My Memoir: LEADing to Africa

Saleh Maitala
Saleh Maitala

Hello, I am Saleh Maitala. I am a LEADing to Africa (L2A) Intern from Nigeria and I have been working as a Software Developer in the IBM Manchester Lab for the last 12 months.

I joined IBM in the summer of 2014 straight after graduating from The University of Sheffield with a degree in Software Engineering. Since then I would say it has been the most fun, exciting and yet challenging 12 months I have ever had.

The aim of L2A was to give me a taste of work in a big corporation and the understanding of software development from an industry perspective. I have been able to witness first hand the inception of a software product from the design through development to testing, documentation right up to GA (General Availability to customers). During this period I have picked up not just the technical skills required to implement such processes but also the important transferable skills that make a project succeed such as team-work, communication, leadership, creativity and innovation.

The Manchester Lab is part of IBM Systems business unit. It comprises of about 60 engineers working on Storage Solutions which makes it easy to operate a do-nut rota (Krispy Kreme).

I worked within a global team spread across the globe, from the United States, Germany, India, China, Switzerland and the UK to develop IBM’s General Parallel File System (GPFS). This is one of IBM’s marquee products, it has been in the market for more than a decade and underpins a lot of the Storage Stack used in High Performance Computing clusters and the team worked on the next release (4.1.1) code name IBM Spectrum Scale which provided additional functionalities for protocols support. I was quite fascinated to learn that the Watson cluster runs on a version GPFS.

To deliver this product, we worked in an agile methodology which was quite new to a lot of my team members. We went through a lot of education and training to prepare us for this deliverable.
What struck me was IBM’s focus on client usability. Right from the design thinking process, the project managers identified work areas that would capture the requirements of a customer. These work areas were then divided into small iteration sized stories or tasks for engineers to pick on.

L2A1The scrum team I belonged to was responsible for the performance work of this product. So we did a lot of work towards performance monitoring, understanding the bottlenecks and knowing what component was the problem (from the metrics we measure). I was directly responsible for running benchmarks, measuring metrics like the throughput in IOPS ( Input/Output per second), latency, memory utilization, etc. From the benchmarks we can draw out graphical representations of result and do some analysis. Also, I was responsible for providing some tunings and configurations that a customer would use to enhance performance for certain workloads.

What I really enjoyed was the responsibility that was placed on me to deliver these benchmarks. From day one, my manager and the team carried me along the processes and the list of deliverables to make sure that we are on course. Because we worked in an agile manner, the team was expected to finish tasks or stories as we call them within an iteration (normally a month).  This taught me the importance of planning and time management in order to meet deadlines and targets.

Prior to joining IBM, I have never come across Storage Systems. I had minimal or close to none knowledge of Performance Engineering. Certainly, today I can proudly say with the help and education I got from a talented team of engineers at IBM Manchester Lab that I am familiar with this sort of work.

Apart from my day job, I also participated in the IBM community giveback programs. Volunteering is something that I love doing since when I was at university. A couple of weeks ago, I travelled down with three colleagues of mine to IBM Hursley in Winchester south of England to be a team mentor at the Think.IT event which is an initiative aimed at encouraging young girls aged 12 to 13 to participate in STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) courses We did some workshops on design thinking, peer-programming using python to solve a murder mystery and some exercises on pitching and marketing a product.

Also, at the most recent University of Manchester careers fair I took the opportunity to be an ambassador for the LEADing to Africa program. I definitely want other students to benefit from the sort of experience I have had at IBM over the last 12 months.

Although I was able to achieve a few things, my biggest achievement would have been to lead the Manchester Lab 5-a-side team to their first win in over two years but anyway whoever takes over the mantle of leadership I hope shall guide them towards that.

Wherever I find myself in the coming years, the IBM values that I picked up during my internship will certainly remain with me.

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Saleh Maitala a graduate of Software Engineering from the University of Sheffield. Saleh is from Kano in the northern part of Nigeria. His passion lies in using Information Technology as a mechanism to solve problems in a world that is ever dynamic. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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