1. What do you get most out of being an IBM Champion?
For me it’s all about people. Being a Champion not only connects me with a community of smart, engaged, enthusiastic people but also gets me access directly to IBM product teams and executives. I get to ask questions, answer questions and get clarity on strategy and all of that means I get to provide better support to my customers. I have realized since becoming a Lifetime Champion last year that it also acts as a customer reference of sorts, an acknowledgment that my contribution to the larger community is of value.
2. What led you to the work you do, and how long have you been doing it?
I started doing HR and then Marketing. Neither were a good fit for me but then the company I worked for in the late 80’s had something called a Local Area Network installed and a mail system called ccMail. Once it was installed no one actually knew how to use it and I became the IT Manager purely because I taught myself the technology and understood it. A few years later we replaced ccMail with Lotus Notes and I travelled rolling that out worldwide. Then in 1994 we set up The Turtle Partnership and have been working with IBM collaboration and extended technologies ever since.
3. What accomplishments are you most proud of in your work with IBM technology?
Over the past twenty-plus years we’ve worked with a lot of very small companies that were starting out with a handful of people. We’ve built their mail systems and extended them as the companies have grown. Several of our customers have been with us for all of that time and we’ve seen them grow enormously, to thousands of employees. Even customers who leave due to technology changes often come back years later wanting to pick up where we left off. Of course I’m enormously proud and still a bit taken aback at being a Lifetime Champion and being one of the original ICS Champions. I wasn’t expecting that at all—I remember looking around the room and wondering who they were about to announce.
4. What is one thing everyone should start learning now?
I like the deeply technical, the niche, things that require lots of moving parts. For me right now it’s all about single identity, security and directories; these things are vital as people move to cloud and hybrid solutions and they are often complex to understand and deploy. The other thing that fascinates me is data analysis. We need to be able to understand what data is telling us, what patterns are emerging and how to act on them. To that end, I’ve been working quite a bit with Tableau and building dashboards for live data analysis from different sources which helps my customers understand what’s happening in their business or market.
5. What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an IBM Champion?
I wouldn’t start with the goal of becoming an IBM Champion. I’d start with the goal of wanting to share information and play a part in a wider community. Hopefully contributions come from a bubbling up of enthusiasm that can only be released by blogging or speaking, writing or presenting. If you’re excited or enthused by something, if you find a workaround or a solution that you wish everyone knew then find a way to share it even if it’s just within your company. You don’t have to be a cheerleader or evangelist, I don’t consider myself either of those, but when I’m excited by something I share it. I do avoid criticism in general because I simply don’t know the decisions behind what I’m looking at. I may wonder “why did they do it this way” but I also know that some very smart people who are far more invested in the product than I am made some difficult decisions to get it to market.
6. What's your favorite event to speak at or attend? Best conference experience?
I have been going to Orlando every January since 1995 so this is the first year I won’t be there. Instead I’ll be speaking in San Francisco at the end of February. My very first presentation at Lotusphere in 2001—one Sametime with 16(!) people in the room would be a hard memory to beat. Since then my highlights are each and every time we have done Spark Ideas from Connect to Engage to Auslug (Inform) to Icon UK. I’ve been so moved by people’s willingness to share their personal stories. For a combination of content, atmosphere and friends my “don’t miss” conferences this year are Engage UG in Antwerp in May, MWLUG in Washington in August, and ICONUK in September.
7. What do you like to do in your free time?
Read. I buy about 30 books a month and don’t get nearly enough time to read all of them but books are my happy place. When it’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m restarting a server for the twentieth time whilst I troubleshoot a problem, I’ll go buy myself a book online as a promise to “future Gab”—that one day the work will be done and I’ll have a treat waiting.
8. What's your favorite city in the world and why?
I’ve travelled all over the world and there are lots of cities I love, and love to revisit, but my favorite is my home city of London. I moved here from the country when I was seventeen, living in a bedsit with no money. London and its history can be enjoyed for nothing on foot and its bookshops can be sat in for hours. We also have the great river Thames and countless museums and art galleries. My favorites include the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, V&A British Museum, British Library, British Film Institute, Tate Britain and National Gallery. As soon as I could afford to I took out membership for as many as possible to support them continuing to offer free access to everyone. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
9. If you could have lunch with anybody in the world, dead or alive, famous or unknown, who would it be?
Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein and had a fascinating life surrounded by other writers and poets. She was also the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th century philosopher and feminist.
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