Friday, January 1, 2010

Looking back at 2009

My (micro) company Helium 3 IT Solutions was formed at the beginning of 2008, but 2009 was the first full year of company activity. I thought it would be useful to look back at the year just passed and reflect on what the year meant for me and my professional interests.

ERPs and Solutions Architecture

From January through to June of 2009 my company and I were employed to perform solutions architecture and systems analysis work for an ERP project in a major mining company's operations in Australia. I got the role through my good friends at CGTS and it represented something very different to my previous experience. At the time my background was software and software development. This role very broadly covered communications, infrastructure, interfacing with the ERP vendor as well as some data analysis. Getting things done was an exercise in communication, coordination, and frequently, compromise.

This role very much broadened my experience. I learnt something about mining operations, about how individual operations once acquired need to be unified, about how a single piece of software - the ERP itself - can be both a critical tool and a critical risk to business. I appreciated the exposure to the role of IT infrastructure including  virtualisation platforms, Citrix and network (LAN and WAN) links. My manager at the time, John Tebbitt from Jet Communications, is a real IT professional who is both a master of traditional project management and has forgotten more about network and server management than most infrastructure teams collectively know.Working with John was tremendously educational and always interesting.

I left the ERP project and my Solutions Architect / Systems analyst role at end of June for the radically different world of independent projects. The ERP project had a large and exciting scope change since my departure, and my replacement, a friend and previous co-worker, now has far more scope and duties than I ever did. I have conflicting feelings of jealousy and relief.

Independent Projects and My Web Brain

I left the ERP project for a number of reasons. One of them was a desire to get my hands on with projects I could make a visible difference in. I wanted to reconnect with the open internet and the leading edge of technology. I wanted to create and develop software once more.

From July to September I worked on independent projects, the biggest of which my GTD project My Web Brain. My Web Brain is still 'in development' but has been open to users from the first version in July. The development has been very open, and hopefully transparent, as the service has developed from its crude beginnings to its current less-crude state. There is still more work to be done. There has been little interest from the outside world in the project, but having said that I have put little effort into marketing the service. Monetisation seems a long way off.

The transparency in the development of My Web Brain runs counter to the Hollywood Launch model used by many web startups these days. These other projects have very formalised launch events and seek to capture 'buzz' through invitation only periods and strict information control. This works for many cases, and might have improved My Web Brain's chances. I am on the fence; I prefer strongly in transparency and openness and this approach does not sit easily with me. Maybe next time!

Learning Opportunities

My Web Brain was built on Google App Engine using Python. This was my first foray into either App Engine or Python, so I had a lot of (enjoyable) learning to do. I enjoy furthering my technical skills, and to share some of my learning I created another blog, Learning Technical Stuff, where I could talk about specific technical topics of interest.

Other technical topics which have been of interest to me this year include the wider Google-verse of services, especially Google Apps and the transformative possibilities of cloud computing. I have enjoyed learning about collective intelligence, Enterprise 2.0 and all web technologies. Lately I have been trying to improve my aesthetic skills in web design, which historically have not been a strong point. With my online training account and piles of yet unread technical books I am more than passingly aware of how much there is to know in both established and emerging technical lore.

On a broader, less technical note, I have been keeping up with technology news and developments a lot more actively. During the year I read both What Would Google Do? and The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual which have had a strong impact on the way that I see the internet and the transformation it has on culture, business and society.

North American Holidays

During October I took a month out to go on holidays to the west coast of Canada and the Unitied States. I got engaged to be married while I was over there and had a great time. Absolutely no work was done (there were however, many pictures taken).

Back to Reality (and Paid Development)

I knew before I went aware on holiday that on my return I would need to find a paying contract when I returned, both to re-engage with the local professional community and to (more pragmatically) keep food on the table. I attended to the first CF.Objective(ANZ) conference in Melbourne in November and there got a lead on a short-term ColdFusion low-level developer position at a major Australian financial services provider.

One of the attractions to this particular job is the institutional use of agile development methodologies. I have read a lot about agile development techniques in the past years but this was my first chance to see them implemented on a project. It is gratifying to work in a more structured development environment than I have previous experience in, even if it is not perfect. I am still learning, after all.

Looking ahead

I will remain on this short-term contract into the first two months of the new year. During my free time I am mostly devoting my effort to learning. Afterwards my company may take another paid contract or return to independent projects.

My Web Brain has not have been overwhelmingly successful (yet) but nonetheless I am looking forward to more independent projects in the future - I have many ideas for services for the public and for companies that I am excited about putting together. How this desire for independent (and uncertain) projects will fit in to a future of houses and possibly family is unknown, but I will take what chances I get.

My overwhelming impression is that I learnt and experienced a lot in 2009, and I am looking forward to more of the same in 2010. Happy new year!

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