Golden handcuffs

My manager just called me about an hour ago and said he was happy to inform me that I am the recipient of an IBM Equity Award. Apparently these types of awards are management-initiated and require the backing of your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd line managers. After a bit of research I discovered that I have received these twice before and didn’t know it! Equity Award is the fancy label IBM gives to stock-related awards which I received in 2003/06 and 2003/12. (Yes, yes, I know that stocks are equities, lay off.) The previous two Equity Awards were stock options. The new award is a set of Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) who’s label told me absolutely nothing until I read up on it.

Apparently RSUs are a way for IBM to give someone actual stock, instead of stock options. They are similar to options however in that they take time to vest. Whereas IBM options vest 25% over 4 years, RSUs vest 50% every 2 years over 4 years. When they vest you are basically ‘given’ that many shares of stock minus taxes and whatnot. IBM very clearly states that Equity Awards are a mechanism to ‘retain truly exceptional people with the critical skills … to win in the marketplace today and in the future’ [courtesy of the IBM internal website], hence the phrase ‘golden handcuffs’. Looks like IBM wants to keep me around for a while. I’m not altogether certain that stock options (or RSUs) would be enough to retain me if I really wanted to leave (’cause its only money and I’d leave it in a heartbeat if I didn’t like what I was doing for work) but I agree that they are an excellent fringe benefit for staying!

A 4-year vesting time oddly coincides with our current 5-year plan which is nice (more on that in a later post).

In actuality I’d rather IBM pony up to the table when it comes time for annual performance reviews and salary adjustments. We shall see.

Travel to Canada

Greetings from Toronto, Canada. I’ve been up here all week long (since Monday morning) for work. On Tuesday and Wednesday I presented a performance and tuning workshop. Overall I thought they went well and I have already received two emails thanking me for flying up to conduct the workshop and saying how the material was exactly what they needed.

On Thursday I met with a customer and answered some of their performance-related questions. They came out with a better understanding of how things work under the covers, improvements in the latest version (which they are working on migrating to), and features planned in the upcoming version currently in the design phase. I received an email from the customer account team saying how much the customer appreciated me coming by and chatting with them.

Right now, I’m feeling pretty good overall about my visit — and that was just the work aspects!

On a more personal front, I arrived in town on Monday mid-afternoon. That evening Jason (a local IBM friend) picked me up at the Hotel and took me downtown Toronto for dinner and a quick walking tour. Tuesday evening I joined several of the workshop attendees for drinks (I had a cherry coke) and dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Wednesday after the workshop was over I joined the attendees again for drinks (two cherry cokes!) and appetizers. Later that night my coworker Steve and I drove downtown and ate at Hey Lucy, a local restaurant. Thursday after the customer visit, Steve and I went up in the CN Tower and enjoyed the view from the highest tower in the world (or so they say). Later that night I joined Jason for a drag show being performed to benefit an AIDS charity organization called (I kid you not) Casey House. Several other Canadian IBMers joined us as well and we had a lot of fun. After the performance Jason, Brad (one of said IBMers), and myself went to the Panarama bar for some drinks (yet another cherry coke, yes I’m becoming a slush). The Panarama bar is the 51st floor of a building in downtown Toronto with an awesome view of the town, including the CN Tower and the waterfront. The bar is at St. Thomas and Bay Street and highly recommended for the view but stay away from their cherry cokes as they are much too weak and the prices way too high.

As far as some misc observations:

  • 104.5 CHUM FM is an excellent radio station if you are ever in the Toronto area. Much like a mix between Mix 94.7, Majic 95.5, and BOB FM in Austin
  • Apparently “Mazda” isn’t pronounced the same way in the US (at least in Texas) and in Canada (at least Toronto). In the US the word is pronounced with the first ‘a’ sounding more like the ‘o’ in Oz. Up here it is pronounced like a long ‘a’ like in master. CHUM FM was having a competition to give away a Mazda car of some sort and it took me several minutes the first time to figure out what the heck they were talking about!

Overall I have greatly enjoyed my visit. I still have the rest of today (Friday) and tomorrow to stay out of trouble before I fly back in on Sunday. Jason has offered to take me on a tour of downtown tomorrow with a focus on unique Toronto architecture at my request. Tomorrow night a few IBMers are getting together for dinner and then to see the Toronto equivalent of Shakespeare Under the Stars – sounds like an excellent end to my trip.

