This is going to be an entirely self-indulgent (and probably very long) ramble – a chance for me to work out what I want to do next in my career, my life, that sorta thing.

It’s not really meant for anyone else – in fact, I’d frankly be amazed if anyone found it remotely interesting – but I hope that writing it might help me to get some thoughts clear. And as none of it is really secret I figure that this is as good a place as any.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here comes my unbroken stream of thoughts…

Looking back – What have I been doing?

I’ve been at IBM Hursley since leaving Uni in August 2003 – coming up to four years soon. (Bloody hell, has it been that long already?)

I joined WebSphere MQ – not really through any thought-out plan, but because that’s where I was put after going through the whole graduate recruitment process. (I’d like to think there was some logic behind putting me there, but it felt pretty random at the time).

And WebSphere MQ was my home until this month – not always the same job (in fact I’ve had several roles, working in Development, Test and Service teams), but always the same product.

I threw myself into WMQ – trying to get involved with as many things as I could. As a new grad joining a development team of hundreds of people, on a product over ten years old, I wanted to find a way to make myself useful (as well as doing the actual “day job” that I get given to do).

  • I worked on the internal automated test system infrastructure – maintaining it and extending it with new functionality
  • I designed and implemented three SupportPacs – freeware extensions to WebSphere MQ that were made available on (one of which proved popular enough to later be formally integrated into the full product)
  • I wrote a number of WMQ-related articles, both internally and externally as TechNotes and on developerWorks
  • I started a blog to share WMQ ideas in a more informal way.
  • I gave presentations at customer conferences, and often participate in conference calls with customers providing support and advice on WMQ-related issues.

And I did lots of other stuff. Since moving down here for my job at IBM, I’ve thrown myself into a bunch of other things outside of work:

  • Sat on steering group for the local Millennium Volunteers project
  • Started a new youth volunteering charity which I am now a trustee and the Deputy Chair for – now employing eight members of staff and working with hundreds of young people
  • Governor and chair of the Curriculum Committee for my local primary school
  • Listening volunteer at my local Samaritans and a trustee of the charity responsible for the branch
  • Mentor for young people leaving public care
  • Volunteer tutor in basic literacy and numeracy at evening classes in a local adult education centre
  • Active member of local Liberal Democrat party, including working on a parliamentary election campaign, sitting on local Party Executive and standing as a candidate in the local council elections
  • And lots more – if you really care, you can find my CV but I got involved with all sorts of stuff from Amnesty International and running youth groups, to work with Make Votes Count and an open-source e-voting project

I also got involved in a bunch of IBM’s community activities, like running National Science Week events and teaching computing classes at a local secondary school.

In short, for the last three or four years, I have been a busy bunny. But what was it like?


There are lots of ways to describe it: I got a real sense of achievement out of what I did; I felt like I was helping; I made a lot of friends; I got to do a wide and varied range of things; and use a number of different skills… basically, it was fun.

GTD is my life

Juggling so many balls at once meant organisation was important, and ‘Getting Things Done’ was a massive part of this. I am a GTD-devotee – I have lists for everything, and capture everything to the extent where my “trusted system” feels like an extension to my brain that I would be lost without.

In order to be able to function in so many areas and do so effectively, I accepted that I wouldn’t be able to keep all of it in my head. I couldn’t remember everything, or track everything, or just keep that many ideas and plans and projects going at once. Using GTD, I worked out a way where I wouldn’t rely on keeping anything in my head – using a system that I could use and refer to in as seamless a way as possible… so that people would (almost!) not realise that I wasn’t remembering it all myself.

Which leads me on to…

Mobile computing rulez

I’ve always loved gadgets, but the last few years have really cemented my passion for, and my belief in the value of, mobile computing.

All of my projects, in all of my roles, are stored and organised in personal wikis, which I carry with me at all times on a PDA. When I go to any meeting I have with me a browseable and searchable reference source of all of our previous discussions, decisions, projects and references.

For example, in a school governor’s meeting, we could be shown the latest set of assessment results for a year group. Instead of looking at it in isolation, within a few taps on my screen I can be looking at a page with results from previous years together with my jotted notes on previous discussions about it – what trends we observed, what issues we highlighted and what plans we made to address them, what we hoped for from the next set of results… Enough to put the current discussion in a wider context and allow for a careful and informed consideration. Without it, the results would be a sheet of meaningless numbers that I could just note passively.

It was particularly useful when I started in fields unfamiliar to me – as with most areas of life, youth work and education have their own worlds of jargon and abbreviations. And with my comp-sci background, when terms like NEET, HIAS or Panda data were thrown around, I would need to ask what they meant. But the point is – I would only have to ask once. My “trusted system” gave me the confidence to be able to switch gears between technical work at IBM, a meeting discussing curriculum strategy at my school, and a funding meeting discussing medium term funding approaches for my charity – all within the same day, and all without missing a beat.

