My First Week Working for Big Blue

It’s going to be tough to blog about work, main­ly because I’ve signed an NDA about every­thing I’m work­ing on, and frankly, IBM seems to have some­thing to say about much of what the peo­ple who work there (as employ­ees or even con­trac­tors) say or do online. I’ve always tried to be mind­ful that any­thing writ­ten here can be seen in all sorts of places I had­n’t expect­ed (mur­murs can be very loud indeed). So let’s see what I can talk about this first week.

First of all, re. the trips to Burn­a­by and back: The first 2 days we drove there (or rather, I drove Pam to her work and then on to my office, which is thank­ful­ly, a very short dis­tance after drop­ping her off). That was­n’t bad, but dri­ving in Van­cou­ver is nev­er what one would call ‘fun’ (despite the Nis­san com­mer­cial — was it Nis­san? — that has a car smooth­ly cruis­ing at high speed across what is very clear­ly the Granville Bridge toward the high-ris­es of Down­town). From the new per­spec­tive of our new (used) car, the roads seem to be per­pet­u­al­ly con­gest­ed, and the con­struc­tion work on the Canada­Line as well as all of the build­ings being built all over the city make for a chal­leng­ing col­lec­tion of choke-points in traf­fic flow. The oil spill clos­ing the Bar­nett high­way this past week did­n’t help mat­ters, even though it was nowhere near our com­mute (but we think the extra traf­fic from there might have made a dif­fer­ence). I’m not sure I’m going to like hav­ing a car here all that much, except when I can get some­where that I could­n’t have got­ten with the bus. Per­haps a trip out to some gor­geous spot in the com­ing week­ends will help in that depart­ment. For the rest of the week, we fol­lowed the plan that we had for good weath­er vs. bad weath­er: If the sun’s out, it’s bus­es and the Sky­train; If it’s cold and/or rain­ing, it’s the car. So, with the typ­i­cal Van­cou­ver July sun­shine, we head­ed out to the bus stop (me a bit ear­li­er than Pam because I had fur­ther to go and intend to get in at or before 9 AM most days). The #84 bus leaves from near­by 4th Avenue and Fir street at just about 8AM on the nose. It dropped me off right by the new Van­cou­ver Com­mu­ni­ty College(VCC)/Clark sta­tion in about 20 min­utes, and the Sky­train from there to Brent­wood sta­tion was about 15 min­utes. A final bus, the #123 from the Brent­wood sta­tion goes down Will­ing­don Street and takes a left onto Cana­da Way, and after about a 7 minute ride, reach­es a stop fair­ly close to IBM’s offices. I’m in by 8:50 or so, hav­ing lis­tened to almost an hour of ‘The Assault on Rea­son’ by Al Gore on my iPod. Books on tape or pod­casts will be increas­ing­ly handy for the com­mute. I saw a lot of peo­ple on the Sky­train read­ing ‘Har­ry Pot­ter and the Death­ly Hallows’.

There, I guess I’ve dis­sect­ed the com­mute in detail. What else can I describe with­out break­ing any laws about secrecy?

I work on the first floor. This has advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages. The main advan­tage is that it’s a very pleas­ant, open envi­ron­ment, and not a cubi­cle farm at all (which is the case with the oth­er 3 floors). Every chair is an Aeron (how 2000!) and oth­er attrac­tive office fur­ni­ture and 3 float­ing flat-screen TVs flank a round meet­ing room, glassed-in con­fer­ence room areas, and a bunch of stretched fab­ric accents at the cor­ners of spaces. The moun­tains in the North are clear­ly vis­i­ble from the floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows, and because there are few offices, every­one can see them. It’s beau­ti­ful now to look out, but it might get a lit­tle depress­ing with the full view of the rain in Decem­ber, Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary. The main dis­ad­van­tage is secu­ri­ty, or per­haps I should say SECURITY.

  • You may not leave a sin­gle paper with any­thing relat­ing to work on your desk when you are away from it.
  • All lap­tops must be bolt­ed with cables to each desk.
  • This lap­top must be locked away in a steel cab­i­net before you leave at the end of the day.
  • After you turn on your com­put­er , you typ­i­cal­ly have 5 pass­words to enter at var­i­ous screens before you can actu­al­ly do any work.
  • Final­ly, when you leave your desk for a meet­ing and don’t bring your lap­top with you (which is rare), it must be screen-locked and often have the lid down.

There are spot-checks by secu­ri­ty per­son­nel and if you fail 3 of those, you are sum­mar­i­ly fired, with no hope of a reprieve.

The soft­ware sit­u­a­tion isn’t so hot either. Did I men­tion that they use Lotus Notes for mail? Geez, I nev­er thought I’d see a mail pro­gram that makes Out­look seem…‘elegant?’… They’ve stan­dard­ized all of their UI dia­gram and wire­frame work on Visio, the worst draw­ing pro­gram I’ve ever had to use (and unfor­tu­nate­ly used at 2 of my last 3 jobs).

And as for hard­ware, of course, every­one must use a ThinkPad. My ‘new’ one (which arrived on Fri­day, forc­ing me to use a loan­er for most of the week) was a T60. Leno­vo has not changed the design much, and this mod­el has a curi­ous bat­tery pack stick­ing out of the back hinge like a big plas­tic ridge. I have to say that I’m not a big fan of ThinkPads. If only they had dif­fer­ent colours, or tried to smooth the edges a bit, because their dull black has a cer­tain drab­ness, espe­cial­ly when you get a whole room­ful of them in meet­ings. It’s con­for­mi­ty result­ing in an almost fune­re­al dull­ness; per­haps the one remain­ing piece of the ‘old’ IBM culture.

