Thank you IBM, for 21 amazing years!

Posted by Paul Braren on Dec 31 2016 (updated on Jan 8 2017) in
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  • Today, December 31 2016, is my last day at IBM. It's been quite an adventure!

    It's fair to say I don't change jobs all that often. That said, IBM has afforded me numerous opportunities to dramatically change my job roles inside the company, and this article highlights some of the (hopefully) more interesting roles.

    Every ending means a new beginning, and I will let you know more about that new beginning in an article and tweet coming up on Monday January 9 2017. That's my start date for my new job at another company.

    My evening and weekend work on TinkerTry will continue too, of course. My blog, my voice. Not my employer's. You could say that for the next 9 days, I'm truly an independent blogger, who continues to express personal opinions based on hands-on experience, and who continues to like helping people. None of that changes.

    1995 - IBM Waltham, IT Infrastructure for 3rd Party Developers

    This is the sort of gear that was still in production when I started at IBM in 1995.

    I started at IBM back in the summer of 1995 as a contractor doing customer-facing PC server work at IBM Waltham. I was a freshly minted OS/2 Certified Engineer. That first hiring manager put a lot of trust in me, and she treated me as a full time employee, helping grow the team of just 5 seasoned vets. Windows NT was coming on strong, and I was the IT guy for this transition, running the team's PCs, servers, and classroom infrastructure. I very much enjoyed access to the very latest and greatest technology, to be sure IBM put it's best foot forward, for the benefit of our valued software developer community. We survived and grew based on very positive and direct customer feedback. Those exit survey forms went directly to our Lotus Notes inboxes, with all our peers and managers on copy too.


    The late 90's were a period of rapid growth for our group. I was honored to become a world-wide technical team lead, flying around to help launch Solution Partnership Centers, later called IBM Innovation Centers for Business Partners, in Chicago, Toronto, Hursley UK, and finally Sydney. I used Ghost cloning a lot, for rapid classroom turnover. I even went through manual inspection lanes at airports with my DLT (tape!) backups in hand. These images were used to help deploy the ServerProven Electronic Validation process I had developed, for customer outreach. Fixing all sorts of issues that popped up while abroad meant some scary overnighters, but ultimately it all worked out, and I sure learned a lot. Getting to fly around the world sure broadened my horizons, and each new city was a fantastic personal experience.

    2005 - IBM Lab Services, Server Deployment and Training

    Blue dots are work places I visited before 2005, and red dots after.

    I joined IBM Lab Services and traveled to all sorts of customer sites in roughly 35 of the 50 United States. I was doing server, storage, and VMware deployments coupled with hands-on training. Yeah, I was a one-man-show of sorts, usually just for one week per customer, only joined by other IBMers for the occasional multi-month projects. This billable consulting involved a lot of rack-and-stack and firmware updates. Of course, there was also some problem resolution, and bit of automation scripting, helping customers scale more easily. It was also a great chance to get my hands-on time with IBM, HP, and Dell server and workstation gear. I even got to design and deploy the all-new vSphere infrastructure at a Fortune 50 company, from the ground up, including vCenter/SQL Server. I virtualized 200 physical servers down to the one rack of HPE and IBM gear I had assembled, with customer-mandated iSCSI courtesy of LeftHand Networks.

    I actually got my VMware VCP #2681 back in 2005, for a 6 month local pharmaceutical job. They required I get my VCP certification before I'd be authorized to even touch a server there, never mind make changes to it.

    It was at this travel-heavy time that I essentially had a new boss every week. They put their faith in me, believing that I'd deliver the agreed-upon the Statement of Work, to up to 10 of their busy IT staffers. There was quite a bit of fear and trepidation within me on those early gigs, where the call for help often came on a Friday afternoon, raising my family while my wife worked on the weekend, then me literally poring over PDFs while airborne on that 6am Monday flight. This trial-by-fire approach is one way to figure out quickly if you got what it takes, and each project held brand new challenges.

    The coolest part of all the travel was the opportunity to meet new people, and to see all sorts of amazing data centers mostly during the initial build-out process. This included an underground bank, and an underground military tunnel, complete with blast-doors, and a snake infested path back from my thoroughly-inspected rental car. I was not able to carry in any equipment, holding only that which was between my ears. No Google searches for stuff, there to perform what I could, from memory.

