Apr 262012

I sincerely hope that Cringely is way off the mark regarding IBM (http://www.cringely.com/tag/ibm/). I spent 7 great years working at IBM’s Linux Technology Center (LTC). I worked alongside Linux superstars like Greg Kroah-Hartman, Ted Ts’o, Paul McKenney, and Mel Gorman (among many other talented Linux kernel developers). I poured my heart, soul, and vast quantities of time (and sleep) into leading the Real-Time Linux project in support of Websphere Realtime and the Raytheon DDG Naval Destroyer program (http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/21033.wss). This is probably to date the most significant point of my professional career and I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such an ambitious and fascinating project.

Sometime in 2010 I became concerned about the direction of my particular project, and looking around the LTC I wasn’t seeing much that interested me personally. I had been saddened to see many of our top Linux developers leave over the years, and started to fear for the future of the LTC. Some managerial changes seemed to lead to a very different culture within the LTC, something much more Big Blue than what we had enjoyed previously. Accepting that the LTC had to grow up eventually, I was able to look past this.

Toward the end of my career at IBM, I attempted to persuade management to provide SSDs to their Linux kernel developers who made extensive use of the git source control management tool. Git is fast, but my tests demonstrated that a lot of time could be saved by switching to SSDs over the spinning disks that shipped with our developer laptops. After some time I got agreement to run a pilot in which a handful of SSDs would be handed out to developers and they would report on the benefits. I left IBM before this happened, and I learned later that management planned to scrap the pilot because “Darren was special.” Sorry, no I was not. I left. The developers that stayed were special! After a bit of a battle as I understand it, the pilot finally happened. Six SSDs were purchased. Six. And developers were meant to test with them, and then hand them over to another developer. Really? OK, so clearly being placated.

This was one of many frustrations associated with keeping costs down. A standing joke (based in fact I believe) was of a senior manager buying toilet paper from a local Costco because we couldn’t acquire it via other means. Another site morale meeting generated a ream of requests to help improve morale. The result were new clocks in the meeting rooms. Morale continued to fall within the LTC. There are many more significant stories to share, but many are probably not appropriate in one way or another for me to share.

In the midst of all this, my family grew by one HC, I lost my home office, and I started taking a close look at our finances. While I had been rated as very successful over the last several years and had seen a couple decent raises, I was clearly not going to achieve my financial goals at the rate things were going. So I looked around. I posted my resume around. I could have gone to New York to work on high frequency trading and made stupid amounts of money – but I valued my home life and my family was (is) young and I wanted to have time to enjoy this part of my life. Eventually Intel called and asked me to come work on the Yocto Project (well, they hadn’t announced it yet, so discussions were quite a bit more vague). The project looked interesting. The people were fun. The compensation was competitive. While it seems to be Taboo to discuss compensation, I feel it is rather core to this discussion. I recall receiving an OTAA (Outstanding Technical Achievement Award) for my work on Real-Time Linux at IBM which everyone congratulated me on. The director called me and formally awarded me with a few restricted stock units. I felt honored. It was a big deal. Except it wasn’t. The sums were paltry, and equated to something like a temporary 2% raise hinged on the company’s stock price. Combined with ever decreasing profit sharing bonuses and low raises for top performance ratings, there was clearly something wrong. After a lot of heart-wrenching soul searching, we (my wife and I) decided to make the jump. There were a lot of factors that influenced our decision, but they can all be summed up in two points: I wanted to work on something interesting and I wanted my technical contributions to be valued.

I have been with Intel, working on the Yocto Project in the Open Source Technology Center, for going on two years now. The project is still interesting. The people are still fun. And management has continued to impress me with the value they place on technical talent. The difference is like night and day. Are there frustrations? Of course. But it is A Great Place to Work, a lot like what the LTC was when I started back in 2003, or perhaps a bit earlier.

So I hope Cringely is dead wrong. Unfortunately, I fear that he is not and I am deeply saddened by the prospect. IBM employs some stellar technical talent as well as some excellent senior leadership. I sincerely hope this is all FUD, or that those who remain are able to turn things around.

  3 Responses to “Cringely on IBM, looking back…”

  1. […] these guys are talking about: well, they are some of my superstar colleagues, so go on and read Darren and/or Bob… and Ted is of course also right, but at the moment I don’t have any link […]

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