Monthly Archives: August 2011

WebSphere doodle

WebSphere doodle

Originally uploaded by andyp uk

Some random doodling I did on the Nintendo 3DS a little while ago. Yes, I have little artistic talent.

Getting all philosophical about Software

A few weeks ago, my friend Paul Squires from Perini Networks contacted me wondering whether I’d be interested in taking part in Imperica’s “In Conversation With…” series. The idea was to pair me up with Dr David Berry from Swansea University to discuss some ideas on The Philosophy of Software (coincidentally, the title of David’s extremely interesting book). For some reason, Paul seemed to think I had things to say on this subject…! 🙂

We had a fascinating, hour-long discussion on the topic, which has just been published as In Conversation With… David Berry and Andy Piper. A very enjoyable exploration of the subject, which touched on my own interests in history, society, social software, the augmented human, and the evolution of the ways in which we encounter technology.

I hope you find the discussion worth a read!

What a week for MQTT!

Part of my role as WebSphere Messaging Community Lead involves IBM’s MQ Telemetry Transport protocol. I spend a chunk of my time talking about how MQTT relates to building a Smarter Planet, and explaining how it can be used to build some very cool new applications and solutions.

MQTT logoFolks from IBM and Eurotech may have jointly authored MQTT, but it has been published online with terms enabling royalty-free use and implementation of the protocol. The next stage is to put it forward for standardisation. Last Friday, the call for participation in a standards discussion was published on It’s open to anyone to join, and given the excitement I’ve personally seen in the developer community, I’m hopeful that we’ll see plenty of interest.

Friday saw even more big news, from an entirely unexpected source. As I stood chatting to people arriving at the OggCamp party that evening, my Twitter alerts and email went crazy with MQTT chatter… Facebook announced that their new Facebook Messenger application (a result of their acquisition of the Beluga team earlier in the year) uses MQTT! I’d been aware of different mobile app developers using MQTT for a while now – in fact we recently highlighted what a great match the protocol is for Android applications, on the blog – but had not known about Facebook’s interest or usage. In their post talking about how Facebook Messenger works, they call out the characteristics that make it a strong protocol for a mobile group messaging application – low bandwidth, low overheads, low power cost… all of the things that have made MQTT successful in sensor networks and solutions, make it ideal for these kind of applications as well.

Well… as I said, a big week, with some exciting news. So it seemed only right that I should give a talk about MQTT and all of these latest developments at OggCamp this past weekend – the event which three years ago, resulted in Roger Light creating his mosquitto broker.

You may recognise the slides as a remix of the talk I gave at LinuxConf in January, but I’ve updated them to highlight the OggCamp dimension and to talk about the recent news. There will be more to come during the coming weeks, so join the chat in channel #mqtt on Freenode IRC, and keep an eye on!


Does the term “reverse mentoring” devalue the mentor?

present participle of men·tor

Verb: To advise or train (someone).

If there’s one thing social technologies can teach us, I believe it is this: hierarchies are so 20th Century.

I came across the term “reverse mentoring” today – not the first time I’ve heard it, indeed I was invited to “reverse mentor” an executive myself at one time, but today… it got to me. Far from being an “exciting, unique program”, I think it’s an offensive way of describing knowledge sharing and relationships. It implies a polarity in the relationship, and more than that it emphasises the idea of seniority and implies a lower value in the therefore “junior” partner.

I tweeted about this earlier, and was challenged to clarify by @SuScatty:

So I went ahead and explained:

Now, to be fair, the definitions of the words “mentor” and “mentee” typically do refer to age or organisational seniority. However, the key part is surely about sharing experience. Age can be discarded almost immediately – it’s perfectly possible and legitimate for one individual to be in a higher position than another in a company regardless of age.

hierarchiesSomething I often discuss when I give talks about the transformational power of social tools in the enterprise is that, more and more, it is relationships and open sharing of knowledge that can build innovation and progress in a company. The classic “command and control” organisational structure we’re familiar with was invented by the factory owners of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and largely perfected in the early 20th Century by Henry Ford and his need to run an efficient production line. As companies grow, this kind of structure causes stratification to occur and silos to form, ossifying the way in which a company can operate. That’s one of the reasons why, at the turn of the 21st Century, some of the more innovative organisations like W.L.Gore, Google and Whole Foods have deliberately eschewed the traditional top-down model. For more on this, I strongly recommend Gary Hamel’s short (and unimpressive-looking, but actually very insightful), book The Future of Management.