Of course, try­ing to get this ThinkPad to actu­al­ly work, even though it was brand new, was a chal­lenge. Here we ran into the usu­al dis­as­trous com­bi­na­tion of Win­dows and Cor­po­rate soft­ware poli­cies. I was not able to get Visio actu­al­ly installed on the lap­top from the cor­po­rate servers. There is a com­plex license rental that must be invoked and the rental soft­ware, Tivoli License Man­ag­er refused to load. Hope­ful­ly I’ll be able to get it done next week. Try­ing to con­nect it to a print­er also failed the first 2 or 3 times, requir­ing mul­ti­ple installs of the dri­ver soft­ware. I was amused to see that sev­er­al obscure soft­ware pack­ages were pre­in­stalled on it, includ­ing Lotus’s Lotus-123, Orga­niz­er and Free­lance Graph­ics. I guess it’s nice to know that those relics of the pre-Inter­net era are still on hard dri­ves some­where. Much of IBM’s desk­top soft­ware (for log­ging time and get­ting access to doc­u­ments, for exam­ple) is so ugly and clum­sy that it’s almost laugh­able. I chal­lenge any IBM employ­ee to con­tra­dict me there.

Despite those low-points, I can only say that the project that I’m on is real­ly inter­est­ing, and I actu­al­ly feel that it’s worth work­ing on for the good of every­one, rather than just get­ting a pay­check. Oh, excuse me: paycheque.

It’s near­ly 11PM, so I’m going to turn in ear­ly. TGIF.

6 Replies to “My First Week Working for Big Blue”

  1. David,

    Sounds like you are set­tling in to the job expe­ri­ence. As with any posi­tions, there are good and bad points. Hope­ful­ly, the good will out­weigh the bad … Enjoy your weekend!

  2. Hi David, how inter­est­ing that you’re now at IBM. 

    I can assure you that your reac­tion to all the secu­ri­ty mea­sures and the weird and won­der­ful soft­ware con­fig­u­ra­tion is per­fect­ly nor­mal. 🙂 It’s too bad that they have imple­ment­ed the licence rental pol­i­cy — when I was there, you could still get good old-fash­ioned indi­vid­ual licences for things like Visio.

    It’s good to hear that you’re enjoy­ing your project, though, and I would­n’t wor­ry about say­ing too much in a blog entry — one of the great things about IBM is the well-estab­lished cul­ture of both exter­nal and inter­nal blog­ging, which is pret­ty remark­able for a large enterprise.

    Good luck at Big Blue!

  3. Hey, I heard about the “three strikes and you’re out” rule (my wife’s ex used to work for IBM in the 80’s) but I had no idea it was still in effect.

    Inter­est­ing arti­cle about IBM employ­ees in Sec­ond Life. Though when you read it close­ly it does say for example

    IBM wants employ­ees who work in Sec­ond Life and oth­er vir­tu­al online worlds to be on their best behavior.

    If we’re talk­ing about peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing IBM in var­i­ous forums, then it’s very rea­son­able that IBM puts out some guide­lines, right?

    I see from the Flickr pho­tos that you and Pam went with a snazzy lit­tle Mer­cedes for your new (used) car. Bad move, guys, now it’ll be impos­si­ble to set­tle for any­thing less in the future. You should’ve gone for an old clunker. 🙂

  4. Hi Dmit­ry — Small world, eh? Thanks for the advice about secu­ri­ty and blog­ging, etc. Per­haps the ‘clean desk’ pol­i­cy will even get me to reform a bit when it comes to my pack-rate ten­den­cies of hav­ing papers pile up.

    Jan — Good point about the Sec­ond Life speci­fici­ty to work. Giv­en my ten­den­cy to tread light­ly on work issues in my blog, I prob­a­bly won’t run into any prob­lems. Of course, I would­n’t mind rail­ing a bit against all of the loss of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty from using Notes and Visio for email and draw­ing. The num­ber of hours lost on these two hor­ri­ble soft­ware pack­ages must be cost­ing the com­pa­ny mil­lions over time.

    As for the car, yes, you can see that Pam had a large say over the make and mod­el. I don’t know if I’ll be hooked on the Mer­cedes. Frankly, some of it seems just stuff that will be an expen­sive prob­lem some day. Pow­er win­dows dri­ve me crazy, and all of those key-less lock­ing and oth­er elec­tron­ics are just options that add some val­ue, but main­ly are expen­sive to fix, and they all will break down, soon­er or lat­er. The ser­vos and elec­tric motors, as well as the sen­sors and even the wiring are sen­si­tive to tem­per­a­ture and humid­i­ty changes, not to men­tion fric­tion and entropy, and they are near­ly always hard to get at. Great for a new car, but in a used one…well, we’ll have to see.

  5. Wow, did you get a job at the FBI? 😉

    Sounds like you’ve got an inter­est­ing project to keep you busy, any­how! Congrats!

    Hope to see you at one of the mee­tups, soon! Are you going to BarCamp?

  6. Hi NetChick!
    Yeah, the secu­ri­ty is a lit­tle weird, but I guess the upside is that it forces you to be neat. (You have to keep a clean desk pret­ty much at all times).
    I’m plan­ing on Bar­Camp — hop­ing to do a pre­sen­ta­tion this time! In the mean­time, I’m hop­ing I can make the next Meet­up, as I had to miss the last 2.

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