Farewell IBM

August 2nd, 2018

On 2nd August, I handed back my IBM badge, just shy of twenty years after I first joined the company. I’ll come back to the ‘why?’ and ‘where next?’ questions and start with a recap of those intervening years (with apologies for the consequent length of this post!).

I started at IBM Hursley on 6th October 1998, fresh out of university with a degree in Engineering and Computer Science. I was a month late for the beginning of the graduate programme having taken some time out to travel across Canada by Greyhound coach! I began working on IBM’s C++ CORBA offering (Component Broker) with a brief spell in test before switching to development in the transactions team. (Remember when ‘test’ and ‘development’ were two different teams?) Many of my colleagues in that team (too many to name but they should know who they are) formed the basis of a network that would define the shape of my future career. (My Component Broker mug is still going strong but I’m afraid I ditched the set of foils describing the product that I found when clearing out my desk!)

At university I’d used, the then nascent, Java in a couple of projects and those skills were to become of use as we started to add a Java client. Before long, the focus switched to the newly-defined J2EE specifications and WebSphere Application Server was born. After working on the JTA and Activity Session implementations, I joined a team looking at integration with MQ. When the time came to implement an embedded JMS provider in WebSphere Application Server V6, it was natural I should move to work on that.

Six years in, I was starting to make architectural decisions but desired a better understanding of how customers were actually using our products. When the opportunity came up to work as a software consultant in IBM Software Services for WebSphere (aka Lab Services), I jumped at the chance. The next few years were spent travelling across Europe, doing everything from performance bake-offs, resolving critical situations, to participating in first-of-a-kind projects. I particularly enjoyed this time, learning to survive on your wits on those occasions when it wasn’t possible to draw on that all important network. This was also the period during which this blog began.

On returning from a short-term assignment to Norway a, by now one-year old, daughter meant it was time to get my feet back under a development desk. Having worked with customers on WebSphere ESB, it was natural to join that team. From there, I had the pleasure of building and leading a new development team to take over what was to become WebSphere Appliance Management Center. We had great fun, rewriting the offering to build on the new WebSphere Liberty Profile with a shiny new JavaScript front-end (thankfully IBM later moved on from Dojo though) in what I still think was one of the most passable efforts at agile I’ve seen in IBM.

Eventually, the team were moved to work on IBM API Management. The eight-hour time zone difference to the half of the team in California didn’t work for me and, after a nine-year break, I rejoined the WebSphere Application Server family. Initially, I was working on the open source Cloud Foundry buildpack. A side project relating to Netflix OSS was the start of an interest in microservices. From there, I lead efforts relating to containerization, including the publication of official images on Docker Hub.

This, in turn, led to Microservice Builder: a platform for developing, building and deploying, cloud-native applications on Kubernetes. This was then rolled into an offering called Microclimate which added a greater emphasis on the developer experience and that brings us to the current day.

So why, after so many years working with such great people on such a variety of interesting projects, am I now set to leave? Sure, there have been frustrations in working for IBM, but I’m sure many of those are common to all large, shareholder-owned, multi-national companies. As an example, take the laying down of corporate instructions that mandate that all 380,000 employees be treated in some particular way that cannot possibly be equally applicable to all. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with managers who have all excelled in the flexible interpretation of those rules. Many of those same managers are helping to revive Hursley as the vibrant technical community that I first joined.

Really, my departure just boils down to wanting to experience working for a different company. I’ve often said that IBM is the best employer within a two-mile radius of my house and I’ve set a lot of store by that convenience. My LinkedIn profile has been ‘open to offers’ for a few years now but I’ve been resistant to the lure of London money/startups or the peripatetic life of the solution architect. In this case though, I was offered the opportunity to work from home, not as the lone outcast, but for a company that is almost entirely distributed. It was also an opportunity that would utilize the skills around the cloud and DevOps (in particular Kubernetes and Jenkins) that I’ve garnered over the past few years. Such is the overlap that I even credited one of my technical interviewers in a presentation I gave earlier this year when citing their work!

