Working Like a Startup at IBM

By Bin (Ben) Cao

Working-as-a-startup-at-IBM“Where is the best place to jump-start my career? Should I work at a startup or in a corporate environment?” Like most college graduates, I asked the same questions when deciding where to launch my career.

When we think about working at a large company, we associate it with structure, stability and good benefits. On the other hand, we link innovation, flexibility and opportunity with the world of startups. And if we work at one, we might have the audacity to create something new from ground zero.

But this generalization does not paint the whole story. Let me tell you about my experience working for a unique startup opportunity at IBM.

Innovation in a Corporate Environment

When I joined IBM’s emerging solutions team, we had one mission: to chase after new and bold technology. Our team pursued a wide range of opportunities, ranging from big data to human computer interaction.

One of our proof-of-concept ideas was to create an easy-to-use, self-servicing portal for the cloud. It took off and became IBM’s infrastructure as a service for our private cloud product offering, now known as IBM Cloud Manager with OpenStack.

While working on initiatives and projects at IBM, I found myself immersed in a culture that cultivates teamwork and collaboration. I have unparalleled access to experts working in cutting-edge areas, such as artificial intelligence, big data and cloud.

Last year, I traveled to Israel to join forces with the IBM Haifa research team to identify technologies that leverage advancement in the cloud. We were able to share the fruits of our collaboration with customers across the world. We even filed a few patents. Speaking of patents, anyone at IBM can join a Think Group, a think tank where IBMers from diverse areas come together to brainstorm novel ideas and then work on their proof of concepts. Many of these lead to patents.

Flexibility at Work

Instead of the monotonous nine-to-five office life, I get to control when and where I work. I don’t have to punch into a time clock. I keep track of my work and occasionally “flex” out once my deliverables are complete.

For many weeks this summer, I was able to enjoy Mondays off and work from Tuesday to Friday.

My work hours are very flexible. Since I love interacting with teams across the world, I might start working at 6 a.m. with my European colleagues as they head back from lunch or end the day at 11 p.m. as my Chinese colleagues are just leaving for lunch. This gives me flexibility throughout the day if I decide to take mid-afternoon break.

Although I have a physical office, I’m able to perform my day-to-day tasks virtually anywhere in the world. I use a global VPN to access the IBM internal network and host meetings with my global conference call bridge.

I also have virtual conference rooms, which enable me to share my computer or face to anyone who is interested in watching. Furthermore, thanks to the IBM mobility client, I am able to check my emails, calendar and even dial into meetings with my iPad or phone.

Opportunities for Career Growth

For the past three years at IBM, I’ve worn many hats: a software engineer who developed new features for the web UI; a tester who worked on the integration and scalability of distributed products; a technology lead who led a major core adapter for IBM’s cloud solution; a scrum master who embraced the agile software development process; a project manager who tackled planning, quality, legal and export regulations; and now a customer client manager who provides customers with the right solutions to their needs.

While my experience might not be the norm, there are tons of opportunities within IBM for people to try their hands with something new, switching as their interests change, from hardware to software or even HR.

Enterprise vs. Startup

There are a few differences I would like to point out. Unlike working at a startup, I work with a dedicated sales team who already has customers who are lined up and excited to try our latest releases. I also get to tap our marketing and branding teams for the perfect gift box to place our product inside. I feel that with the vast resources at our fingertips, my team and I are making an impact by transforming emerging technologies into solutions that shape our world.

There is no thing as one-size-fits-all for me. Thinking back on those questions that college graduates ask themselves, I’m able to get the best of both worlds—startup and corporation—by working for IBM.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences working at a big company or startup. Find me via twitter @mrbencao.

Related: Why I am an IBMer

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About Bin (Ben) Cao

BenBen is part of the IBM development team for OpenStack . He drove development efforts for IBM SmartCloud Entry’s core adapter, which complements IBM System Directed VMControl and various Virtualization Managers. He also worked on the IBM SmartCloud Entry web UI development team, creating new functionalities to improve user accessibility and usability, and expanded the web UI support to include IE 9. He led and directed patent think groups across the world on a variety of topics in his area.

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