Job thoughts

I work for IBM. Most people who would read this already know that, but in case it comes as news to you, there it is. I work for IBM and I am generally content with the work I do there and the environment that is cultivated. Generally. Content.

So it came as something of a surprise when, out of nowhere, not 1 but 2 jobs, of vastly different character and substance arrived in my lap within 12 hours of one another. Before proceeding, I should point out that in the metaphorical seascape, where these jobs are submarines or possibly whales, and where my current management is perhaps some kind of surface vessel, a fishing trawler, say, or a canoe; in the sense of all of this, it would not be incorrect to say that said trawler is not equipped with a sidescan sonar buoy, if you catch my drift. That is to say, they don’t know about this, and frankly I would be just as happy if you, dear reader, did not inform them. Surely google will find this blog eventually but by then I think this situation will have resolved itself.

Job the first concerns a security course I took a while ago, one of much ethical hacking and a generous soup├žon of advanced penetration testing besides. It was a fun course, if somewhat a rehashing for me of things I had already learned, and the week after taking it, in talking with the instructor, he told me he had a teaching/pentesting position for me in the fall if I were interested. I have met with him. We have had drinks. His motorcycle’s vanity plate is, I swear, HAX0R. Delicious. This job would have me doing something I like, and getting paid almost heinously well on a per-diem basis, but it would be a contracted position and would not be full time and it’s quite unclear whether the degree to which it is part time is made up for by the aforementioned heinousness.

Job the second concerns the recent departure from IBM of a friend of mine and delightful fellow named Mike. Mike was in the User Centered Design lab, which is to say that, like the BASF commercials of yore, his job was not to make things, it was to make things better. UCD are the people that grab developers by the scruff of their earlobes and shake them like British nannies until they produce something usable, to wit: “You can’t put the close button on the other side of the window just because you think it’s cool! You can’t invent this stuff as you go along. The user, she can’t take much more’o’this!” It turns out the question of how to make extremely complex things usable and comprehensible to extremely simple users is an interesting and challenging one. And not just to Mike; I too find it delicious. His job, it seems, has also become available to me, if I should be so inclined (or a derivative of his job, no one can replace Mike, he is a beautiful and unique snowflake, yadda yadda yadda). I have met with his manager. I do not know whether he has a cool license plate.

I have been forestalling the decision until a Cusp, which seems now to be, if not upon me, then at least afoot. The UCD gig will be available first. If I decide to pass on it for the security gig, I give up a sure thing for a maybe. On the other hand I know I will enjoy the security job, and I merely strongly suspect I will enjoy the nebulousness that is the UCD job. On the other hand, I have a degree in cogsci, I love humanity, and UCD is about people, and making things not suck, which are things about which I have passion. On the other hand, there are license plates to consider.

It comes to this: the thing I will not do is take the UCD job, get the offer for the security job, and jump ship two months in. I don’t care that I owe IBM no particular debt. I don’t care that IBM would dump me in a second if it increased shareholder value. I have a professional ethic which prevents me from the duplicity of taking a job I know I won’t keep, so if I take the UCD job, I will be saying ‘no’ to the security one, or at very least “call me in 6 months and we’ll see how well UCD is fitting.” The security job may or may not wait, though I suspect it will — good teachers with technical backgrounds are a scarcity, even before considering the obscurity of the material. UCD definitely won’t wait — they need someone and if it isn’t me, it will be someone else. But I’ve been given to believe it certainly could be me.

It remains undecided.

Oh look, this blog supports comments.


  1. My ex-manager does not have a cool license plate, but FWIW, he drives a BMW Z3, and usually rolls with the top down.

    If I have learned one thing, it is that the best way to ensure success in the workplace is to completely love what it is that you’re doing. This takes more or less direct effort depending on your natural affinity for your job. From what you’ve written, it sounds like teaching people about ethical hacking may very well be the better path; as odd as it sounds, it’s the one I’d recommend, if you can be reasonably assured that it will provide the neccessities for your family.

    I think you’d love the UCD job, and have said as much in the past. But it sounds like your heart is in a more hands-on like position, where you get to directly finesse cirricula, minds and business plans. The one thing that may indeed kill the hell out of you in UCD is the lack of actual making of things.

    Besides, my ex-manager is convinced I’ll be back in a year or so anyway, isn’t he?

  2. So, now that I’ve read through a bit more I have two follow on thoughts:
    1) You’re smarter than me. To be frank, I’d always kind of suspected this, but it’s always impressive to get a sense of relative scale.
    2) There is a potential downside to the teaching job, which is that it’s not certain how much opportunity you’d have for intellectual promiscuity. True, you may have huge chunks of time off in which to dabble and such, but I’ve always found that it’s easier to stretch one’s intellect in the company of others.

    Which brings me to the solution: the security job, and the off-time spent at my new offices! Eh? Eh!?

  3. Could you do both? Some big companies allow their staff to pursue part-time side projects, sometimes even letting them do an 80% workweek to accomodate them. Some managers at companies that officially don’t will let people do this anyway.

  4. I would guess – and since he’d be working for my ex-manager, presumably taking on some of my ex-workload, I’ve got a pretty good sense of these things – that he could do both, although not officially, and only if it was a day of teaching here and a day of teaching there. Taking weeks at a time off would be impractical, if not impossible.

  5. […] The aforementioned cusp has come and gone. I’m taking the UCD job. […]

  6. Hi. I used to work @ the Watson Research Lab back in the day. I always enjoyed the annual UCD conference. And always imagined a UCD shagra-la up there in Canada. Funny to run across your blog. Good luck with the UCD job.

  7. I enjoyed your site and look forward to more.

  8. I did a Google for beltzner basf, and your July 18, 2005, entry came up. It looks like Mike Beltzner in California may have Canadian roots, and I am trying to find out something about O. W. Beltzner, a former (and founding) vice president of BASF Canada. I clicked on a link to Mike Beltzner’s website, but I could not figure out how to send him a message. (I don’t do blogs very often.) Can you please tell me how I can reach Mike Beltzner? Thanks.

  9. Your post is on target. Keep it up.

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