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.

  1. Alex BowyerSeptember 3, 2011

    Hi Nick…
    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Staying at IBM is very easy. When I left IBM Hursley after 7 years it was a tough choice, I could have easily stayed there my whole career and I was really enjoying my new job in Voice.

    It was only really because my wife had an opportunity in Canada and there was no way to transfer to IBM Canada and still be in product development that I left…

    But I am so glad I did… I have had some amazing experiences working in startups. I’ve run tech events, met high up folks at Google and Amazon I would never have met at Hursley, I’ve learnt a lot about different areas such as cloud computing, collaboration tools, analytics, semantics. I’ve gained a much better awareness of business realities outside the corporate R&D bubble… I’ve learned what innovation *really* means, not the IBM-just-patent-everything view of things. And now I have a job which is in some ways a bit like what I did at IBM, but way more fun and more valuable…

    I enjoyed my years at IBM and they gave me a great foundation, but I have never regretted leaving. I think with any company you can only gain so much, and it’s like diminishing returns after a while. I’d recommend trying something else…

    If it really doesn’t work out, you can always go back!

    That’s just my thoughts anyway. Good luck with whatever you work on next!

  2. Andy PiperSeptember 4, 2011

    Ah! well played – you beat me by a month 🙂 I’ll catch you up soon.
    Glad to be working with you.

  3. Graham WhiteSeptember 5, 2011

    Well done Nick, it’s been nice chatting to you on IRC over the years. Now time has moved on and we speak face-to-face in ETS instead. I also think you hit the nail on the head, my story is quite similar albeit one year earlier, it is the easy option but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that so long as you’re happy, interested and it pays your way (in that order).

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