networksSocial software and tools can create flatter, more fluid organisational structures, deliver greater productivity and effectiveness, and importantly: build trust. In my own experience, it has done just that. I’ve got a formal management chain that I pay attention to from the perspective of overall direction, vision, and administrative tasks, but I have a heavily cross-functional, cross-divisional, cross-geographical network which enables me to contribute to and draw value from the wider business.

To pick on a couple of random folks in the IBM organisation, who I’m hoping (!) won’t object: by titles, Bob Sutor and Ed Brill are my “superiors”, but the facts are that I interact with them very evenly and freely across social networks, and I imagine that they might choose to seek my advice on topics that I might know more about than them if the need arose. Would I see that as “reverse mentoring”? Not really – it’s advice and support between colleagues, friends, or whatever the relationship might be. Knowledge sharing. I like to think that the exchanges of information between myself and those I provide mentoring to, and those I’m mentored by, are very much two-way – and that both sides benefit by finding support, new ways of thinking and filling out gaps in knowledge.

So back to this idea of “reverse mentoring”. Why isn’t it just about a relationship where a mentor – the one with the greater experience in or knowledge of a particular space – offers the benefit of that wisdom to a mentee? That’s just… mentoring, isn’t it? The other word is redundant – unless you are trying to reinforce that outdated organisational hierarchy you’re clinging to…?

BTW: Bob, Ed… of course, I do bow down to your superiority in all things! 🙂

Last words go to Su again:



Being social at work – for six years and more

GP 6I just posted to IBM’s internal blogging network, a short post to record my six-year anniversary as a user of the platform. I won’t share the exact content as it mostly had a load of internal links that would break outside of the corporate firewall, but I do want to stop and reflect.

Six years ago, of course, everything was different. We didn’t have an internal social network of the kind we have now (IBM Connections). We had rich user profiles within our corporate directory, we had an Intranet ID to login, and we had… well, we had a small pilot that someone had setup on our internal Technology Adoption Program (aka TAP), to see what would happen if individual IBMers were able to share their thoughts via blogs. That became known as BlogCentral, and progressed through four different versions over the next couple of years.

In the early days the community was small. There were no Blogging or Social Computing Guidelines, those were about to be developed, mostly by the small community that was in the process of forming; this was a little experiment. The experiment of posting what I was working on (a consultant in IBM Software Services for WebSphere at the time), the technical issues I was having, and any news or interesting links I’d found before the days of instant sharing via Twitter, led me to encounter and meet a huge variety of people. Good friendships formed – I got to know the amazing Roo Reynolds, Ian Hughes, Rob Smart, Kelly then-Drahzal-now-Smith, James Taylor, Martin Packer, Luis Suarez, Michael Martine, and so many others. I was invited to get involved in events, opportunities and projects that I would never have had the chance to even have known about before.

I found my voice in a crowd. I joined a tribe. I grew. I learned how powerful a network can be.

Today, IBM’s early experiments have borne fruit in a great variety of tools that we use day-to-day, and that we know can scale to support an organisation as diverse and large as IBM itself. We really do “walk the talk”. I’ve spoken about this journey often, of course, and I’m always happy to share my experiences and my story. And also – wow. That was just 6 years ago. The technology landscape has completely changed today, with Facebook, Google+, Twitter, YouTube, Slideshare, and so many other places to share and collaborate. It’s mind-boggling that things have moved so quickly.

I’ll be honest: I’m not posting to my blog 3 or 4 times a day as I might have done in my youthful enthusiasm, in those days when all I had was an internal blog and Sametime to keep me going… these days I share my knowledge and connect with my network far more widely, and more often, outside of the firewall (because, honestly, there’s rarely much to hide). That doesn’t mean I don’t still respect the medium of blogs. They are the “rocks in the real-time stream”, as my friend Stowe Boyd once styled them.

I’m glad I’m still a blogger, both at work and outside of it.

Image credit: holeymoon on Flickr, via a Creative Commons license