Today is my last day at IBM. On Monday I start my new role as Director of Developer Relations at Ripple.
I can't believe I just wrote that.
To be honest, I can't believe I wrote it for several reasons:
- I never thought I'd be leaving IBM
- I never thought I'd work for IBM
- Working for Ripple really is a dream opportunity
What? Well, let's start with the second point first. I have generally always worked for myself. Literally, as I was walking out the door of University I was setting up a business. Netsight was my life for about 15 years. Together with a friend, we grew it from just a couple of people in a bedroom to a proper award-winning web design and development agency employing 15 people and punching well above our weight in our sector. We built intranets and portals for companies, all based on an Open Source Content Management system called Plone.
[l-r: hosting Plone Conference 2010, Bristol; Netsight at Europython; Netsight in Rio de Janeiro for Plone Conference 2013]
With Netsight, I travelled the world going to conferences and events. Brazil, Sweden, USA, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania... it was awesome.
Then due to a combination of burn-out and my son being very ill I had to step back. I no longer had the mental capacity to be running a company.
I had been offered a role to join a startup healthtech company based in Los Angeles called enquos. It was a fantastic opportunity. Well paid, exciting work, working with a geographically remote team from across the globe. Unlike the previous 15 years I was answering to just one client, not a dozen at a time. It was the change I needed.
It was a fantastic job, and I recruited and built a great team of developers to build enquos' mobile apps on iOS and Android. I got to learn a whole lot about mobile development. I spoke at conferences and meetups about building continuous deployment pipelines for mobile development. Developers could commit a change to the code, and testers could have a fully built, signed, working app delivered to their phones in minutes.
[l-r: enquos team dinner, 2016; mobile team development sprint, 2015]
I visited Los Angeles twice a year to go meet up with the executive team. The CEO was a very driven woman with a nice big house opposite UCLA, a garage of Porsches and her own sport plane she would pilot. She was the first female member of Bel Air Country Club. I used to enjoy my time walking along Venice beach and hiking in the Santa Monica mountains as we discussed plans to take over the world.
[l-r: hiking in the LA hills, 2017; Anisa and her SR-22 plane, 2016]
What goes up, must come down. And whilst that startup was great, one Thanksgiving weekend they pulled the plug. They had been unable to find a buyer for the company and had run out of money to fund it.
I was scrambling around looking for new work and happened on a tweet by someone I'd met once at a Python conference and followed on Twitter, Si Metson. He had joined a database startup called Cloudant that had recently been bought by IBM, and were expanding. IBM had since bought another database startup called Compose and they needed someone to come build and run the European infrastructure team. I interviewed at IBM and was offered the job.
I had never seen myself as wanting to work for a large corporate like IBM. I had a brief stint at HP as a placement student, and really disliked it there. When I handed in my notice my boss said “Well, that is only the 2nd resignation I've had today”. I later found out that 5 of the 6 in our team had quit that week.
But I needed a job, and after the whirlwind of working for a startup, I felt that possibly the stability and slower pace of a large corporate might be what I needed.
And it was. IBM have been an amazing employer. Way beyond my expectations. Yes, they are one of the worlds largest companies, but still had a very personal touch. I got stuck in to a lot of their internal support and advocacy groups. I became an LGBTQ+ Ally, which is a topic close to my heart as two of my kids are transgender.
[IBM Labs Bristol]
I worked with a great team of people, spread across the globe. Many of them worked remote in the US, as that was the origins of the Compose (née MongoHQ) company. The company was going through big changes in many directions – both in terms of processes (as they became absorbed into IBM), and in terms of technology. Compose had built their own, pretty amazing, system for orchestrating the deployment of databases in the cloud... but now were rewriting their offering to run on top of Kubernetes, a more widely used system to do the same.
During that time was when I discovered how great IBM were at supporting their staff. My wife had been going through a lot of mental health problems, partly to do with historial events, but also dealing with the death of her mother. It was a tough time at home, there were conflicts as I tried to support her, but also process very seemingly irrational behaviours. I approached my manager at IBM (Keerthi, you are a star) and explained to her I needed to take some time off. No problem. I took 2 months off from work to try and get to grips with things at home. IBM sorted out some counselling for me too to help process things. Full pay. Take the time I needed. Come back when I was ready. Any support I needed was there.
[IBM Labs Bristol, the back of my head]
I came back and got stuck back in. We moved office to a brand new, custom designed office for IBM Labs Bristol, which was also great. Our old office was not really fit for us, and the layout promoted isolation. The new office was far more social, far more enjoyable place to work.
Early 2020, I heard about a role going in the London City developer advocacy team at IBM. Developer Advocacy is a role in which you help other developers to get the best out of technology. you get to go to conferences and do talks, etc. This was the first time I'd worked at a corporation... a company in which you can completely change jobs but still be in the same company. I had always enjoyed doing developer advocacy – that was what I did at Netsight, and as a part of the Plone community, only it didn't really have a name then.
