Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Clare - On Planning and Patents

I'm writing this at the end of a long day! This morning, my academic supervisor came to Hursley to meet up with myself and my industrial's something we do a few times a year, to make sure we're all in the same place. The meeting involved a lot of planning out what remains of the year ahead - I'm feeling very organised with my Gantt chart! Skills like estimating how long tasks will take are of course really helpful whatever role you're in.

So, outside my day job I've been pursuing some patent type work. I'm really interested in innovation, and am part of a small (5 person) patent club. Let me talk about the process:

We meet up once a week to throw ideas around...when we find something we think might be valuable, we'll all go away and search online to check if it's been done before. If we can't find anything, that's great! We'll write up a 'disclosure', which describes the problem and any existing solutions, our solution (and how it's different from the existing material), and how you might implement our solution. Writing such a document in a clear way (that is accessible to a patent attorney, who won't think as we do!) is quite a challenge.

Once the document is put together, you hit 'submit' and wait...there is a peer-review process at Hursley where willing volunteers with some expertise in the area of disclosures will spend some time looking over them and submitting comments - and a recommendation of whether to pursue it or not.

It can be rather hard work, but it's very fulfilling (and the feeling when you get your first patent through is awesome!) It's also a really good way to challenge yourself to think about unusual stuff that's beyond the scope of your day job.

Ed - Blue Fusion and being a Lab Advocate

Recently 'Blue Fusion' took place at Hursley - this is Hursley's 'premier giveback opportunity' (according to the guys organising it!) We had different teams of children from local Secondary schools here at the lab every day, competing in a series of games devised by this year's graduates. I was involved in an activity host last year, and this year I've been working on the artwork, producing logos for the activities and also lots of in-game graphics. Due to the tight schedule we were working to, I saw how my art was used within the games for the first time when I went along to host some of the activities, so it was all very exciting!

The one I worked most on is called 'Land a Rocket', and involves each member of the team controlling (via a single-button controller) one of the boosters on a space ship. They must coordinate their efforts to guide the rocked across terrain, picking up objects without crashing and then land safely at the end of the stage. I thought I might just have to go down a little early so that I could, err, spend some time familiarising myself with the games, to improve the quality of the hosting that I was able to provide.....By which I meant I'll be playing video games :)

In a rare break from tradition, I'm now going to mention something about my day job! I just found out today that I've been granted an Advocacy role, which I'm very pleased about because it's something I've been wanting to do since I started at the lab. Lab advocates are assigned to a customer, and act as their point of contact into the more techie part of IBM: because we work on the products day in day out, we have a real in depth understanding of how the customers can get the most out of them. So I'll get the chance to go along to the customer's Data Centre and see how they're using SVC (Scan Volume Controller is the product I work on), and help them figure out how else they could benefit from its features - this helps me because I get to see how a real customer uses SVC, and hear what they like (or don't like); we can then feed this into future releases. Of course, should they have any problems in the future, this also means they will have instant access to someone in the Level 3 Support team to help them resolve it, so it's valuable partnership for the customer too.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Ed - University presentations / IT lessons at schools and more!

I'm off for a few days this week, but there was plenty on last week so I'd better get a blog entry penned before I jet (drive) off to Bath!

Last week, I was up in Sheffield giving a presentation to their Computer Science department about what it's like to work at a big software company. I went with Tom (who joined Hursley the same year as me), because between the two of us we've worked on development, test and support - the three main roles on a software project. We also happened to go on an IBM training course together, learning techniques for presenting. We gave our talk without any slides, and asked the audience to write down any questions or areas they wanted us to address on big sheets of paper that we stuck up around the room. Then we adapted our pitch as we went along to ensure it was relevant to them. It all went smoothly, and it was fun to put something we'd learnt on a training course into practice!

