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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