It pays to listen to Performance Peons

Customer ran into a bug with our LDAP software that screwed up 250k entries in their LDAP causing them to take it out of production. I asked the IBM service guy on-site repeatedly for the output of two DB2 commands, expecting we could do it directly in DB2 (which LDAP sits on top of) much faster than going through LDAP. Aforementioned IBMer was too busy to run the two (2!) commands I provided to him. Instead he spent a day or so creating a script to fix it using LDAP commands and gave it to the customer. After getting it started, customer estimates that total running time is 10 days. Customer is very unhappy and escalates the situation way up. I get called in. After receiving the output of the two commands, an hour of developing/throughly testing/confirming a script to work in DB2, and 15 minutes to run the script – we’re done.

In short: I do know what I’m talking about, that’s why my (self-given) title is “ITIM Performance Lead (LDAP & DB2 Performance Peon)”. And yes, it really does say that in the internal IBM corporate directory, aka BluePages.

Little Rock, the Food Tasting, and Littlefield

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Little Rock, AR the last several weeks. I was shipped out there to help a large telecommunications company with some critical LDAP problems they were experiencing in their production environment. Since it is a production environment they have strict change management controls which dictate that we can only make “atomic” changes in their environment between 11pm and 5am. This made things complicated as we had about 10 changes that needed to be made and were told we could only make one of them a night. When I left last week (on the 5th) they still had about 5 changes to get in. The change window was a pain as well. I’d work from around 8:30am until 6:00pm monitoring their systems and determining what other problems existed and how to best fix them. I’d head out to the hotel, then to a restaurant for dinner, and back up to the customer site at 10:45pm to make the changes needed and with luck I was back at the hotel and in bed at 2am. This went on for about a week (Mar 31 to Apr 5). The flip side is that I identified many many areas in their environment that needed to be changed to better stabilize their systems — most of which we were able to accomplish before I left. Based on an email that was sent to the IBM account team, the customer loved me and my work which is always a nice reward.

During that time Benjamin and I had our food tasting for the wedding. Once a season the Barr Mansion has a buffet dinner for several dozen couples to allow them to get an idea of what menu options are available for their upcoming event. Since I simply could not miss this (according to Benjamin) I flew back to Austin from Little Rock on Saturday evening, interpreted at church on Sunday morning, attended the food tasting Sunday night, and was back in Little Rock by 9am on Monday morning. Talk about a whirlwind weekend! The tasting itself was fun. We weren’t the only gay couple there although we were greatly outnumbered by our heterosexual brethren. We by chance picked an excellent table as the two other couples at the table were very cool and gay-friendly.

I finally made it back to Austin from Little Rock on Wednesday the 5th only to turn around on Thursday and drive up to Littlefield. As my role of Computer Guru for my dad, I had several computer-related tasks that I needed to be present for in Littlefield. Over a month ago I had decided to take off work and get it done over a long weekend. The trip didn’t start out well when the Mustang began to overheat when I reached Leander. Thankfully it was Benjamin’s half day so he was at home and was able to meet me in Cedar Park and swap cars. The Fusion is a great car to take on long road trips I’ve decided. Beyond that the trip went well. I accomplished about 95% of what I went up there for, and it was the important 95% at that. As always it was good to see the parents and grandparents.

The Job – Closure

Last week a gentleman from the ISST group called me for a technical interview. After finding out that I was the performance lead on the product, he quickly informed me that he would not be asking me any technical questions because I obviously knew the product at least as well as he did. Late Thursday afternoon I received a phone call and email offering me the job.

Friday morning I emailed them back and requested to think about it over the weekend and let them know. About an hour later my manager called to let me know she would be out for the day but that we should get together on Monday to discuss when my availability date was for the new job, assuming I accepted it. She also let me know that my current management team was trying to locate “moving compensation” for me in an attempt to keep me within their group. How they thought this helps is a little round-about. My manager was under the impression that I was interested in the new job primarily to allow Benjamin and I to move to another, more “family friendly” state. With this in mind my management team was trying to see if they could locate funds to assist me in moving to another state while keeping me within their organization.

