Focus

My research manager told me that I’ve been conditionally approved for
VPN access, which would allow me to access IBM resources without
having to go all the way up to Markham (1-1.5 hour commute one way).
This access will be revoked if they feel that I’m getting distracted
by all the cool things I can do within IBM, such as organizing CASCON
2006. They asked me to promise to use the VPN only for things that are
directly related to my work.

Sounds good to me. =) In fact, it sounds like exactly what I need. For
the next few weeks—months, even—I’ll be in heads-down single-tasking
mode when it comes to IBM. I’ll keep a research plan somewhere
(possibly a password-protected page on this wiki) and post regular
updates on my internal blog, and at all times my research managers
will know what my next action is and what I’m waiting for.

I might need to give up a few things as part of scaling back my
involvement in IBM. I have a lot of opportunities to help define IBM
2.0 and move it forward, but the IBM Center for Advanced Studies pays
for my graduate studies, and so they have dibs on my IBM mindshare. I
can think of my research as almost a contract. If they’re happy with
my proposal, then I can scope it, schedule it, do it, and be done.

I’m not too worried about missing out on opportunities. Evangelizing
social software within IBM, supporting networking at CASCON, improving
the experience of social computing: these all point to goals that I
can achieve through other means at other times. When I’m ready to take
advantage of these opportunities again, they’ll reappear.

In the meantime, focusing on my work and treating it as a
time-sensitive contract allows me to separate it and free up
brainspace for a few other things I’d like to do, like writing and
establishing an external reputation. This is better for me in the long
run, too. That way, I finish my graduate studies ready to take on
problems at different scales: from 300k-person enterprises to smaller
gigs.

A minor downside is that I won’t be able to claim a living allowance:
it certainly adds up, particularly if you think about compounded
interest over a long period of time. If I manage my time wisely,
though, I might be able to make it worth it in the long run. For
example, if I can convert three hours of sleepy commuting or relaxed
RSS reading into three hours of focused writing time each day, that
can lead to a lot of opportunities in the future. Getting rid of time
constraints can also mean that I’ll eat better (hello, breakfast!) and
cheaper (hello, kitchen!). The opportunity to schedule coffee breaks
with people here will also help me plug further into the local tech
scene. I’m trading money for flexibility, and I think I can make it
worth it.

As for IBM networking: I can do that through the Greater IBM
initiative. They’re externally hosted, so I don’t need to use the VPN
for that. What about the internal networking, the real-time
collaboration I enjoyed and occasionally found useful? I’ll just have
to trust that people have a good enough sense of what I’m interested
in and that I’m discoverable by people who might be interested in my
research. Personal referrals will probably do the trick.

What might I miss out on? The IBM CAS experience, I suppose: chalk
talks, lunches with random people, cups and cups of hot chocolate… I
won’t be one of their face-to-face Connectors, but that’s okay;
someone else can take that role. Most of the people I connect with are
scattered around the world, so VPN won’t make much of a difference. I
can promise not to initiate conversations that aren’t directly related
to my research, and try to minimize unrelated conversations initiated
by others.

VPN access might also include the expectation of greater availability,
the way many people assume that cellphones make other people always
reachable. To help assure my research manager that I won’t get too
distracted, I’ll check my e-mail once a day and I’ll resist the
temptation to do anything unless I can explicity justify it.
Sure, it’s less value than I can provide IBM as a whole, but it
protects the value I offer to CAS.

I could very well do most of my work downtown even now, although I’d
still like VPN so that I can share my progress internally. I don’t
think I’m allowed to blog even my research proposal externally, so
unfortunately I’ll have to stay dark about it here. I’ll try to write
about other things I’m learning, though. If I omit IBM-specific
information, I might be able to stay out of trouble. =)

My personal blog is my call, and as long as I follow my proposal and
submit my deliverables, things should be good. I should be able to
blog about cooking or tango or DemoCamp without my developer
sponsor freaking out. =)

Sounds like a plan.

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