So, without further ado, from 28 August I will be a Senior Sofware Engineer at CloudBees where I’ll be joining the architecture team for their core (Jenkins) offering. At eight-years-old, the company is very much a late-stage venture but, with the distribution list for my leaving email at IBM having more people on it than there are in the entire company, it will be quite a different prospect to working at IBM. Much more than that, I can’t tell you because, quite frankly, I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to new colleagues and challenges. Stay tuned to this blog to find out what happens next!


Over to Osborne

August 1st, 2018

Christine had Wednesday off and, there being some debate as to whether Duncan had ever been, we decided to take the ferry over to the Isle of Wight. We took the train down to Southampton from Chandler’s Ford and managed to race across town in time to make the next Red Funnel ferry. The car ferry is a slower crossing but, as we were planning to walk up to Osborne House, its destination of West Cowes would take us closer.

In contrast to our last visit (over ten years ago when Christine was pregnant with Emma), a grey start turned in to a glorious day. Unlike last time, there was no guided tour of the house and, instead, we traipsed around after a massive long queue of people. For future reference, apparently Wednesday mornings are particularly bad for tour parties. At least there were no stuffed animals to be found!

Next stop was the beach. Christine and the children went for a paddle in the sea and then watched the Osborne themed Punch and Judy show. (The puppeteer also gave a very good history of Punch and Judy beforehand.) We then headed back up past the Swiss Chalet, made a quick visit to the walled garden and, most importantly, a visit to the café before we departed.

Although it meant paying for the chain ferry across to East Cowes, we decided to take the Red Jet back to Southampton (it seems that a family ticket it valid on either). At the end of the day, we now also have a year’s English Heritage membership so I can foresee another trip over to the island to take in the donkeys at Carisbrooke Castle!

Tudor House and Garden

July 31st, 2018

Back at home, it fell to me to keep the children amused (more on that later). On Monday, I had planned to combine a shopping trip to Southampton with a visit to the Tudor House and Garden (having never been there before) but, on looking at their website, I discovered that they were having a special day where they were rolling back the prices to 6p the next day so we delayed our trip slightly.

There’s actually loads more to the attraction than just the black and white Tudor frontage that you see from the road. Given the name there is obviously the garden (and what, on a sunny day, looked to be a very nice café overlooking it) but there is also the remains of King John’s Palace and Westgate Hall on the same site.

There has obviously been lots of Lottery money spent on the buildings and exhibits but somehow it missed the mark with me when telling the story of the site. It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that the children were given one of these trails where all they had to do was spot some (toy) mice in each room. Such trails seem to have become the fashion over the last few years (we’d had to look for squirrels at Compton Castle) but they mean you get to the exit without actually having noticed anything other than some stuffed animals.

As a consequence, we spent much less time there than I had expected but for 18p I really can’t complain! If you are thinking of going, I’d get the joint ticket with the SeaCity Museum (and don’t forget you can get 10% off with a National Trust or English Heritage card).

Down in Devon

July 29th, 2018

More often than not we simply drive through Devon on our way down to Cornwall so, for our first holiday of the summer, we thought we’d head there for a week of camping. We were staying at Leadstone Camping, midway between Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. It’s a pleasant enough site, certainly in comparison to the massive caravan parks that surround it and, for most of the week, we had excellent weather for camping. It was a shame we hadn’t packed the bikes as there was a good cycle route along the estuary to Exeter.

On our first full day, we were picked up by my Uncle (whose proximity was our main reason for choosing the location) and we drove to Brixham to take him up on a long-standing offer of a day out on his boat. Everyone enjoyed themselves as we sailed across the bay and back, although both Emma and Duncan were sick over the side. They decided that next time they’d skip lunch on the boat! They certainly made up for the lost calories with a very nice meal out at The Anchor Inn in the evening.

The next day we met up with friends from back at home at Compton Castle where, as my Uncle had warned us, there really wasn’t a huge amount to do. Keeping with the National Trust theme, we moved on to Parke for a nice walk. As is obligatory when in Devon, we enjoyed a very nice cream tea at Home Farm Cafe.

For our third day, we stayed local, walking down into Dawlish to see the black swans for which is famed and for a game of crazy golf. Dawlish is everything you’d expect from a British seaside town which I’m not sure is a good thing! After sheltering from the midday sun, we then walked in the other direction to Dawlish Warren. Once you get past the shops, bars, and arcades, it’s a pleasant enough spot with a good stretch of sandy beach backing on to the spit that is the nature reserve. We all had a dip in the sea and failed, yet again, to stop the tide overrunning our sandcastle!

