The loves and life of an evangelist – no, not me!

Sasha asks in her personal and IBM internal blog about the rate of attrition in her sphere and what the problem is?

I only go back to the mid-1970’s in the technology at work timeline. I can remember learning a number of things very quickly and wanting to make progress, get promoted, get paid more and work on more interesting things. Oh the impatience of youth…

Over the years, I’ve managed to retain the enthusiasm for new technology and fortunately been able to continue to work in a challenging environment while getting reasonably recognised and rewarded. However, there were a number of times in my career that I couldn’t wait and moved on without any real regard to the consequences, some worked out most didn’t. Today I reconise the same frustrations in Sachas post, as well as amongst some of her peers.

It isn’t an institutional problem in my opinion. There are always great new technologies, it is NOT a Web 2.0 thing. People that wanted to use PC’s at work were demonsied, ignored, laughed at at first; the same was true for the early browser advocates in business, the Java applet programmers(ok, well maybe this wasn’t such a good idea), heck for a while even email was frowned on in a business environment as a means of internal communication.

In all these areas there were great people who knew how the technology worked, they could explain what it did, give convincing presentations and most of us thought we were pretty unique, some could even knock together a quick implemtation of the technology and even write programs for it. At the first sign of frustration in our current work environment there was always someone willing to hire us, the grass was always greener.

Out of the frying pan into the fire. In many cases you could be the firefighter, just the person to get things under control, to put some structure in place and not only get recognised for what you’d done, but also encouraged to do more, it is a great feeling. However, sometimes you jump and just end up getting burned.

Jumps I remember, moving from P&O Computer Services and as operator to John Laing Computer Services as a senior operator, age 20(1978). Just got burned, more money, promotion but the work was worse, more menial, more demanding. (Un)fortunately I had to resign 6-weeks later after being in a near fatal road traffic accident and being unable to work.

Canada Life Assurance, Junior Systems Programmer to Chemical Bank NY, Junior System Programmer(1982). Best job move I ever made until this one, worst personal life decision I ever made. Got to work on the coolest technology, with the coolest people, around one of the coolest times in the industry. Jumped back to the UK, took the highest paying job I could find, another bad move. 1-Year later I joined IBM(1987), great move, great time, wrong technology, wrong place. Since 1994 I’ve had good moves inside IBM and bad ones, good managers and bad ones.

All the good moves had one thing in common, I was able to tell a business or business unit what I could do for them in terms that the business could understand. How I could help them achieve their goals and objectives. The ones that were bad moves were mostly about me, what I could get.

In the 19-years I’ve spent at IBM, including 2-years as an official evangelist in IBM Software Group, and probably 3-years before that as a mainframe evangelist without the title, I can say with some authority, it is no different inside IBM. You can always leave for your own reasons, but if you can’t expalin your value, can’t explain what you can do for a business in their terms, then it probably won’t work out, inside or outside IBM.

One thing you can be sure of though, if you work in new technology there will always be some other company that doesn’t know that technology as well as you and is prepared to pay over the top to find out about it. If that isn’t the case, then they are almost certainly buying the cache of your brand(as my former evangelist buddy Simon Phipps might say), who you are and not what you know and there is an important distinction.

Being an evangelist has it benefits, but you soon get tired of the frequent flyer miles; the anonymous hotels; the loneliness; the adulation of knowing the right thing at the right time. I can’t tell you if now is a good time to jump, or not, what I can tell you about mistakes, they’re the only thing that you can truly call your own.

[Read other posts on careers]

1 Response to “The loves and life of an evangelist – no, not me!”

  1. 1 Simon Phipps November 24, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    Hi Mark! I’m still messing with unusual job titles, but you may especially like this one:

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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