competition for employees to produce a short video on the theme of “Innovation that matters”

Over 500 entries were submitted from all corners of the world and were subsequently rated and commented on by fellow employees. The most highly rated made it through to a shortlist from which five winners were selected by a panel of judges.

Myself, Steve Haskey and Brian Hulse from IBM UK based in the Hursley lab put together our effort which from the outset was planned to be a light-hearted comedy sketch with a salient message. Steve and I wrote and acted whilst Brian provided voiceover and musical talent. Steve did the really hard work of filming, directing and editing.

Shot over a six hour period one Saturday morning, Listening is the first step became the highest rated entry and one of the five selected winners. Since then it has been used numerous times both within the company and externally. It’s been shown at divisional kick-off meetings and to customers and has been downloaded internally over 40,000 times. One thing we always wanted to do with it was give it a wider audience, and to that effect we’ve been given permission to put it up on You Tube. So, without further ado, here is our video. Enjoy.

Feed reader viewers may want to skip to the full post to view.

The good news is that the 2008 competition will be announced soon, so you can hopefully expect to see more fun videos in the future. However I doubt you will see one from us. Steve and his wife Wendy-Ann are busy looking after their new born twins, I have moved to Ireland and Brian is probably busy picking up the pieces I left behind in my old job ;-)