We’d been joined by Christine’s parents at this point and, on our last full day, we all walked along the coast path to Teignmouth. We only had to shelter once from a passing shower. The children would recommend the waffles in Finley Brown’s cafe (although to be fair, I got to eat a fair amount of their massive portions). That whole section of seafront being dominated by the railway line, it seemed only fitting that we take the train back to Dawlish. Christine wouldn’t tell me how much it cost but I suspect we were paying more per person than the number of minutes we spent on the train!

All-in-all, it was a great start to the holidays although next time I think we’d stay closer to Dartmoor or further west where there are more options for things to do.


Emma @ 11

May 28th, 2018

Emma’s party came first this year and she’d elected for a trip to the ice rink at Basingstoke with friends. We’d checked out the rink last month which was my first time skating. I managed to stay upright, unlike Duncan who was in need of an ice pack having fallen on his face just before we were about to leave. This time we left the children in the hands of the party host and, for the first half an hour, a coach, who was very good with the children. If the rink were a little closer I’m sure Emma would like to go more often.

A smaller group of friends stayed for a sleepover although, as I believe is traditional, there was a limited amount of sleeping going on. I was apparently fast asleep before the last of the chattering ceased!

For the big day itself, Duncan had disappeared off to Cub camp leaving Emma with two parents to pamper her. One of her presents was a pair of climbing shoes which necessitated a trip to the shops. After lunch in Romsey, she and Christine then tested out the shoes, along with a new harness she’d also received. In another significant milestone towards teenage-hood and secondary school, Emma has inherited one of my old mobile phones (I have replaced the screen since it was driven over by a car!). She’s only showing mild signs of addiction so far!

Scratching at Work

May 12th, 2018

Not satisfied with a four-day Bank Holiday week, I was back in work today for a Scratch Day organised by the inimitable Dale Lane, supported by an all-star cast of IBMers, past and present. The day got off to an ‘exciting’ start with Duncan and I cycling there along Hursley Road. Emma joined us by car, just as the day got going, hot foot from her swimming lesson.

There was a good turnout from IBM and other local families. On offer was a selection of projects from Code Club and Dale’s own Machine Learning for Kids. Emma and Duncan worked separately and I probably spent most of my time helping Duncan (although both are familiar with Scratch from school and home). Typically, Duncan picked two of the ‘advanced’ options but, having heard Dale talk about them at a lunchtime session, I was more than happy to try out a couple of the ML exercises.

We started with Judge a book which performs image classification on book covers to try and identify genre. I was a bit slow to realise that Duncan was logged in to my Amazon account whilst performing his searches but thankfully we switched to an incognito session before getting to the flesh-covered books under Romance! He’d picked Horror and Fantasy as two of his other genres and it wasn’t surprising that the classifier occasionally got those confused.

I had to help out a fair amount with the Headlines exercise as there was a lot of typing to enter the training set from different newspapers. We didn’t manage to finish before the end of the day but we still had an interesting discussion about the differences between tabloid and broadsheet headlines.

The event closed with an opportunity for the children to show what they had done to the others. Although some were a little reticent, this was a great opportunity for them to build a little confidence and soak up the applause that each invariably got.

All-in-all, we had a great day and my thanks go to all those that gave up a day (and more) to help out. We’ll certainly be checking out a few of the other projects and hope that Scratch Day makes a return to Hursley next year.

OMM De-Lite

May 7th, 2018

We enjoyed last year’s OMM Lite sufficiently that we signed up again this year. The venue had shifted to the Forest of Dean, another area we know reasonably well through orienteering and its proximity to Christine’s parents. In a repeat of my marathon weekend, it was set to be a scorcher and we were grateful that the organisers took the decision to drop waterproofs from the kit to be carried!

This time we had a much better idea about the distance that we were likely to have to cover to fill seven hours on Saturday although that didn’t stop us re-planning continuously. Things didn’t start well with a run along the road, a detour down a dead-end, followed by hacking through the forest past the wild boar. That, at least, taught us the extent to which we should trust all the tracks on the map!

