Career Bookends

According to my offer letter, I was supposed to start at IBM sometime in June, 1976 (I’ve forgotten the exact date) and work on a compiler for the minicomputer that would be released as the IBM Series/1. However, I delayed reporting to work in favor of becoming engaged to Diane, and by the time I got to Boca Raton, the spot on the compiler team had been filled.

  • First day at IBM: July 19, 1976, Boca Raton, Florida, General Products Division

My first job at IBM was on the team writing telecommunications code for the Series/1. I wasn’t enthralled, especially when it came to testing the code, because we had to short out the peripheral cards to load in our code, and I didn’t realize that there was only low voltage in the Series/1’s card case! And the idea of dealing with information that left the machine and might or might not return successfully was strange, too.

So after a few months, I made a deal with my management — if I would provide a complete unit test plan for the code I’d written, they’d transfer me to the Operating System group (just down the hall). They were happy to oblige, so I wrote the first of many productivity aids, one which read the structured assembler code and annotated it according to our unit test scheme (“Test Plan 7”). It took me a day or two to produce the test plan for all of my code, and away I went.

The Series/1 was an interesting beast; it had 64kb address spaces (we only used one in the first release of the OS) and not enough registers. It also had short and long forms of many instructions (the short form had, if I remember, 256 bytes of addressability from “here” — anything else took the long form). We were perpetually running out of room in the address space, and it struck me that it would be a good idea to have a peephole optimizer which would convert long form instructions to short form when possible. So I wrote it, learning PL/S in the process. And people loved it — it was in our “Quality Plan” almost immediately. That was the first time I really understood how much leverage smart tooling could provide.

I created quite a few other tools while I was in Series/1 development; I’m not sure why other people didn’t do the same thing, because I found that doing so always saved me time, and then providing the tools to my colleagues really provided a big payoff, at no extra effort. And I even got to learn new languages in the process (most of which I have, mercifully, forgotten), which I greatly enjoyed.

I mentioned that we were writing “structured assembler” code — this was in the days that using structured code instead of GOTO statements was considered an “Improved Programming Technique”. There were many “Improved Programming Techniques”, not all of which were used well.

In particular, we documented our code using a technique called HIPO — the documentation for HIPOs said, very clearly, that they were not used to document the logic of a module, just its overall function; however, our “Quality Plan” called for us to use HIPOs as flowcharts to document the logic. I found this silly (not to mention very tedious), and so I wrote my first memo at IBM: “HIPO: Threat or Menace” (playing off a National Lampoon cover), quoting the HIPO documentation to make my point. In those days, we actually hand-wrote memos, and the secretaries typed and distributed them — my department’s secretary tried very hard to get me to change the subject line, but I refused. In hindsight, the subject line probably didn’t help my case, but the HIPOs vanished.

It’s been a long time since anyone has had to type a memo for me; I can’t remember the last time I got a real hardcopy memo, for that matter. Email has taken the place of memos, and, for better or for worse, nobody else sees them before they go out to the world.

I wanted to find a way to reuse the subject line of my first memo in my last IBM email, but the joke wasn’t all that funny in 1976 and hasn’t improved with age. So my last email had a more personal subject: “33.7 years – that’s not too many”.

  • Last day at IBM: March 31, 2010, San Jose, California, Business Transformation/IT

And you know what? I never did get to work on a compiler at IBM!

Google is not idempotent

Today was my last full day at IBM; I decided to spam thank some close soon-to-be-ex-colleagues before I left. Since I wasn’t sure that those who wanted to respond would do so before my IBM email address expired, I directed replies to an address at a domain that I set up for my family (let’s call it, just to keep the real spammers at bay).

Mail for is MX’ed to Google Apps servers; I’ve set up forwarding there for each of us to our real preferred GMail addresses. This has the advantage of letting me move from GMail if I want to, without anyone being the wiser.

But today, I discovered that Google isn’t consistent in its mail filtering. A friend at work thanked me for sending her the note and mentioned that she’d replied — but I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen her reply. And when I searched the GMail account, there was nothing from her. But when I looked at the mailbox on, her note was there. And, in fact, there were several replies that hadn’t made it to GMail but were safely in the inbox for

So I guess I need to rethink my mail strategy and let mail for stay there instead of forwarding it to GMail.

