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EXSUM: Engineering Excellence Reflection

I founded IBM’s internal Engineering Excellence work stream and grew it from a single man initiative to an executive-led program with multiple individual tracks endorsed by our SVP and director of Research. The executive leading it now, Danny Barnett, established a steering committee on which I have been serving and I was named one of the five Faces of IBM Research for my part in getting there. My motivation was simple: Learn from our best engineers so I could become a distinguished engineer myself one day while having a positive impact on our engineering culture and supporting others with the same aspiration. I still have two career steps to take, but this example already shows that following a genuine interest can bear great fruits and that one should not be afraid to start small.

The work stream is internal for good reason – we need to be able to speak openly and candidly as well as discuss internal architectures, numbers, challenges and opportunities. Thus, I cannot go into detail on it, but I have been allowed to show the lineup of the first two seasons of the core Engineering Excellence track which I still lead myself as well as my analysis of its reach – there are now additional speaker tracks and I have built a portal [or two to be exact: one for general engineering and one specifically for my lab, MIT-IBM].

The first thing to note is that the first keynote was already given by Grady Booch which is not only a testament to his generosity and willingness to help build strong engineering cultures, but also shows that it is rarely a mistake to ask. During my Bachelor studies I reached out to Dave Perry who was in the middle of selling his company (Gaikai) to Sony for $380 million USD, since I had a genuine scientific reason around GPU virtualization and he took the time to help. The second thing to note is that all the other speakers are highly experienced engineers and executives as well – not only is the series built on the shoulders of giants, but it also demonstrates an aspect I deeply enjoy about computer science: We, independent of rank, profoundly care about our field. We love talking about it and advancing it. There is no question that once I hit DE and a young engineer approaches me that I will do the same.

Finally, I am proud of the impact we are having. Not even fully counting the last part of the year with the core series alone we have thus far reached 2,369 unique colleagues in 70 business units across 48 countries. If we plot this on a map, it looks like this (blue / orange indicates reach):

In addition, I was certified as an IBM Expert Developer earlier this year which is the highest Developer Profession rank (not the highest software engineering rank, however) and also means that I have been serving as a subject matter expert to certify other engineers. Moreover, I was invited to give a Stage of the Research Engineer presentation (another EE track) to showcase my own work as well as to being a panelist in a recent roundtable discussion (part of Excellence Hours, another EE track) to support others in doing the same which is not only rewarding in itself, but also contributed to me becoming a Profession Champion and Blue Core Mentor. Finally, I have been working with our Academy of Technology and our initiative this year was ranked as highly satisfying by the sponsoring executive. Excellence is famously not an act, but a habit (Durant) which is why I am looking forward to keep at it and see where this journey will take us.

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