Plus, the ability to keep tabs on my non-IBM email addresses at any time, wherever I was, became invaluable. I could keep up with projects and correspondence in my lunch-breaks or in-between evening meetings – without needing to wait until I got home in the evening. My personal “office” was my gear bag of PDA, bluetooth keyboard, and USB memory sticks – a mobile office that is with me at all times.


It’s fair to say that sleep kinda took a hit. Even if you ignore doing night-shifts as a Samaritan (which involved answering phones from 10pm-7am then heading back to work) – I worked some kinda nutty hours to fit everything in. Evenings, weekends… the boundaries between work and home blurred to the point where it was all one. It was all just stuff-that-I-did.

A typical week would involve some meeting or activity on most if not every evening. Some evenings would involve a couple of appointments – like going straight from work to SYA, say 5.30pm-7.00pm, then off to Samaritans for a trustees meeting from 7.30pm till 10pm – finally getting home after 10.30pm. I lived out of my Outlook calendar to know where I was supposed to be at any point and it would nearly always be full (again relying on mobile computing to be able to get on with stuff without worrying about remembering things.)

But with such a packed schedule, luxuries like proper sleep did get a bit squeezed out. And with some meeting or activity crammed into every possible evening, any semblance of a social life kinda stalled a bit… if not die a total and utter death.

Put it this way, sleep deprivation and a diet of rubbish probably hasn’t done me much good, but after leaving Uni my liver has had an easy ride for a few years!

I’m not selling this very well…

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not moaning. I have loved the last three or four years, and the range of experiences it has given me.

How many 20-something-year-old software engineers get to write enterprise-level code, deal directly with large multi-national corporations, as well as plan a funding strategy for hundreds of thousands of pounds, plan and teach a class, drive a minibus and run a youth group, recruit new members of staff, and develop a curriculum strategy for primary school students… all within a single week?

Time for a change

All of this leads me to where I got to a few months ago – thinking that I needed to make some changes.

There were a number of drivers, but the biggest concerns were:


The problem: comfort-zones are bad

I was getting too comfortable in WebSphere MQ. I’m not saying that there isn’t new stuff for me to learn in WMQ, but I’ve got the general idea.

Four years ago, this was all new. Platforms like i-Series or Sun Solaris were completely new to me, and WMQ was a whole product full of features and quirks to get my head around. It was big, it was scary… and it was fun.

And I didn’t have that any more – it might sound strange, but for want of a better word, work just wasn’t scary enough any more. I was getting settled in to my comfort-zone.

The answer?

So I left and got a new job. (Not my first choice of new job to be honest. It was actually my third – after one fell through and I spectacularly imploded in a technical interview for the other…) I’m now working in the development team for WebSphere Process Server on z/OS.

It’s kind of hard to explain in non-technical terms what this shift means. WebSphere Process Server (WPS) is built on top of, and works with, a number of other IBM products, so moving to WPS means I need to learn not just WPS but WebSphere Application Server (WAS), DB2, Derby, WebSphere Integration Developer (WID), WebSphere Message Broker (WMB), WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus (WESB), and more. These are all new to me. I’ve spent a few years learning one product – WMQ, and here I am now drowning in letters.

Put another way, if WMQ is at the bottom of the stack, then I’ve spent a few years there without looking up all that often. And now instead of going up a step, I’m teetering at the top, getting my head around an unfamiliar stack.

That leaves the on z/OS part. I’m working on a new platform – mainframes. Moving from, for example, Linux to Solaris, was like moving from apples to pears. Sure, they taste different and they look different, but if you know what to do with an apple, you can pretty much work out what to do with a pear.

Moving to z/OS is like going from an apple to an aardvark. Knowing what to do with an apple isn’t that much help, and you’re left poking and prodding your aardvark wondering why your apple corer doesn’t seem to be much help any more.

So definitely out of my comfort zone now, then! From a mature product to one that is only a year or so old. From a platform I’ve used and studied for years, to one that I can barely find my way around on. In fact, I’ve spent a large part of the last month not knowing exactly what I’m doing… 🙂

Everything else

The problem?

This is a little less well-defined, but I had a few thoughts bouncing around:

  • I’ve got a two-year old daughter, Grace – am I seeing enough of her during the week?
  • My wife moved from working three days a week at a school which is a ten minute walk away from our home, to working full-time in central London – is it my turn to be at home more? (Again, mainly thinking about looking after Grace)
  • Am I neglecting my career? If I think about the time and energy I’ve put into stuff over the last four years that IBM isn’t even aware of… what could I have done if I’d directed that towards work?
  • Am I neglecting my technical skills? Again, thinking of the time and energy put into entirely non-computing-related activities, and watching my peers using that sort of time to learn new languagues, technologies, and to try new tech stuff… am I getting left behind?

So I quit. A lot. I still do mentoring with On The Level, because I committed to a year with my current mentee. And I have stayed with Solent Youth Action because… well, that’s like my other baby and I really didn’t want to give that up. But everything else… done. Finished.

Time to focus on family, and my social life, and learning as many computing things as I can.

