3 Sep 2016

In a previous post, I wrote about how I ended up at IBM. I finished that post with a question: Will I still be here in another 10 years? Well, I’m half-way to finding out, but I’m no closer to an answer.

The last 5 years in the Emerging Technologies group have flown by. The last three years of which have been pretty much dominated by my work on Node-RED. It’s been a lot of hard work, but it has been incredibly satisfying work. I’m very fortunate to be in this position; not everyone gets to turn a side-project they created into a job.

That said, as I spoke about in my Monkigras talk this year, when a side-project becomes a job, it risks becoming a chore. I have to continually make sure I strike a balance between the fun and the not-so-fun parts. I don’t always get that balance right which can make it harder work than it should be.

So what of the next 5 years? No doubt Node-RED will continue to be my focus for now, but that doesn’t stop me wondering what else I could be doing.

12 Nov 2014

Last month, I was fortunate enough to fly off to Austin with a group of colleagues for a week long IBM Design Thinking camp. It was an opportunity to get away from the day job, with laptops all-but banned, and have a deep-dive into what IBM Design is about and how it can be applied.

As a relatively new effort within the company, IBM Design sets out to bring a focus back to where it should be; the human-experience of our products and services. This isn’t just about making pretty user interfaces; it is the entire experience of our products.

As an engineer, the temptation is always there to create shiny new features. But no matter how shiny it is, if it isn’t what a user needs, then it’s a waste of effort. The focus has to be on what the user wants to be able to do. This is something I’ve always tried to do with Node-RED; we often get suggestions for features that, once you start picking at them, are really solutions looking for a problem. Once you work back and identify the problem, we’re often able to identify alternative solutions that are even better.


It’s often just a matter of asking the right question; At Designcamp, the very first exercise we were asked to do was to draw a new type of vase. Everyone drew something that looked vaguely vase-like. Then (spoilers…) we were asked to draw a better way to display flowers. At this point we got lots of decidedly un-vase-like ideas that were much more imaginative. It’s the difference between asking for a feature and asking for an idea. The former presupposes a lot about the nature of the answer, the latter is focused on not just the what, but also the why.

This relentless focus on the user isn’t a new idea. GDS, who are doing incredible things with government services, have it as their very first Design Principle. But it is refreshing to see this focus being brought to bear within a transformation of how the entire company operates.

Oh, and of course being in Austin, we got to screen print our own IBM Designcamp T-Shirts to commemorate the visit.

Go to Designcamp, screen print your own t-shirt. Obvs.

Lots more photos from the week over on flickr.

21 Mar 2012

One of my plans for the year was to take photo everyday. I knew it would be a challenge as I spend most days at my desk in work. Trying to find a different, interesting photo everyday when I’m not visiting new places all the time meant opening my eyes to the everyday.

But it hasn’t really worked out like that. Looking through the photos to date, too many have been taken after 10pm as I’m heading to bed and needed to take a photo of something.

How else can I explain the photo of an orange?

Then last week, we were ill and although I dutifully took a photo each day, I didn’t get around to uploading them. Last night, sat in bed, I realised I hadn’t done that day’s photo.

All of these factors have resulted in my decision to stop the Flickr 366 project. It had become a chore and not fun.

I’m glad I tried and I’m sure I’ll try again in the future, but the 366:2012 set on Flickr is done.

1 Jan 2012

I had a plan last year. The intention was there, but the execution was lacking. This year will be different.

Rather than some nebulous, but well intentioned, aphorism, here are some of things I intend to do this year in no particular order.

  • Flickr 366 – a photo a day. I’ve tried and failed this before; I think I set the bar too high wanting a year of high quality photos. So, here are my rules: (at least) one photo taken everyday. Uploaded to Flickr as and when I can – no point stressing over not being near my laptop or an Internet connection at 11:59pm. I’d rather favour photos from my ‘proper’ camera, but I also want to get used to spotting the opportunities that come from having my phone in my pocket. Instagram may not be on Android yet, but the Flickr app just about works reliably. Why 366? It’s a leap year.
  • Write more – I managed a paltry nine posts last year; not even one a month. I tend to write about the things I’ve made or done. I’m not sure I want to change that approach, which leads me to…
  • Make more – more codey things, more physical things, more thing things. Bits, Atoms and the pieces in between.

Hmmm, bit of a nebulous list there. Never mind.


3 Sep 2011

Before going to university, when asked what I wanted to do, I would glibly say I’d probably go do a Computer Science degree and end up working for IBM. This wasn’t my life’s dream, it was just the easy reply to the question. I don’t remember why I picked IBM – I guess it was a big company that surely did interesting and worthwhile things that people would have heard of.

In my final year at uni, getting to stage when I had to think about a job, companies were starting to run recruitment events. Having collected all the free pens, desk toys and post-it pads from the myriad of financial services and consulting companies eager for my soul, I decided it was time to dip my toe in the water and actually apply for something. Despite the freebies, I had little interest in what they had to offer by way of employment, so when IBM came along I thought it was worth a try. As did a dozen or so others from my course.

After passing the aptitude and programming tests, I found myself headed to a two-day assessment centre in Hampshire with a group of my course-mates. It was a fun couple of days doing team exercises, a presentation and formal interview at the end of which we were told we’d hear within the next couple weeks. We headed for the train back to uni.

About 10 minutes into the journey, one of the guys phone rang. It was the IBM recruiter offering him the job. The call lasted a couple minutes at the end of which he hung up and we all congratulated him. Then his phone rang again. Quickly answering it, we saw him look around to us all and say “Yes, they are travelling back with me”. He then passed his phone over to one of the other guys, who was then duly offered a job.

Anyone who has travelled north of Winchester on a train and tried to use a mobile phone will know what happened next. The signal cut out. We had entered the mobile black hole of Hampshire – a zone that has barely improved since.

Another nervous 10 minutes later and finally his phone rang again. One by one, it got passed around to each of us and we were all offered a job.

And with that, I was employed by IBM.

Fast-forward to September 3rd 2001 and I found myself turning up for my first day of work. 10 years ago today.

In that time, I’ve tested our Storage Virtualisation product, worked with customers in its beta program, travelled to the US twice (San Jose both times, with an added weekend customer visit to rural Arkansas) and Germany once. I’ve lead the Pervasive messaging team, worked on MicroBroker and MQTT, spent a couple of hours pretty much every Thursday afternoon on interminable status calls with the US and helped mind-control taxi’s for TV.

For what was always the easy reply to the question of what I wanted to do, I’ve done quite a lot.

My current role in the Emerging Technologies team, which I started in July, holds the promise of doing even more varied and interesting things.

But I do have the nagging feeling that I’m still here because it’s the easy option. I came close to taking a year-off last year to do interesting things with the now sadly gone Tinker. But then my son arrived and it wasn’t the right time to be doing something like that.

Will I still be here in another 10 years? I don’t know. If I am, I hope it isn’t because it was the easy option.