Social Coding: The Origins of IBM's Bluemix
So, in essence, IBM set up a consulting practice that began helping its clients rapidly deliver innovative applications by applying the best practices IBM was seeing both in industry and using inside the company--including DevOps and focusing on the design side of things. Because IBM had been undergoing a design transformation for about three years, they also brought in lean thinking, business hypotheses and minimal viable product into the mix. “We do a two-day design thinking workshop where we have the client come in with an idea or a concept of an idea or a problem and we come out with a set of hypotheses,” Reinitz said. “We have a fairly high success rate with that. Some clients come in with an app they want built and those tend to move fast. Those are quite easy. But a lot of clients come in and they want us to help them with innovation or help them with DevOps and that is like starting another project and they want us to help them with scale. Then there is a third category who are purchasing Bluemix as their platform--the dedicated Bluemix for example--and are now figuring what are the first apps I put on it, how do I make the most effective use, and from an IT perspective how do I engage lines of business to start to use it. So we help them align with LOBs and get things started.” Are We Still at IBM? The Bluemix Garages have a relaxed dress code – jeans and T-shirts are not uncommon – as well as a relaxed management structure where all ideas are considered. The casual approach causes some clients to literally ask if they are still at IBM, Reinitz said.“In terms of the type of people we look for, we look for people with strong interpersonal skills who can adapt because we’re doing different projects all the time,” Reinitz said. For instance, for designers the garages tend to go heavier on user experience (UX) designers, so they have UX designers, they have visual designers and a number of the designers have user research experience as well. For developers, Reinitz said she seeks to have a mix of experienced developers with varied experiences such as Agile development experience, experience within IBM, and even some consulting experience with knowledge of backend systems, security and enterprise applications. IBM also seeks a variety of more junior developers, she said. “Having a mix is usually beneficial,” she said. “And across the garages we are about 50/50 of experienced developers versus junior ones. But some of our juniors are really talented. We like diversity of all kinds. The number one thing we hire for in new developers is the ability to pick up new technologies. I care much less if a person knows Ruby or Node, but more that they are able to pick up the new Active Deploy or whatever the new technology is and that they’re comfortable learning new things.” Microsoft Influence? IBM has Bluemix Garages in four physical locations today: San Francisco, London, Toronto, and Nice, France and the company is working on a location in Melbourne. Ironically, IBM’s first garage location--San Francisco--is where Microsoft is holding its annual Build developer conference this week. The irony lies in that Bluemix was in some ways aimed at Microsoft. “I think part of the challenge here for enterprises is getting them to see Bluemix as a great place to go to do application prototyping and build applications,” Mills said in that early interview. “The importance of that initiative is to make it easy for people to build applications, provide a broad range of componentry, open tooling, an open environment with the kind of fit, finish and fidelity that I think they often attribute to Microsoft… When we came up with Bluemix I wasn't staring at AWS. I was staring at Azure. Give Microsoft credit, they are very good at personal computing. They think a lot about the fidelity of the environment. Can you find your way to the things that you want? They’re very user sensitive in the way they come at these problems…” Meanwhile, even though IBM has permanent garage locations in four cities, the company also has a “pop-up” capability, where its consultants will go into a city and do garage projects there. “We do that around the world. Any day of the week we have consultants anywhere around the world,” Reinitz said. Overall, the Bluemix Garage mission is to make Bluemix successful, not so much to profit off of its specific services. To be sure, the garage unit does have revenue targets, but the larger goal is to have an impact on Bluemix and the overall IBM cloud. “If I look at the deals for Bluemix, the garage significantly impacted a number of them,” Reinitz proclaimed.
To work in such an environment requires not only a certain personality type, but also a particular background and outlook.