Some job titles can be vague. Have you ever given your title to a person at a cocktail party, only to have to explain exactly what you do? With a title like "IBM Master Inventor and Senior Managing Consultant", this happens to me all the time. To help explain what we do at the Tucson Executive Briefing Center (EBC), I use the following analogy.
People who want to see or interact with animals have several options. One option is to go visit the animals in their natural habitat. A more convenient option, however, is to visit the animals in a zoo. Zoos bring together a wide variety of animals, making it convenient to visit all of them at one time.
I did not fully appreciate the advantage of zoos until I took a safari in Kenya, Africa a few years ago. The word safari means "long journey" in Swahili. For two weeks, we drove around in a Land Rover on bumpy roads across the country. The best time to see the animals was early in the morning and late in the afternoon. We would drive around for hours looking for a type animal we had not seen already. Most came to see the so-called "Big Five": Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Rhinoceros. After two weeks and hundreds of miles, we had seen the "Big Nine" which extends the Big Five to include the Cheetah, Zebra, Giraffe and Hippo, as well as seeing a variety of other, lesser known animals.
When it comes to zoos, there are two kinds.
- Self-guided -- offering the basic zoo experience where you are handed a map to visit the animals on your own.
- Docent-guided -- offering a richer zoo experience where the docent provides added value, leading visitors around the zoo, answering questions, providing education, and comparing the differences between the animals.
Over the past 15 years, IBM has been consolidating storage development in Tucson, Arizona moving storage-related projects from San Jose, CA, from Rochester, MN, and from Raleigh, NC. Tucson has the largest collection of IBM storage hardware and software development in North America. I am one of the three local "docents", guiding the clients that come to Tucson to visit the developers.
(Note: I have seen other analogies to discuss groups of developers. There is an old adage: engineers are [like mushrooms: kept in the dark, covered with manure, and then canned when they are old enough]. In 2008, I had a popular blog post relating [Software Programmers as Bees]. In referring to developers as animals in the zoo in this post, I am treating them in high esteem as the star attractions of the zoo. This blog is not meant as commentary on their hygiene.)
Here are some of the types of developers that our clients ask to interact with:
- Research Scientists
A was hired into IBM back in 1986 as a Research Scientist. When clients want to hear about IBM's future direction over the next 10-15 years, we bring in someone from IBM Research.
- Hardware Engineers
While disk systems may seem no more complicated as arranging books on a shelf, clients often want to talk to hardware engineers related to IBM's tape libraries, especially the IBM System Storage TS3500 library and the High-Density frame that can store multiple cartridges per slot in a spring-loaded manner.
- Software Engineers
I have a Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering and Master's degree in Electrical Engineering, so I am able to speak both sides of the hardware/software divide. Software engineers here in Tucson develop the microcode that runs on disk and tape hardware, the various GUI, CLI and SMI-S API interfaces, as well as Tivoli Storage software, especially Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) and Tivoli Storage Productivity Center.
IBM Tucson has a huge test lab, and our testers are very familiar with all of the subtle nuances of interoperability between servers, HBAs, switches and storage devices. We have system and function testers for the individual products, ISV testers to validate software compatability, performance testers, and environment testers to verify the storage devices can handle extremes in temperature, humidity, vibration and noise.
- System Architects
IBM has architects for each product line to help decide which features and functions are developed for each product release. While many software engineers have expertise narrowly focused on an individual component, the system architects need to have a broad awareness of the entire environment. Earlier in my career, I was the chief architect for DFSMS, the storage management element of the z/OS mainframe operating sytsem, and chief architect for what we now call Tivoli Storage Productivity Center.
- Product and Portfolio Managers
Product and Portfolio managers are helpful to explain to clients why IBM invested more in some products than others. I had served as the Portfolio Manager for IBM tape systems. When clients want to talk about the business side of our products, such as pricing, licensing and leasing issues, we bring the product and portfolio managers in.
- IBM Executives
For some clients, high level executives want to speak to their counterparts at IBM, vice president to vice president, executive to executive. Our local IBM executives often help kick off the briefing in the morning, or provide the executive summary and discuss next steps at the end of the day. Golfing, dinners and drinks, of course, are always a popular scheduing option.
On behalf of the rest of the Tucson EBC, I would like to thank all the developers who have helped us last year with client briefings. There are too many to mention, and most are too humble to let me put their names in this blog. Team, your assistance is very appreciated!
Many IBMers consider Tucson to be the headquarters for storage, and I have heard IBM executives refer to Tucson as the center of the universe for storage products. However, IBM is a global company. Just as zoos do not pretend to be complete collections of animals, IBM storage development is not entirely contained in Tucson. IBM Research for storage is also done in Almaden CA, Yorktown Heights NY, and Haifa, Israel. Hardware development is also done in Japan, Europe and Israel. Tivoli Storage has locations in Beaverton, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, to name a few. IBM is a big company, so if I left your favorite location off the list, let me know in the comments below.
Some clients, sales reps and business partners have complained that Tucson is not the most convenient location to get to. I get that. One rep asked why we don't have briefing centers somewhere more accessible, such as Chicago or Atlanta, both cities offer a major airline hub. As much as I personally enjoy cities like Chicago or Atlanta, people don't visit zoos just to see the docents, they come to see the animals. Having docents located in Chicago or Atlanta, standing sadly in front of empty cages with no animals to interact with, makes no sense at all.
With over 350 days of sunshine per year, Tucson is actually a well-kept secret. Clients who have never been to Tucson discover the wonders of the Sonoran desert. Coyotes chase roadrunners across our parking lot. Several clients who have come to visit us have ended up buying retirement homes here. If you haven't been to Tucson, or it has been a while since your last trip, I encourage you to [schedule a briefing]. The weather right now is ideal!