In the last IT lesson we taught before half term, because the children are learning about simulation and 'villages in India' this term - we had prepared a Java simulator (think Sim City, but with an Indian village!) for them to get stuck into. They had to manage money, food and population in their village by choosing what to build and when - the simulation ran in blocks of one month, so the children would review their resources, take advice from their (in game) advisers, select the things they wanted to build that month and then click 'Go' to see what their decisions had on the village. We have a live leader board up on the projector at the front of the class, so the children could see how they were scoring against the rest of the class each time they completed the simulation.

This Monday's game development session was a bit less successful, we got too distracted by the office foosball table to get any real work done, so an update on the wizards with guns will have to wait until next week when we reschedule the coding session!


Clare and HBGO - Hursley Blue Graduate Opportunities


Well, as ever it's been all go here. I spent much of last week finishing a paper for a conference, which has now been submitted; it's in the hands of the reviewers now! This was an analysis of some of my initial results from a study I ran back in December.

This week brings more new things! Tomorrow I'm meeting with my HBGO group for the first time. What is HBGO, you ask? It stands for Hursley Blue Graduate Opportunities, and it's a neat new scheme. The idea is that new grads from across all the different areas at Hursley are put into smallish groups, and given a project to work on over their Friday afternoons for 9 months. The idea is a) you meet people from all over the business, b) you get a bit of autonomy and a chance to learn skills about running a project and c) you have fun!

So, I'm running one of five HBGO projects. Inevitably, my project is to do with my research, and it's about the grads building what I think should be a very cool social system using pervasive technologies around Hursley. I don't know exactly what it'll look like, as it's up to them to do the design!

Good times...

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Introducing Clare - Software Developer at IBM

Hi all,

Okay, so I'm Clare Owens*. I've actually been at Hursley since September 2006, and that time has gone very quickly indeed! I'm actually a full-time student, which often confuses people. Here's the explanation; I'm doing a degree called an EngD (Engineering Doctorate), which is basically an industrial PhD. The ideas is the student spends some of their time at the sponsor company (in my case, IBM!) and some of their time in academia: I'm a computer scientist, and when not at IBM I'm at the University of Southampton. EngD's are designed to bridge academia and industry, and generate research grounded in the 'real world'.

I'm now in my fourth and final year, due to finish at the end of December! So I'm currently in the process of analysing a bunch of data from some experiments I ran last month, and planning a few more studies. Much of the second half of this year will be spent on my thesis.

So, I'm not really a 'standard' IBMer (but it there any such thing?) Certainly, I'm not involved in developing a particular IBM product - my research is into innovative methods for system design, often (but not always!) in the domain of pervasive technologies.

I'm involved in some very cool stuff here at Hursley - for example, I'm running a project as part of an awesome scheme for new grads, and on the side I'm involved in patent work, mentoring and other bits and bobs. I hope to write about these things soon!

Meanwhile, if you have particular questions or want to hear about something specific, please just leave a comment here. You can also find me on Twitter -

That's all for now - catch you round...

*But I'm also known as Clare Hooper, for added confusion :) I keep my maiden name in academia, for consistency across publications.

Introducing Ed - Software Engineer at IBM

Hey, I'm Ed; I joined IBM in September 2008 straight after graduating from Bath Uni. I studied Maths, and it wasn't until my third year placement (in accounting) when I decided that I wanted to work in software (*not* accounting).

Since I joined I've worked on a product called SVC (a wikipedia search for 'IBM SVC' will get you a quick explanation of what it does) - firstly in test and now in L3 support. L3 is the team that deals with the particularly high importance or high complexity issues that our customers encounter in the field (L1 and L2 make up the rest of our support structure), so its a lot more techie that you might expect a support role to be.

For me though, the coolest thing about working at Hursley is the opportunity for 'extra curricular activities' - I get to make educational software for local schools, teach IT lessons to 7 year olds, plan the induction for this year's new starters, and even make video games with a bunch of fellow grads. Our latest project involves wizards with guns: how can that not be cool?

I'm hoping through this blog to explain what it's like to have a day job at the labs, and also how it can open up these other sorts of opportunities for you :)