Tinkerer and Troubleshooter Turned Collaboration Champion
A passion for restoring and fixing broken toys and cars — and questioning everything — has led to a life of teaching, troubleshooting and problem-solving for this technology executive.
While Keith Brooks has almost always worked independently, he has always helped others work better together. From transforming a Broadway theater through better spreadsheets in the early 1990s to working for decades on companies’ long game of collaboration, he has been helping organizations modernize and collaborate better his whole career. He sees beauty in troubleshooting.
The curiosity to see what happens just by trying and testing difference scenarios is powerful. It teaches you that the obvious is not always going to work, nor will simply using Google. Troubleshooting is where you learn a fuzzy-logic way of delving into the mess until you are successful in resolving it and getting things up and running again. Being able to try and try and change your way of thinking — and then try again — can be beautiful.”
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
Did you always want to work with Domino and Notes?
When I first saw Lotus Notes in 1992, I immediately fell in love with what I saw and the potential for the sharing of information in companies that then didn’t even yet exist. Networks were just starting and the shift from green screens to PCs was occurring. I knew I wanted to work with this product then; I had no idea I would still be working with it nearly 30 years later.
When you were a kid, what did you imagine you’d be when you grew up?
Believe it or not, I had a girlfriend in grade school and her dad worked for IBM. He traveled and always had cool stuff around, and that’s what I decided I wanted to do. In 1998, I joined Lotus, which became an IBM company, and fulfilled my dream. Be careful what you wish for since sometimes you can achieve it too early in life! I realized I enjoy my freedom too much, and so I left to work independently after that. Don’t sacrifice your dreams.
What important advice you would give anyone who’s just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to fail — majorly. You are not the smartest person in the room, and you are definitely not the weirdest. I once emailed a Director at a large Wall Street bank I was working at and my immediate manager chewed me out. Many years later at Lotus I met someone, now a friend of mine, who remembered that email and the discussions it sparked. I was right. You never know where your mistakes will lead or who you will meet because of them.
What are you most proud of?
While I have never made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, I have spoken at events around the world, met thousands of people and continue to make new friends in my travels. No matter what, there’s always something new waiting. And my kids don’t hate me, even though I homeschooled them.
What changes in technology are essential for businesses to embrace?
None. Invest in your people —train your staff and support them well. Listen to the people you trust when they have ideas. Technology will find a way to work with you, and technology with no vision is pointless.
Why is “low-code” important for organizations to be leaning into in the future?
When Notes first came out, it was low-code, still is in many ways, and that was just the greatest thing for someone trying to figure out how to get something done. Workflow? Done. Mail service? Done. Polls? Anonymous polls? Done. Manipulate views and data and give management a score card or a chart or a report? Pretty easy too.
Low-code applications are easier, faster and better. Rapid-application development is also a mindset. When I look around, people don’t even know how to write basic scripts. Macros are rarely used. The current generation is not as scared of a computer or a device as people were 20 years ago, but we need to embrace the future that worked back in the early 1990s (!). We need to get faster and tinker.
Why is Domino crucial for companies who want to succeed?
Companies, even huge ones, still run on spreadsheets. Not even flexible and shareable spreadsheets. These could easily have proper applications built that not only provide logic, but serious data and analysis. This is just a small part of what Domino can do. If your company cares more about security than the latest fad, you need a safe, secure way to share your data both internally and externally. This is just a small part of what Domino can also do. Domino runs applications in the Fortune 100 that make millions of dollars for those companies — sales applications; inventory, onboarding and financial controls. These are fast, cheap and efficient applications that are accessible online and off, with full fidelity of function and data. Domino also had incredible foresight with long-life, low-code enabled applications built for the enterprise. Domino can run anywhere — on-prem, in the cloud, hosted, as a VM, as a Docker container, on a USB, with Windows, Linux, — even on a Raspberry Pi (or so I’m told).
Who are the “unsung heroes” of the modern work world?
There are a lot of unsung heroes in IT. We are like firemen. You only get called when there’s a problem. Domino is also an unsung hero because it is a very resilient server that just works and runs — it won’t be what brings your network down.