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 â€” was it Nissan? â€” 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.