Given what Benjamin and I want to do (ie: live in various cities/states for a while and see how we like them) the moving compensation wouldn’t have really helped, however it helped me realize just how much they wanted to keep me. I asked jonobie out to lunch to help me filter out some thoughts on the various options. Before we went to lunch there were two basic choices:

  1. Decline the job: maintain status quo
  2. Accept the job: travel all over the US

While at lunch Jonobie came up with another option entirely – a truly “thinking outside the box” option. I present you, option 3:

  1. Decline the job: become a mobile employee keeping my current position but working outside of Austin

Being a mobile employee would allow me to live in different locations and keep my current job that I really enjoy. Granted it would not come with the “signing bonus” or the higher bonus potential but I consider that very acceptable if I could spend more time with Benjamin and less time in a hotel room. I decided to run this past management.

Seeing as my manager was out of the office for the day I contacted my 2nd line manager and set up an impromptu meeting later that afternoon. In the meeting I explained what I was wanting to do and my timeframe for doing so. He saw no reason why making me a mobile employee would not be possible. He was quick to mention that nothing is guaranteed but said that many people in the Security organization want me to stay within Security and that if making me a mobile employee would make that happen that they would do their best to make it work. I left for the weekend to ponder the three options and discuss them with Benjamin.

After discussing the options we agreed that option 3 was the clear choice pending two important items that needed to be confirmed.

  • Danny in Colorado would be ok with the new plan and setting aside an office for me to work from
  • My manager (who has been in the Security organization longer than my 2nd line) would validate that the organization is truly amenable to having mobile employees

We were able to validate those two items on Sunday and Monday respectively so early Monday afternoon I declined the new job offer.

Update: Job and Car

The Job
The more I thought about the Tivoli Services position the more I decided that I really didn’t want to travel that much away from Benjamin. In fact, at the gym last Friday morning I pretty much had talked myself out of the position.

Then on Saturday I had a rare thinking-outside-the-box thought that caused me to pause. What if we turned the biggest negative about the job, the travel, into the biggest positive? What if Benjamin quit his job and traveled with me? Between the “signing bonus” and the increased compensation it would almost match a year of his salary. Certainly he wouldn’t be able to (and wouldn’t want to) travel with me to all of the customers but maybe a few here and there.

Better yet – why don’t we go try out other cities? Our friend Danny has been begging for us to come live in Denver now for over two years. If it truly doesn’t matter where I live for this job, why not spend a few months in Denver? We’d get to try it out and see if we liked it before up and moving there permanently. Benjamin could go visit some of his other friends as well like Leslie in Salt Lake City, Uncle Joe in Boston, and Eric wherever he decides to move. Sure it is unlikely that all of our friends would want us to move in with them for a month or more but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind us stopping by for a week.

To further complicate matters, Benjamin’s sister Evelyn is coming to live with us for at least 6 months starting in a few weeks. She just graduated from cosmetology school and is trying to get some cash to get her feet on the ground. Since we’ve already hosted my brother and sister-in-law for six months, hosting Eve is the least that we can do. The plan is for her to live with us rent-free and pay 1/3rd of the utilities until she has enough money for a place of her own. If we go the traveling route we don’t want to up and leave her by herself in a big house in a new city a month after she gets here.

Another twist is Benjamin’s career. Right now Benjamin is on a path to become a customer support manager at his Compass Bank branch by the end of the year. Things are trucking right along and although it is not a guaranteed position we want to see just how far we can go down that track.

With all of that in mind, the tentative plan is that should we decide to go this route that Benjamin will stay here in Austin until at least the end of the year. That will give him a chance to see how his banking career goes as well as give Eve some company. In January 2007 we would re-evaluate the situation and see if we should do the whole “try out Denver” idea.

Benjamin and I tossed the plan around for a while and decided that we really liked it. I sent an email to my manager letting her know I was going to investigate the position and set up a time on Wednesday to talk with one of the ISST managers to see if our “temporarily live someplace else” idea was valid.

Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with the ISST manager who said he didn’t see any reason why that wouldn’t work. He pretty much gave me the response that I was expecting for the rest of my questions so I went back to my office and applied. No word yet, I’ll keep you updated.

The Car
On Wednesday night we finally got the pictures of the car uploaded. Both days we took the pictures it was overcast. Maybe if we have a nice sunny day sometime soon we’ll take some better ones.

Tivoli services: $20k for two years

Tivoli is trying to get more experienced people into the IBM Software Services for Tivoli (ISST). They are currently running a “promotional” program to encourage people from Tivoli development into ISST. Their carrot is $20k for 2 years of service paid up front. The other carrot is that the compensation for ISST personnel is greater than that for regular developers: ISST averages 21% bonus paid quarterly, regular developers are up to 9% bonus paid yearly. The major downside is the amount of travel, up to 75%. Interestingly one benefit of the travel is that the job is not location dependent – they don’t care where you live. That would make moving to a gay-friendly state much easier as long as we lived close enough to the airport.