Life was easier when all my mail went to! (I’d worry about spammers getting that address, except that it’s been visible on the Web and well-spammed for many years, and, of course, it expires tomorrow.)

Competencies and Derailment Factors

When I wrote about derailment last week, I thought I was just punning from my manager’s question to me. But several people have asked if I could share more information about IBM’s Leadership Competencies and the Career Derailment Factors.

I was hesitant to do so, since the last thing I want to do is leak confidential or proprietary information, but it turns out I didn’t have to worry; IBM has published quite a bit about these topics, and I’m perfectly happy to point to what they’ve already shared. I haven’t explored these items very deeply, but they look like they might be useful.


I’ll start with the Leadership Competencies. There are 11 of them:

  • Client partnering
  • Collaborative influence
  • Developing IBM people and communities
  • Earning trust
  • Embracing challenge
  • Enabling performance and growth
  • Informed judgment
  • Passion for IBM’s future
  • Strategic risk taking
  • Thinking horizontally

(Source: IBM Zurich Research)

Most of them would apply with slight changes to any large company (and probably to small companies, too). The most important, in my opinion, is “Passion for IBM’s future” — when someone loses that, it’s time to look elsewhere (or to find a way to recharge). Jay Conger at the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business at USC includes a useful diagram of the competencies in a broader presentation on leadership competencies in several organizations, and Fast Company wrote about the competencies in “IBM’s Management Makeover” in late 2007.

IBM also has a set of “Foundational Competencies” for “outstanding non-management employees”:

  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Trustworthiness
  • Communication
  • Taking ownership
  • Client focus
  • Drive to achieve
  • Passion for the business
  • Creative problem solving
  • Adaptability

(Source: IBM South Africa Graduates Facebook page)

Finally, Walter Pistarini in IBM Professional Development gave a presentation about both sets of competencies and IBM’s “Professions” to the World Computer Conference in Milan in September 2008.

Current IBMers should also note that there seems to be work in progress to merge the two set of competencies and produce one set of “IBM Competencies” for all IBMers; there is a presentation in the Media Library (inside the firewall)

Career Derailment Factors

There are about 30 derailment factors, which are grouped in 10 categories:

  • Lack of Adaptability
  • Lack of Self Awareness
  • Lack of Work/Life Balance
  • Lack of Self Control
  • Lack of Interpersonal Acumen
  • Lack of Independence
  • Lack of Trustworthiness
  • Lack of Strategic Perspective
  • Lack of Backbone
  • Lack of Organizational Acumen

I took the list from the slides which accompany the Derailment Factors – IBM episode of the OneSHPE podcast series on education, career, and engineering created by
IBM and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).

And if you want to know even more, Audrey Murrell, Sheila Forte-Trammel, and Diana Bing have written Intelligent Mentoring: How IBM Creates Value through People, Knowledge, and Relationships, which discusses the Career Derailment Factors.


As my days at IBM grow shorter, I’m beginning to realize how many “lasts” have already happened or are imminent.

Some passed unnoticed, because I didn’t realize they were the last of their kind:

  • I’ve already changed my intranet and Notes passwords for the last time
  • I’ve already created my last PBC (Personal Business Commitments)
  • I’ve already submitted my last TEA (Travel Expense Account)
  • I’ve already ordered my last set of IBM business cards (and didn’t get a chance to use any of them!)

Some happened after I got the word:

  • My office has been vacuumed for the last time (at least while it’s my office)
  • I’ve qualified for the Fitness Rebate for the last time
  • I joined my last “Community Builders” conference call

And some are yet to come:

  • I have the opportunity to attend a final Architecture Review Board call on Wednesday
  • I’ll be giving a last GTD-at-IBM presentation on Friday
  • I could even attend a final CIO DE community meeting on March 31st

No, they’re not all significant, but they’re all steps towards what comes next. And so they matter.

Locality of action

Back in 1976, I wanted to send Diane some flowers for her birthday. She was still living in Valley Stream, NY, at the time, and I was already in Boca Raton, FL. Most people would have used FTD, but I was worried that the order wouldn’t get there in time (since it was New Year’s Eve), so I went to the library, which had a huge collection of Yellow Pages, found a florist in Valley Stream, and splurged on a long distance call so I could order directly from them. And they came through.