We headed out of the forest to pick up a 50-pointer out at Symonds Yat but decided not to go further afield and, after picking up a few more checkpoints, headed back into the forest again. At that point, there wasn’t much for it but to sweep around the bottom of the map and back up the eastern edge. Christine was definitely fading towards the end and wasn’t best pleased with my suggestion to squeeze in one extra checkpoint before the finish. The unexpected lap of the camping field meant that we were docked one point for being 19 seconds late back. Much to our surprise, this still left us 49 points clear of the next pair! (My watch began to die so our efforts are spread across part 1 and part 2 on Strava.)

Christine switched to trainers for the Sunday in an attempt to pacify a rather angry looking blister on her feet but, otherwise, we didn’t feel too bad setting out for a further five hours. The map was centred on the forest this time which provided some much-needed shade. We didn’t have to think a great deal initially with the first three checkpoints being ones we had visited on Saturday. Christine accepted that we needed to cross the valley to the controls on the eastern edge of the map but the climb back out of Soudley was pretty unpleasant, particularly as the path we were on disappeared amongst fallen trees.

We made it back in time and, although we didn’t clock the biggest total for the day (guest ultra-runner Markus Scotney sped past us at the end having knocked off another 100 points), it was enough to secure a victory. Winning prizes for the first mixed pair, as well as first place, certainly meant we had a tidy haul of OMM vouchers to show for our efforts! The 23 miles covered on Sunday brought the total for the weekend to over 55 miles, very similar to last year and only with around 200m less climb.

The podium photo also shows off our cheer squad with all but two of the children in the front row being relatives (the other two were a reunion from last year’s event). Sarah and Sue, in particular, had done a wonderful job of keeping them all amused whilst we were out running. Our two had done the orienteering on Sunday. Duncan secured a second on M10 whilst Emma had an absolute epic, spending nearly an hour and a half on her orange course! To round off an excellent weekend, they also ran in a sweltering children’s race at Devauden on Bank Holiday Monday.

Southampton Marathon

April 22nd, 2018

The day of the Southampton Marathon finally dawned today. Training hadn’t quite gone to plan. I’d largely managed to keep running on my three trips to the US but the time zone changes and flights do take it out of me (Christine claims I’m grumpy for a week after I get back). The biggest issue turned out to be back pain which meant two weeks off running and then another two weeks getting back up to speed. That meant that, although I had a reasonable base, I missed out on a lot of the longer runs and started today still without a clear idea what pace was feasible. On top of that, it was going to be warm (14-19ºC), another factor for which I wasn’t quite sure of the impact.

Preparation on the day was also a bit lacking. After a long queue, I exited the toilets five minutes before the start and, given the layout, had to try and force my way through from the back. When the pace flags eventually appeared I followed someone who was determined to push their way through so I didn’t start too far back. I still spent the first couple of kilometres weaving through slower runners and we had crossed the Itchen Bridge and were halfway around the Wolston loop before I found the 1:30 Half Marathon pacers.

On the whole, the first half felt pretty good, reflected in a split of 1:28:48. There was lots of support on the course, cool water and the occasional mister. When the half marathon runners peeled off though it was a different story. As they make up at least a fifth of the entry, all of a sudden I was pretty much running alone, my feet were sore, my legs tired, and keeping the pace up was starting to become a real effort. Suddenly the idea of a two-lap course and having to do it all again didn’t seem that great anymore!

It was around the 22-mile mark that things really started to slow down and, for the drag up Highfield Lane, my pace dropped below 5 min/k. I was determined to keep going and the downhill through the shade on the common was a chance to pull myself together again. I eventually crossed the line with a chip time of 3:03:46 with which I am more than satisfied.

Now I started out this journey talking about London Marathon good for age times. Sadly, a week before the race they announced new times for 2019 and my target dropped from 3:15 to 3:05. Whilst I did finish in under that time, the numbers are also to be capped so this time still doesn’t guarantee me a place. How I feel as I write this (sore legs and a headache from too much sun) I’m going to let them decide whether I should run another road marathon but, maybe in a week or twos time, I’ll feel differently…

I should end by thanking my family for their support, not only on the day (where they managed to cheer me on in no less than seven locations!) but also for putting up with me disappearing out for long runs and generally being inflexible with my training.