Unlike IBM Global Services’s (IGS) utilization target of 98%, ITTS’s utilization target is only 50% which gives more room for education, intellectual capital development, etc.

It would amount to no less than a $10k/year bonus for the next two years (which is damn good) and around 21%/year bonus on top of that. This is going to be a tough call. Have I mentioned that I am almost a perfect fit for one of the open qualifying positions? This is going to be a really though call. They’re only hiring 30 people and to get the bonus you have to transfer by March 31th.

Update 2006/02/10 – Modified entry to be public.

Just a little matter of market reference points

Someone asked today if I had figured out where the money came from and I responded in the negative. They recommended I contact my 2nd-line manager (that’s IBM speak for my manager’s manager) and see what they knew.

Come to find out:

Me: [detailed question about end-of-year random base pay adjustment]
2nd Line: The money is yours. There was small, not well-known bucket of funds that was allocated to each director at the end of the year. Each director looked at the market reference point of high-potential and strong performers and used it to make some adjustments. When [my director] looked at his organization, he saw your market reference point below average and implemented the adjustment to get your salary more competitive, kind of a random out of cycle circumstance, but I would say that we spent the money in the right place.
Me: That’s essentially the kind of information I was looking for. I just started to get a little concerned when no one seemed to know what I was talking about <laugh> Thanks!
2nd Line: No problem. Sorry we didn’t let you know all this sooner, and again, as I said before, thanks for all the hard work you are doing.

Now we know – lets have a round of applause for market reference points!

Where did the money come from?

My last paycheck in December was slightly higher than I was expecting. I really didn’t pay that much attention mostly because, due to a variety of reasons, the last paycheck of the year can be higher or lower than the previous 23. Besides, higher is better and I wasn’t complaining.

During the first week of January I was checking to confirm that Benjamin was listed as a beneficiary for some employer-provided benefits. While poking around the HR site I noticed that I had received a base salary adjustment on December 16th and it was titled “Adjustment”. For those of you who don’t work at IBM let me say that this is unusual – most salary adjustments happen in the middle of the year and are clearly labeled with “Promotional Increase” or “Merit Increase”. This end-of-the-year adjustment was just bizzare. After doing my confused-but-happy Engineer’s Dance I made a note to ask my manager about it during our monthly one-on-one meetings and didn’t think more about it.

Fast forward to today.

At the end of the one-on-one with my manager I asked her what the adjustment was for. She said that while she’d love to take credit for it, she had nothing to do with it nor had my previous manager (I had a total of 3 managers last year) mentioned anything about it. She concluded by recommending that I call the Employee Service Center (ESC) to make sure that it wasn’t a mistake and that they wouldn’t want the money back later. At this point I was confused but not particularly worried.

I called the ESC and explained to the helpful service representative what had happened and they forwarded me onto Payroll. I explained to Payroll what had happened and they forwarded me onto HR Solutions. I explained to HR Solutions what happened and was placed on hold for several minutes. After a while the very friendly guy said that the system that would tell him the information is down and that the only thing he was able to discover was that some manager had to have put in the request for the adjustment. He said that he was unable to make outbound calls from the ESC but that he would put a note in my file so that if I wanted to call back tomorrow or later in the week the next person I contacted would know to pick up where he left off. I thanked him and decided to try a more direct approach.

I IM’d my previous manager and asked him if he knew anything about it. He said that he couldn’t take credit for it either although he did know that some of these “adjustments” were made during the December timeframe for members of his team but that “[they were] communicated to management and the adjustments were provided for good reasons”. He reassured me that he guessed it wasn’t a mistake but that “someone may have dropped the ball” in letting me know what was going on.

That brings us up to the here and now. I’m both pleased, pissed, and paranoid all at the same time. I’m pleased that there’s a possibility that the adjustment was intentional. I’m a little pissed that if it was intentional somehow I slipped through the cracks for notification of why I got it. Finally, I’m paranoid that my elation at having been financially “hugged” for my work last year was all just someone fat-fingering the wrong employee number and that not only will my nice little “hug” be taken away but that they’ll want their last two “hugs” back too!