    Then there was those unique State Capital building rack installs, and the chance to work side-by-side with the N.Y.P.D a couple of years after 9/11, with thick layer of dust still blanketing the concrete under the raised floor. That was a pretty somber moment. There were no words to say, we just kept working.

    I had a chance to work at a place where military planes are designed, kind of a big deal for me personally, since I was one of those little kids that wrote hand-written letters to aircraft companies asking for glossy photos. Those same companies actually obliged! I even got to work at a place where atomic time is kept rather carefully, where most of the IT staff had a Ph.D., with their latest published work on huge posters outside each of their private offices.

    Then there was the supercomputing center deep in the woods of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site. Those folks were the true heroes, civilians putting their own lives on the line as they dutifully performed their IT craft here in the US, and volunteering to be flown across the globe to some of the most dangerous places on earth. The last part of those flights would require them to come in fast-and-low. Freaks me out a bit, just to think of what may have happened to some of these people after my time there.


    By the way, I'd be the one clown on little planes not just bringing a laptop aboard, but a 10 pound behemoth that I'd actually use in flight. It was the IBM ThinkPad W700, featuring a 17" 1920 x 1200 resolution display and two large 2.5" drives. Nobody would forget that thing, which was (sort of) good in customer-facing situations, good for laughs mostly. Of course, I was running running 64 bit Windows Vista (very early 64 bit days!) maxed out with 8GB of RAM. VMware Workstation allowed me to juggle many VMs (Windows, Linux, etc.) that I'd use for those on-site trainings. Also allowed me my own self-contained vSphere in a box configuration, on-the-go. Good times!


    2009 - IBM Systems & Technology, Storage Technical Advisor

    IBM FlashSystem A9000R.

    In 2009, I was offered the chance to become an IBM Storage Technical Advisor, and I took that chance on still-new XIV Storage. This also allowed more work-from-home, which is exactly what my family needed of me, doing all I could to help customers reduce their risk and avoid downtime. The XIV storage line grew and along came the ultra-fast FlashSystem, which is also working out quite well for IBM. I even got to help with a recent FlashSystem A9000R install, and always found it to be quite a treat to get to work with the latest technology.

    This role, along with my blogging here, got me the chance to try my hand at being an IBM Redbook author. This included about a month each in Tucson, Arizona and Mainz, Germany doing software-defined storage work with IBM and Lenovo gear. The European trip was my a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hit the Autobahn and explore my roots, covering 2,200 miles on weekends. Such indelible memories for me, forever cherished.

    For all of this adventure and excitement, I'm extremely thankful to IBM, who clearly offers a vast array of opportunity for its global workforce of dedicated people. It's really those incredibly talented people that I'm most grateful for having a chance to work along side with them, inspiring me with their incredible work ethic and diverse perspectives, which of course helped to bring up my own game. I've spent most of my career as an individual contributor, feeling a bit stumped and baffled at all times, but always striving for that feeling of being at the top of the world, right at that epiphany moment when you finally figure out something new. I think this photo is a good metaphor, where I'm both a bit petrified (with good reason!) and happy. That's pretty much how I try to feel, as often as possible, knowing I'm pushing myself a bit.

    At the top of Germany, Zugspitze is 9,718 feet. I like visiting high buildings and mountains, and taking joy-ride flights in small planes, whenever I can.

    Ok, enough of the lofty stuff. In case you're thinking I take myself too seriously, know that I started my working career bagging at a grocery store, doing 12 hour shifts on my feet, not really using those touch-typing skills learned the previous summer. I moved on to data entry work at a dress shop, then an insurance company. Like many IT Pros, I set out to teach myself the skills I'd need outside of the college classroom. I eventually was able to take myself and my family forward by working hard to first figure things out for myself, to develop a deeper understanding, then experience the joy of teaching others those acquired skills. I feel rather blessed to have had so many chances to do this.

    My mom, dad, and wife still don't really know exactly what it is that do. I suspect you too may know what that's like.

    Closing words as 2016 ends

    As you would expect of a 105 year old company, there have been many changes at IBM during my 21 years there. Did you know that IBM has become the biggest Apple shop, with over 100,000 Macs? And have you seen what Watson is up to lately?

    Wherever your work is, and whatever you do, you might enjoy the brief video below for some inspiration, as we all head into 2017 together as one big community of IT Professionals and computer enthusiasts. Happy New Year!

    IBM Today