Last week, I wanted to thank a colleague for help above and beyond the call of duty by sending her some wine. She lives just outside Des Moines, Iowa; fortunately, Iowa is a reasonable state as far as wine shipping laws go, but I thought I could do better than picking a big Internet wine merchant. I Googled and found Ingersoll Wine and Spirits, (who had a better selection of California and Oregon Pinot Gris on their Web site than either BevMo or!). And they delivered in one day, far faster than I could have gotten delivery from a Web giant.

I’m glad that the Internet hasn’t quite managed to kill local merchants.

Date Certain

The news, once more, came in a phone call.

Even though I’d decided not to look for a new full-time position in IBM, there was one project that had recently heated up where I would be able to make a significant dent in a short time. So I asked my management to investigate extending my departure date for a month or two so I could attack that problem.

They investigated, but the answer was, as I expected, “no.” My manager gave me the word during our regular call today.

Even though I’d been expecting the news, hearing the final answer was still daunting.

So now I have a date certain for my retirement from IBM – March 31, 2010. My retirement celebration (my word, not IBM’s) will be a bit later. And I can turn my full attention to figuring out what comes next.

Weekend update

There haven’t been any significant developments on the job front since I last posted:

  • I’m still happy with my decision not to pursue a new full-time position inside IBM
  • I’m willing to take a look if a new full-time position (inside or outside IBM) pursues me
  • I’m not sure when my last day at IBM will be
  • I expect to be looking for real work once that last day is nailed down

I had a great weekend doing other things, instead of worrying about work.

Friday night, Diane and I went to ComedySportz to see the regular show (very good) and their special Shakespearian Midnight Show, Much Improv about Nothing (excellent). I wish the Midnight Show were earlier, though!

Saturday, we went to Torah Study (and finished studying the book of Ezra-Nehemiah) and then to services (where we finished Exodus). And then we enjoyed the nice weather for the rest of the day; I went looking for a kit to make a raised bed for my soon-to-happen garden but didn’t buy one (I’m thinking of the MiniFarmBox, since the local Ace Hardware store has it available — any comments are welcome!), and tried to order business cards at the local OfficeDepot but no one was at their service desk, so I gave up and ordered them online instead.

Sunday, I went to Prayerbook Hebrew class, then we both went to Talmud class to study the ethics of whistleblowing. Then we went to Savannah-Chanelle Winery with the Shir Hadash Sisterhood for a tour and tasting; they were selling the 2006 Pinot Noir and the 2007 Syrah at a very nice price in full cases, so we participated in an impromptu group buy of both. And then I went back to ComedySportz to support the other half of my Rec League class by watching their (very funny) final show of this series; we start classes again next week, so I suspect we’ll have a show in late April, which I’ll pimp incessantly on Twitter and Facebook.

Today, it was back to the office; I finally managed to watch the introductory video from Right Management (it requires Windows Live Player on Windows as far as I can tell; oh, well). I also did a good amount of cleanup of files I don’t need any more (and, for the most part, haven’t needed for several years), especially on servers. And I talked with several colleagues (not all of whom had heard my news yet, somewhat to my surprise).

Tomorrow…well, tomorrow is another day.


There are times when it would help to have someone else read this blog before I post. Last night was one of those times.

I was so intent on using the exact wording of my second-line manager’s question as an excuse to insert a reference to IBM’s Career Derailment Factors into the post that I didn’t realize that what I’d written would be confusing for anyone who wasn’t living in my head (or at least in the same house).

Today, though, two friends at work pinged me within a few minutes to ask whether I was OK and if I could explain what I’d written.

So I’ll try again (there were no other reportable developments today, so this gives me an excuse to post).

I’ve chosen not to look for a new full-time position at IBM; if a truly wonderful position came looking for me, I would certainly consider it, but it’d have to be right on target. Unless that happens, I’ll be retiring from IBM in the near future.

Note that I said “retiring from IBM”. I’m not ready to really retire, but I am sure that the grass is differently-colored on the other side of the firewall, and this gives me a great opportunity to find out what that color is.

Off the rails

IBMers who have spent time looking at IBM’s Leadership Competencies may be familiar with the eight career Derailment Factors that IBM Learning has identified (hint: avoid them!).