I interviewed for the role and got it. I was sad to be leaving the Compose team, but excited to be joining the developer advocacy team. I'd attended a few of their events (as a developer) before and met a few of them, and they seemed like a great bunch of people.
[l-r: Margriet, Yamini, Sean presenting at an IBM Developer workshop in Bristol in 2018. I am actually in the background attending the workshop... little did they know what lay ahead!]
In one of my first meetings with my new boss, Mo, he said “Make a list of all the conferences you want to go to, and we'll get it sorted out”. Then literally the next week, Covid-19 hit and we started to go into lockdown. By this time I'd only been to visit the London office twice.
[Our first virtual IBM Developer UK Conference – Understanding AI]
So we started to move everything online. As did everyone else in the world. I got involved with the Twitch streaming team at IBM and started streaming a weekly show on machine learning. This was a great chance for me to level up up on my knowledge of machine learning and AI, and of IBMs various technologies and services they offer. I also got to learn how to do live streaming, and worked on several techniques to make things more engaging when explaining and teaching code.
[On the IBM Developer Twitch stream – I developed a technique to appear 'behind' the code and give a more immersive feel of interacting with the code when teaching]
I was involved in running the “hallway track” on Twitch for several IBM developer conferences. This turned out to be an amazing way to harness community involvement in an event, and a model that I think will be adopted by Developer Relations teams across the globe going forward.
[The “hallway track” at the IBM Developer Digital Developers Conference – chatting to Margriet about fairness in AI]
The London City Dev Advocacy team: Margriet, Yamini, Angela, Sean, Simon, Liam, Ross, Ed, Mo – you have been amazing. I have learned some much from each and every one of you. You have been such an inspirational and fun team to work with. I will miss working with you!
[Farewell “drinks” with the IBM Developer UK team. l-r: Simon Baker, Me, Ed Shee, Mo Haghighi, Sean Tracey, Ross Cruickshank, Angela Bates, Liam Hampton, Yamini Rao (missing: Margriet Groenendijk)]
One completely unforeseen event, was Choirless. Choirless started as a project I dreamt up to enter Call for Code as something to allow my daughter to be able to sing with her school choir during lockdown.
[Choirless in use by my daughter and her singing teacher]
Little did I know that it would become such a core thread over the next year. I worked with Sean Tracey and Glynn Bird who answered my call for team mates. It was a complete fluke to get together three people with such complimentary skills, but it worked.
[Choirless alpha performance, Yellow Submarine]
Choirless has grown from being just an idea sketched out on a single of paper, to coming 2nd place in the global IBMer Call for Code challenge. As I write this, there have been 2740 parts recorded forming 745 distinct performances.
[ Myself, Sean Tracey and Glynn Bird – celebrating our 2nd place finish in the global Call for Code IBMer Challenge]
Choirless featured on the 2020 Call for Code awards gala, and was introduced by Van Jones. It has been featured as an article on the main IBM.com homepage in the US. I've been interviewed on IBM Community Radio, and BBC Radio Bristol about it. It has provided material for countless blog posts I've written and Twitch streams I've recorded.
Don't worry, Choirless will be continuing! I'll still be involved in it in my spare time even after I leave IBM today.
So why am I leaving?
On to the first point at the top: given I have enjoyed working at IBM all this time, and working with such a great team, why am I leaving?
I have been offered my dream role. As of Monday I will be Director of Developer Relations at Ripple. I actually contacted Ripple after enquos shut down to ask if they had any roles available for developer or community relations. I didn't hear anything back at the time. I subsequently did have a chat with them about a role a couple of years later, but I was not looking to move or change job as I was so happy at IBM. At the time Ripple would be looking for me to likely move to the US, which is not something my family are in a position to do at the moment. But with the pandemic and lockdowns, the world has changed. More and more companies are hiring remotely. Remote is now the “normal”. And for me, working again remotely for a team 8 hours behind me in the day will be just like working with enquos again.
I will be honest, things in my household are tough again. My wife's health has taken a significant downturn. But the support IBM gave me last time has given me much better skills to be able to help support her. Also we are lucky to have access to some amazing local and national mental health services. The Bristol Mental Health Crisis team have literally been life savers. Mind and the Samaritans have been a fantastic resource to support my wife and by extension, me. Just like many parents, we are also dealing with homeschooling kids and supporting them and their mental health during lockdown. But we will get there.
And this new challenge has fired me up even more. I get to combine my interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain along with my passion for teaching and connecting people. I believe that we are well overdue a major seismic shift in the way in which we move value around online. And I hope to be a part of helping bring that change around.
And hopefully I'll get a chance in the not-too-distant future to dip my toes in the Pacific again.
See you all next week!