Reflections on a Long Career

Sean Forbes
Director of Enterprise Solutions

On December 30th, 1988, I walked into the IBM Canada lab in Toronto, Canada, on the first day of the rest of my life. Some 35 years later, on June 23rd, 2023, I will walk out of the Indellient Oakville offices as a newly retired person. What an amazing journey it has been. So much has changed over that time but much is eerily similar!

Going to Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS, as a seventeen-year-old in 1984 had seemed like a huge deal. The idea of cooperative education was new at Dal, having started in 1980, but seemed like an obviously great way to get an education. At that time, a typical co-op degree at Dal included four work terms, and my final one was at IBM. I laugh when I think about what my job was for the summer of 1988, but this was long before everyone had personal computers on their desk. At the IBM lab, the bulk of the PCs were in a library-like environment where people could use them, or get the students to use them, to produce presentations and the like. This was my introduction to IBM.

Returning to IBM as a full-time software developer on the last working day of 1988 was a dream come true. The equipment at my desk was a green screen monitor to a central mainframe on which I wrote code in a variation of PL/1. During my nine-year tenure at IBM, the equipment and environment changed rapidly. By the end, we were writing C++ code on PS/2s (look that one up!) and building and using relational databases as well as object-bases. At the time IBM was highly innovative, which meant that many projects took many rapid turns for better or worse. Entire projects with hundreds of developers were cancelled or reimagined, seemingly with no notice. This led to some frustrating times!

While I was in university, I declared that my intention was to own a company whose mission was to build software for clients with reusable components for the construction of all our solutions. By 1996, I was ready to start the quest for my original dream. I joined with some partners and it took some time, but by the late 1990’s we were doing it. We were primarily working with Java, and we were building web-based solutions. We had started to accumulate components in our library which we licensed to each client.

Owning and operating a business brought with it many interesting moments. I will always remember being at our first company picnic. Looking around at the families gave me a real sense of how many people were dependent on the leadership to not make a terrible mistake. Through the years my partners bowed out and I found myself as the sole owner of a small but solid software solutions company. That was a very interesting, challenging, and rewarding time of my life, but in 2014 a natural and simple succession plan presented itself. It took almost a year to complete, but suddenly, for the first time in 25 years, I was at loose ends.

After taking an appropriate rest I joined Indellient, where I have been for eight years. In my role here, I have worked with an amazing group of young talent. Whoever has decided that the current generation is lazy or unmotivated never met this group! Our developers are hard-working, incredibly innovative, and collaborative. The strength of our company is how well our team members come together and solve problems together, despite having their own clients and projects to work on. Some days I feel like a platypus, frenetic and seemingly from another era, but still surviving in the new world! The energy of this team has kept me young, despite being the age of many of their fathers or grandfathers.

Does anything really change?

There has been amazing innovation in 35 years. From mainframes to desktops to the cloud. Totally different, right? Well, maybe not as much as we think. The whole idea behind a mainframe was a shared use of resources. Jobs were scheduled and executed when resources were available. Then PCs were invented, and, in the beginning, they were toys, single-threaded execution. IBM and Microsoft then invented OS/2, a painful process leading to a divorce. OS/2 was IBM’s entry into the world of shared resources for scheduled work on a PC, followed pretty quickly by versions of Windows until we finally arrived at the Windows NT family. Os/2 was by far the better solution than the early versions of Windows but Microsoft out-marketed IBM, so OS/2 was doomed. Thereafter the world of servers began to truly explode… Just smaller versions of mainframes, I would argue. And now we have the cloud. Massive arrays of shared resources. Better, faster, physically smaller, and significantly more powerful to be sure, but different?

One thing that did change was my desk, or should I say desks? In the office, I plug my tiny lightweight laptop into my Display Link appliance and suddenly I have multiple monitors, a camera, as well as wired and Bluetooth accessories at the ready. Compare that to that green screen from 1988! But not only that, I can plug that same computer into a similar setup at home and with a secure VPN I can be virtually in the office accessing all the same cloud-based resources. With a decent internet connection, almost anywhere in the world, I can operate at 100%, time zones notwithstanding! The future still seems limitless in many ways.

As I exit the world of IT, we are faced yet again with huge concerns. Computers are putting people out of work all over the place. But this too is not new. A very good friend of mine was a Bell operator back in the eighties. Connecting calls manually for callers. The switching technology was one of those things that changed her workforce dramatically in the span of ten years. People use to build cars by hand, lawyers used to write legal agreements in pen. ChatGPT is poised to do it again. Is it a bad thing? I don’t know, but I do know it’s a scary thing, especially for people who do jobs that could be in the next group to be eliminated, or at least to be changed drastically.

Do I have any advice?

All that flexibility I mentioned before has a significant downside. More and more of our time is being spent in physical isolation from each other. We love that we don’t have to drive for an hour to get to the office, but at what cost? My worry is that the kind of company cohesion that we have built here at Indellient will be something that we can’t build anymore. That the young people right out of school that we add to our teams will no longer get to eavesdrop on other teams for other projects chatting about solutions to problems. Those conversations were often absorbed unintentionally!

This really brings me to the crux of my message. What have I learned in 35 years? It’s about people. It’s always about people. We create solutions for problems experienced by people. We need to be sure that the solutions we build make something better for people. Our UX people design solutions that are easy to use and bring value to the customers and users as well as the companies who engage us. Our developers use better and better tools to create solutions quickly and efficiently. Code generation and reuse have always been a focus. Show me a developer who wants to write exactly the same code over and over again each day? Testing is being automated; deployment is a pipeline… We can do more with fewer people. But this doesn’t mean we need fewer people, it means we can generate more with the people we have. Our processes need to be tuned so that the people who work for us can work efficiently and continue to grow so they are also not left behind.

Embrace change. Change is scary but every generation is completely different from the previous one. What we used to do is comfortable but not sacrosanct. Fight for what you want the future to be, or someone else will define it for you.

Look out for each other. Seek out the quiet people and offer to include them. Create time and make the effort to physically get together as often as you can. The day of everyone being in the office every day is long gone, probably for the better, but embrace the hybrid model and get together on some schedule so that those connections can be built.

And seek to learn new things. Remember that your job in ten years will be entirely different than what it is today. What do you need to learn today to maximize your opportunities and be the best at your job then?

To all the people who have helped me over the last 35 years — thank you! I have tried to learn from all of you and I hope that I have helped those that have worked for and with me in the same way all of you helped me.

Now, if someone could help me with my golf game, I would be eternally grateful!

Indellient is a Software Development Company that specializes in Data AnalyticsCloud Services, and DevOps Services. As of October 2022, Indellient has been acquired by Levio, a leader in digital transformation.

To learn more about the acquisition, read the official press release. To follow Indellient’s growth with Levio, check out the Levio website.

About The Author

Sean Forbes

I am Sean Forbes, the Director of Enterprise Solutions at Indellient. I have a passion for helping clients leverage the considerable investment they have made in gathering enterprise data. My many years of experience allow me to help our clients evolve architectures that are efficient and consistent across projects. I lead a great multidisciplinary team of professionals whose dedication to quality leads to very happy clients.