You are here

Leaving IBM

Starting in April, I will not be an employee of IBM. Why? They laid me off. I am not upset about it.

It was a great 10 years. I got to work with great people on really challenging and interesting business problems. I contributed to several important, transformative efforts within the company. I made a difference for users across a variety of IBM digital touchpoints.

What's next for me? I do not know yet. If you are going to the IA Summit this week, then I want to talk with you about opportunities to collaborate. I am excited that I will get to do something new and different, and can build upon what I experienced working for IBM for a decade.

What did I learn, teach, discover, accomplish, survive the past 10 years? Four items to start with as I reflect back a bit.

1. You can indeed have effective, distributed, worldwide teams (e.g., dozens of people, all working remotely, in many time zones) but it is not easy. It takes discipline, planning, good communication skills, and proper use of a wide variety of tools.

User experience methods are useful for planning the "team experience" and information architecture skills come in handy for organizing the work spaces.

2. Agile UX & development processes, in general, are a better way to work in large corporations, since it makes it easier to do continuous, incremental improvements.

In a large, complex, systems-driven infrastructure, the "trick" is in the analysis phase (aka "writing stories"), where large problems are broken down into smaller work items. Avoid the roadblock parts of the infrastructure - things that are so broken, they need to be thrown away.

Certain parts of the user experience will always stink until the company commits to starting over from scratch. Make progress where you can and constantly remind management what is FUBAR.

3. One of the trends I see coming is more and more integration of UI design systems. Within IBM, our latest web redesign included a huge effort to combine our intranet and internet UIs. They do not look exactly the same, but our definitions/implementations of breadcrumbs, local navigation, icons, page grids and other UI elements are the same now.

The business case includes both UX benefits and costs savings. For example, a widget developed for the intranet can easily be used on internet sites.

The integration is happening at a larger scale within the company now. With platforms evolving quickly (smart phones, tablets), companies will need to spend even more time integrating UI design systems to make all of their digital touchpoints fit together.

My personal interest is on the information architecture side: how to organize the elements in the design systems (in a multi-faceted classification scheme, of course) so they can be integrated.

4. A technique I used for dealing with stakeholders on a daily basis was acting like a "requirements therapist". Groups would come to me with the "solution" in mind (e.g., "add a link to the home page", "we need smaller tabs to fit them all on our pages") and I would ask them lots of questions about how they got to this as the answer to their problems.

What is the actual business problem you are trying to solve? What are the user needs, goals, tasks? What other options did you consider (and what are the pros/cons of each)? What impact would this have on other business units? What would be the ideal user experience (even if we know that is not possible)? What is the bare minimum we can do to move us in the right direction? And so on.

Sometimes the net result was no actual change to the user experience, but the client changed through the therapy.

Four of my thoughts after 10 years with IBM, without getting into the weeds. And boy, are there a lot of IBM business and technical details I have gotten into over the past 10 years, things only an "innie" gets to experience. I guess that is something else that is important: how to stay at a high level for a while, and when to get into the details to actually get the work done. Being able to switch your brain quickly from the "clouds" to the "weeds" - and back - is crucial.

10 great years: now to start the next great 10 years!


Good Luck! Have Fun! Thanks for the fish.
I truly enjoyed working with you :)


Having worked for years with IBM's clients and for a few years now with IBM as my client, I have a great deal more sympathy for our design team and vendors. IBM requires a great deal of patience and hand-holding, because many of the people making decisions are not design savvy, but tend to be very entitled. It takes a very tactful "requirements therapist" to navigate those tricky waters. By all accounts you did that very well.

I have moved back to IBM Interactive as a side-effect of the same layoff spree. I was the one guy on my team who had a place I could go and had a wonderful project to pursue once there, so I more-or-less volunteered.

I wish you all the best,

I did look into IBM Interactive as a place for me to go next and stay with IBM, but it was not the right fit for me at this time.

Over the years, I worked with IBMi as their client (they did technical support portal vision work for us) and as a collaborator (www navigation strategy for Green & Beyond with Jodi) and as my stakeholder (making it easier to find IBMi on the web).

I would sometimes review IBMi work that was done for clients to connect the dots with internal projects: we were often trying to solve the same problems. I loved being a part of various IBMi UX communities, hanging out (virtually) with the great folks who work there. I will miss that part of IBM, for sure.

I really enjoyed working with you. And I will miss you. You have such a good instinct for balancing the customer needs with the IBM business and marketing missions and bringing them together. I'll miss my partnership with you.

Hello Keith,

when I heard that you will no longer work for IBM that was very disappointing and sad news. When I saw your farewell note I still smiled, this is exactly the Keith I know and enjoyed working with so much, crisp and clear, getting directly to the point, and with helpful next steps.

All the best for your personal and professional endeavours, take care and let's stay in touch!

Nicely written Keith. You take a lot of knowledge and experience with you and will be an important contributor to what ever you are involved in. All the best to you in the next 10 years and beyond.

- Kim

Hey Keith! I came to your blog via an old Jared Spool post mentioning something you wrote about breadcrumbs back in 2002. That's when I found out this news - I don't think you mentioned it on Facebook? Just wanted to say I really enjoyed working with you until I too, was laid off (one year earlier) and hope you've managed to find yourself an even bigger and better challenge. Thanks for all the advice that you've shared with me, both personally in IBM, and publicly like this blog! You're a true asset to the digital community.