I found a new one today.

After reaching out to my network in the wake of last week’s surprise, several people had identified one particular opportunity that was a plausible fit for me, and I’d asked my second-line manager to help connect me. I’d even sent her something which would pass as an internal résumé, at least for a first look. And she’d made contact and had a call scheduled with the executive who needed to fill the slot.

So I wasn’t surprised when she popped up on IM early this morning and asked a simple question: “I have a call with [redacted] – what do you want me to do (I can derail it, or push for it, or try to be neutral…..)”

I had a one word answer, straight from my gut:


I don’t think she was surprised.

And I was relieved to make my decision explicit.

She and I talked for a while. Both of us came away from the conversation happier, and with a slightly-revised plan for the rest of my time at IBM. Later today, I talked with my first-line manager so I could make sure he knew what was going on, since he’ll have to make the first move to implement the plan.

Welcome to the endgame.

For those trying to follow along in BluePages, note that my first-line manager is in Canada and doesn’t show up in my “reports-to” chain.

Think Time

After last week’s surprise, the rest of the week was a whirl of phone calls, meetings, and e-mail exchanges, making and renewing contacts, gathering information, and trying to get to a place where I’d have enough data to think about considering making plans.

I realized that while all that activity was necessary, it wasn’t sufficient, so I also blocked several hours of “Think Time” on my calendar for today. The plan was to stand in front of a whiteboard and write down positives and negatives of various options, make unanswered questions explicit, and ignore the world. I told a couple of colleagues that that was what I was going to do; I even blogged about it yesterday.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, I spent most of the day talking with people who’d also been affected (some directly, some by having their teams reduced), as well as several other colleagues in various parts of the business (at least two of whom had been my manager at one time or another). I also had a long session with IBM Benefits, so that I really understand what my choices and resources are if I do retire.

But what I really did was listen carefully to my gut.

Because it turns out that this decision isn’t going to be one I make entirely objectively, based on threats and opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, and financial considerations.

My gut has to be happy.

And it’s giving me a pretty clear message about what will make it happy; it’s a message which doesn’t require a whiteboard to analyze.

I’m going to sleep on that message tonight and make sure I’m reading it clearly.

Tomorrow could be interesting.


I had my first session today at Right Management, the outplacement firm that IBM has contracted with. I had a 90-minute one-on-one with a “Career Management Consultant”; we talked, unsurprisingly, about me and my options going forward.

There was some very concrete advice (have a local phone number and a “professional” email address for the search process; never answer a call to your cell phone that might be search-related unless you can actually talk right then (otherwise, let it go to voicemail); remember that your résumé is a sales document), as well as some discussion which centered on my own needs, desires, and skills.

I came out of the session with a few must-dos (some of which are administrative in nature), the realization that I can’t hop along both the internal and external paths for very long, and some hints towards turning my bulleted list of accomplishments into a résumé. Not bad for a first step.

And then I came home and spent the rest of the day on the phone (even attending one conference call, which will be the last in that series for me). It’s helpful to get the perspective of folks who have been through this process, as well as those who are still safely ensconced inside the Blue Curtain.

Tomorrow, I plan to go to the office; I have a lot of “think time” booked on my calendar. I expect to turn off the phone and Sametime for most of the day, too.


I’ve been taking classes at ComedySportz San Jose for a little over a year and I’ve finally reached the pinnacle of the system, Rec League (we even have our own t-shirts!). In Rec League, we intermix classes and shows — tonight, it was my turn to be in a full-length show along with five of my classmates.

I don’t think the timing could have been better. It was great to be able to concentrate on what was happening on stage right now so that I could respond and make the team look better. I probably could have done without one scene suggestion (“fired”), but even that one led to a very funny scene in the game of “I Can Do Better”.

Tomorrow, I get to continue my exploration of what lies ahead. I haven’t connected to the intranet this weekend, either (though I can’t blame a snowstorm and cable cut this time), but tomorrow morning, I’ll be curious to see what awaits in my inbox, and what options have opened or closed internally. I also have my first meeting with the placement firm tomorrow, which should be interesting and informative.

