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.