Sunday, April 29, 2007

I'd Rather Be Lucky than Good

This isn't my usual type of post because it talks not about concepts or competence but about a stroke of unusually good professional luck.

I was one of 4700 IBMers attending the Technical Leadership Exchange in Anaheim, California. I had just gotten a new assignment to create the canonical data model for my client's new enterprise service bus (ESB). I think of this as the superset of all the many possible data attributes of the major business objects that flow across the ESB. Examples would include purchase order, order acknowledgement, invoice, advance shipping notice, and more. The back end system for all of these transactions is SAP.

There was some training on Sunday before the conference started on Monday. At dinner Sunday night I sat down at a table of strangers and made some IBM smalltalk with my new acquaintances. A few minutes later some other guys sat down. The guy who sat to my immediate left asked me who I was, where I was from, what I was doing, etc.

When I mentioned I was working on a project to create a canonical data model for an ESB, he casually told me "Oh, I've been working on IBM's canonical data model for IBM's ESB for two years. I'm the lead architect." At this point I just about fell out of my chair. I could not believe my good fortune.

I told him I would pick up his dry cleaning and wash his car if he'd tell me everything he knew about canonical data models. He laughed and offered to help me.

To make a long story short, he wound up showing me the canonical data model for IBM's own ESB and pointed me to where I could download XML schemas off the IBM intranet. Incidentally, IBM uses SAP for many of its back end functions. One valuable tidbit of information included was a spreadsheet linking attributes in the canonical form with specific SAP IDOC segments and fields.

In the consulting business we call this "intellectual capital" and wonderful intellectual capital it is. Obviously, this has really jumpstarted my work. I wish I could say that I was really good but in this case I must confess being really lucky (or have I been living right?... that's another discussion).

He never did make me wash his car either. As we said playing basketball after someone said we were just lucky to make a difficult shot. Luck counts!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Avatars for Architects

There is a yearly conference for IBM's client-facing technical leaders. During the lean years when money was in short supply for training, being selected to attend this event was especially coveted. For a long time, the only way to be guaranteed an invitation was to get selected to speak at the event. Speaker selection became quite competitive.

I am happy to report that after about four years of trying, I actually got to speak at the 2007 Technical Leadership Exchange held in Anaheim, California.

I am a firm believer in sampling something really off-the-wall every now and then to knock the cobwebs off of some unused brain cells. I saw that a favorite speaker of mine, David McDavid, the source for a previous post The Role of the Business Transformation Architect was giving a talk on the business implications of Second Life.

I naively thought that only a few crazies like me would show up for such a thing. Wrong! There must have been 500 of my peers there to check it out. The entire conference was about 4700 people and you had to arrive by 1PM Sunday afternoon to attend the Second Life talk.

As a speaker, I was privy to the pre-registration numbers. When I sorted the 420 or so elective sessions, the Second Life presentation was the one that more of IBM's technical leaders wanted to reserve a seat to attend than any other. At the session I learned IBM is quite a land baron in the Second Life "megaverse," owning many Second Life "islands".

David talked about how he played around in Second Life and found himself wanting to set up his own place and how he intentionally chose a location with interesting neighbors including a small software company and East Coast artist. He raved about all the interesting people he had met thru Second Life. It began to sound like an endorsement of my unoriginal theory that it is good to check out off-the-wall ideas and hang out with interesting people not like me every now and then.

The message to my readers is that smart people are either taking Second Life and the business implications of it very seriously... or they are afraid they aren't taking it seriously enough and might be missing the next big thing.

I decided I must already be behind the curve. If you log into Second Life and find a boy next door looking avatar named Caleb Schumann who doesn't know what he's doing in the megaverse, it is me fumbling around trying to catch with the train that has already left the station without me.

Me over the volcano that is about to errupt and kill me if I don't do the hula for some character on a training island for newbies.
The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

Word from the China Front

I had the good fortune to make my second trip to visit my client in Beijing, China. My trip was extended twice and I wound up staying three and a half weeks.

  • The reason my trip got extended was that one of my team's biggest recommendations related to eCommerce was rejected by the client as too expensive and taking too long. Heavy sigh. A worthy competitor has been introduced into the overall solution as a result.
  • I got to observe an interesting phenomenon. When an army of English speaking people fly to China to conduct meetings in English with Chinese I/T staff, the English speakers tend to dominate the discussion while everyone is in the room. The Chinese are generally soft-spoken and before they can mentally translate from English to Chinese, the English speakers move on to the next point. The Chinese are too polite to interrupt and say "you're going too fast." Therefore, the English speakers think there is a consensus only to discover objections later that never got expressed during the meeting.
  • I joined the team tasked with creating an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) for the client. This ESB must span from North America to China. I think it qualifies as the "Brokered ESB Deployment Pattern" as described in my earlier post ESB Patterns that "Click".
  • I've been learning more about SAP and integrating SAP to other systems.
  • On a personal level unrelated to I/T Architecture, I got to have dinner with a member of Communist Party, to be amazed yet again at the incredible changes taking place in Chinese society, to visit the Summer Palace, to visit the Lama Temple, and take a bicycle rickshaw ride thru an old Beijing hutong. I got really tired of Kung Pao Chicken too.

Me at the Summer Palace in March 2007.

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.