One thing that improv has taught me is that it’s not always wise to plan too far ahead, because you never know what curves your partners will throw at you, and trying to force the scene in the direction you want can hurt it and make you look silly. Tomorrow will be here soon enough; for now, I want to thank everyone who’s given me support or advice so far — you’re making me feel very good!

That was the week (and job) that was

It started very innocently.

It was Monday morning, about 9:20am; I’d been in the office about 30 minutes, after my usual weekly trip to the chiropractor. I’d been unable to connect to the intranet all weekend because of a fiber cut in Westchester County, so I was busily processing my Lotus Notes inbox (reading email, in English). And I was awaiting the arrival of a colleague (let’s call him J) who was driving in from Fresno to work with me, at our manager’s request — there were two goals: better defining a project we were planning and making sure that J saw other IBMers occasionally. So I wasn’t surprised when my manager (M) popped up on IM to ask if he could call me — I assumed he was going to offer some suggestions for our meeting.

I was wrong.

“Hello, David. There is a resource action today and your job has been eliminated. If you cannot find another position within IBM by March 31st, your employment will terminate on that date. I am sending you the official information by email – please read it.”

I’m probably not quoting exactly, but that was the gist of it. I’m sure M was reading from a script, because the words weren’t in his style, and he delivered them almost in a single breath.

I was stunned. Not just because of the news, but because I hadn’t heard any rumors of a resource action, unlike 2009, where I think there must have been ads on TV telling IBMers to watch for it, it was so widely expected.

After the scripted part of the call, M and I talked a bit longer; he told me to concentrate on myself and not worry about the work in progress and apologized for this having happened.

Almost as soon as we hung up, another IM window popped up; it was another colleague on the East Coast who was going to call when J arrived so we could work together. I told him that I’d been resourced, and that I might need to cancel our sessions, but would let him know.

Of course, I called Diane immediately and gave her the news — she says I sounded pretty shaken. I don’t remember.

I decided that since J had already driven two hours, it didn’t make any sense to tell him to turn around — I did phone him and warn him that I might be distracted and told him why.

When he arrived, we called our East Coast colleague and had a good technical session — I told them where the things I’d been working on would fit into their project (that’s not how I’d been planning to phrase it originally), and we talked about where they were going to go with the project.

In the meantime, I’d told my assistant (who was probably more shocked than I had been) and asked her to start setting up meetings with people who might be able to help me, starting with my HR Partner, who I met right after lunch (with J, where the discussion was not very technical).

The discussion with my HR Partner was just what I needed; she was empathetic, sympathetic, and knowledgeable about the resources that IBM was making available to me (including an outplacement firm, financial advice, and, of course, a severance package). She was also straightforward about my chances of finding a new position in the 30 days I had left (not good, but it had happened in previous cycles).

When I left her office, I felt a lot better — I wasn’t thrilled about what had happened, but I realized that how I reacted to it was in my hands (as a senior IBM executive once said, “You own your own morale”).

So I started reaching out to people in my network and asking for pointers to opportunities, whether inside or outside IBM. And I started declining some of the standing meetings on my calendar (especially the ones at 6am Pacific!), while keeping the ones where I thought I could make a contribution.

I could go on in endless detail, but I suspect it would be boring, and wouldn’t actually help anyone reading this. Suffice it to say that I haven’t been nearly as busy for quite a while, and that it is wonderful to have so many friends and colleagues (both those still at IBM and those who have made the transition) who have been willing to listen to me and offer support of one form or another.

I would have been quite happy not to have gotten that phone call on Monday, but I’m very fortunate because I’m in a good position to use this to move forward.

  • I have the luxury of time to figure out what “forward” means (not everyone does).
  • IBM is providing various forms of assistance (I meet with the placement firm on Monday — since I’ve never had to write a résumé, I know what one of my first tasks will be).
  • I know lots of people who want to see me succeed and are willing to help.
  • And I don’t have to write a PBC for this year! (Well, probably…I am looking internally, and my management team is helping me in that quest.)

Stay tuned.

Special note for IBMers

Frank Jania was included in last year’s layoffs; he wrote “Lessons From A Layoff” during his last month at IBM. I read it at the time, little suspecting that I’d find it so pertinent a year later. It’s on BlogCentral, which will be replaced by Lotus Connections blogs sometime in the not-so-distant future; I recommend you read the series (8 postings) while the URL is still good!