A good change?

I have a lot more free time now… my calendar looks pretty bare! My to-do list, which generally hovered around 150 – 200 active tasks at any given time, has been more like 20 – 30 tasks for the last few weeks. This feels weird.

I spend a lot more time with Grace than I used to. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give the impression that I neglected her before, or that I never saw her – because I don’t believe that was the case. But I do spend more time with her now than before – like putting her to bed nearly every night instead of three or four nights a week. I’m really enjoying this.

I’ve had more nights out – I’ve probably drunk more alcohol in the last month or so than I have in the last couple of years. Yes, I’m not trying to say that this is big or clever, but the point I’m trying to make is that this is getting dangerously close to being like a social life again, and I’m enjoying it.

I’ve had more time to tinker with stuff – I’ve played with bits of code and technologies that I probably wouldn’t have had time to before, including putting a chhunk of time into my wiki app. It’s kinda fun.

I’m spending more time doing leisure stuff – played a lot of Wii and DS games, read several books, and watched far too much TV. All stuff that I never really found much time for recently.

Career-wise, people keep telling me how there is an increasing demand for mainframe skills and that I am learning valuable and marketable skills. I even keep hearing that “mainframes are the future”. I figure that either:
a) That’s true, and starting to learn z/OS now will leave me well-placed to make valuable contributions in the future.
b) That’s not exactly true, mainframes are history. But mainframes are the end product of several decades worth of effort – and learning history is a good way for us to better understand and improve our future. Learning z/OS now could help me to bring improvements to future computing products or platforms. (Virtualisation, for example, seems to have been around in mainframe-land for decades, yet is recently getting a lot of people very excited on newer platforms.) What other lessons can I learn from the mainframe view of the world?

Either way, this should be a good next thing to learn.


I am having second thoughts, though.

I’m not the sort of person who doesn’t like change, but it is weird being in a job where I don’t know what I am doing at the moment. There is a bit of me that misses actually being useful. And I know that when it comes to review time, I’m gonna get hammered for that – have I scuppered any chance for a pay raise or bonus this year by not staying in WMQ where I could contribute more?

What have I achieved today? It’s not just work: now that I don’t do the other stuff that I used to do in the evenings and weekends, I kinda miss that sense of achievement – the feeling that I was contributing, that I was making a difference. I feel lazy.

Am I an adrenaline junkie? No, probably not… but I do miss the buzz I got from how busy I used to be. I used to dash from one thing to another, and now it feels like I’m drifting… directionless.

Maybe it is partly because I haven’t really got into my new job in WPS yet, but for whatever reason I’m feeling a bit disconnected and my motivation has taken a knock. I’ve got far less to do today than I did a couple of months ago, but I’m doing even less – mainly because I can’t be bothered. I’ve even started falling behind with some bits and pieces that I used to do on time when I was really busy. Now I have lots more time, and no excuse – other than that some of my energy and enthusiasm seems to have gone.

Now that my diary isn’t as full, I do most of my (non-IBM) work at home – so my need for the whole “mobile office” thing has gone down. I still carry a PDA around, but in the last few weeks I’ve spent more time using it as an RSS feed-reader and web-browser than as a way to get anything useful done. It’s because I don’t need to do as much work on the go any more… so is it weird that I miss the chance to use my gadgets? Yeah, probably.

So what now?

I don’t know.

That was pretty much the point of writing this – the hope that getting these thoughts out and on to a page might help clarify how I feel about things and what I want to do next. But it hasn’t really worked. And it’s ended up a hundred times longer than I thought it was going to be! Whoops.


3 Responses to “Changes”

  1. Hi Dale, sadly starting a post with people probably won’t read this. meant that I had to read it sorry!!

    Well I think you can be duly proud and satisfied with what you have achieved.

    My only advice for what’s it’s worth is to follow your instincts, and don’t second guess yourself.

  2. Andy D says:

    Hi Dale, be amazed as this was a very interesting read! Don?t give yourself a hard time, I?m amazed at what you?ve achieved and you?re still in your twenties.

    I think this kind of feeling goes in cycles; so busy there?s little time to stop and think, so feel like a break, then feel guilty for not doing so much, so get busy again? then feel like a break again? then feel guilty for doing less again?

    It?s almost a year since you wrote that post ? how did things work themselves out? Do you feel the same way now?

    I?m into the GTD thing ? though I?m not into it as much as I was before, I?m easier on myself with it now. The thing with GTD is that it helps you get stuff done but doesn?t help you decide if that?s the right stuff to be doing in the first place! I?m not into counting the number of things I?ve achieved in a given day or week, I?m more just enjoying ?now?!

    Great blog by the way, only discovered it today. Like you I?m fascinated by the mobile computing thing, it?s the most personal computing ever – going to be huge in the next few years!

    I?ve done some VB programming a while back on PC?s, but I?d love to get into writing my own WM apps. I?ve made a start by downloading your PowerPoint introduction to it!

    Take care, cheers.


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