I started working at Lotus Development Corporation on June 14, 1994.  My story today is hardly the longest tenure or most unique among colleagues who have been here for 20 or more years.  Still, it seems like a fairly opportune moment, especially in the solitude of a vacation trip, to reflect on the last fifteen years of my professional life.

When I joined Lotus in 1994, I had been a cc:Mail administrator for a couple of years.  I was responsible for the first major rollout of Lotus Organizer 1.1 for group scheduling, and I had been trained as a Lotus Notes 2.1 administrator.  Lotus products were behind a lot of my success as an IT guy.  In short, when Jon Raslawski called and asked if I wanted to interview for a sales engineer position at Lotus, I was on cloud nine.  I was interviewed by seven different people (and hurriedly bought two suits and three ties) before receiving the coveted job offer.

My instincts at the beginning were not quite so honed.  I was worried that I had joined Lotus "too late", and that four years in, perhaps Lotus Notes had peaked already.  This was reflected in my question to Jim Manzi during "Pespectives", the two-week sales training class for new hires.  I asked Manzi, "What comes after Notes?"  He replied, "more Notes".  And he was very, very right.

In 1994, I spent a fair bit of my time as a sales engineer on products like SmartSuite, cc:Mail, Organizer, even Lotus Improv.  Notes still cost US$495 a user and ran on OS/2 servers.  There was no Exchange, and my main competitive worry with Microsoft was around Office 95.  We still shipped shrinkwrap boxes of software, and were just starting to introduce "Lotus yellow".  During one of my first sales calls, I wanted to take notes in Notes on the conversation with the customer...popped out my monochrome Compaq 386/25 laptop....and was promptly told by my sales partner to use a pen and paper in order to be "quiet".

I wasn't much for the rumor mill in the early days.  I was on a sales call at Motorola, one of my early large clients, when one of the sales reps mentioned that word on the street was that either AT&T, who was building Network Notes, or IBM, who was working with Lotus on SmartSuite for OS/2, would buy Lotus.  In the era before the Internet, I found out about the IBM acquisition through a phone call (to a landline phone, of course) from my mom, who had heard the news on the radio.  Oddly, word had not even made it around the Lotus Chicago office yet that morning.

With much hindsight, IBM should have integrated Lotus into the bigger company much sooner.  It was awesome to operate as "Lotus, we're part of IBM" for a long time.  Clearly, many of the things we did back then (yes, including Denis Leary and R5) were unique traits of being a subsidiary and able to act independently.  But Lotus wouldn't be here today if it were not for IBM, and IBM brought much-needed structure and rigor to the organization.  There is nothing that riles me up more than when I hear how IBM is killing Lotus (or Notes specifically), or how IBM will do to Lotus Notes what it did to OS/2.  When IBM acquired Lotus, we had sold around 3 million licenses of Notes...or more than 142 million since.  Even if some of those were shelfware or whatever, so what.  Under IBM, Notes has grown into a significant and successful business.  There are some amazing memories of the time when Lotus was operating independently, but plenty of challenging times, too.

What I originally envisioned as a two-year job has turned into an incredible, exciting, and successful career.  I have held nine different positions over the last fifteen years, including three product management roles, two four-year sales stints, and a slew of marketing and strategy jobs.  I moved to Boston from 1998 to 2000 to be part of the product organization around Notes...a couple of trips to Lotusphere and a week spent in Cambridge had convinced me how exciting it would be to actually work on building the product and market.  I would say those two years were my coming of age.  I started traveling the world, doing multi-million dollar deals, and making decisions with real impact.  The 75 or so of us who were Notes product management and marketing back then all share some great memories...I think 2/3rds of that team still works in IBM, and most continue to work in Lotus-related positions today.

The early part of this decade was a rapid succession of different positions.  I was one of IBM's early pioneers for telecommuting, and an early adopter of blogging and other social media tools as part of my job.   The positions I held from 2000-2004 taught me a ton about operating a business...that was my on-the-job MBA.  In 2004, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place when Ambuj Goyal started the process of increasing investment in Lotus Notes, and a product sales position was created for me.  The irony at the time was that the very week I moved into that job, my career was embroiled in controversy as a result of this blog and an analyst firm's astroturfing.  The analyst firm said Notes was dead, and when I asserted that not only were they wrong, it was my personal mission to ensure they would be wrong on all predictions, they tried to have me fired instead.  Today, if you go back and read the analysis, they were wrong on all accounts (both Lotus- and non-Lotus related), and well, I would say my career did OK in the aftermath.

2004-2008 is when many of you first met me, on this blog or at conferences or user groups.  Though there were many battles, externally and also internally, these years put Notes back in the revenue growth column, and solidified many of your investments.  The competitive landscape was incredibly challenging, with Microsoft (by my estimate) spending $100 million to try to kill Notes.  Yet for four straight years, we grew revenue and the active number of end-users on maintenance contracts.  The coming together of the Lotus community was and is absolutely a key part of that success.  My own personal sense of accomplishment from this time period is measured in your success, and in knowing that every one of us, perhaps even the naysayers and egobloggers, helped get Notes where it is today.

Eight months ago, Bob Picciano, Kevin Cavanaugh, and many others brought me into the IBM executive ranks.  While my perspective and workload have changed, my passion has not.  I now work with a team of incredibly talented professionals across development, sales, marketing, and my own organization.  We have great ideas, and we're making as many of them happen as we possibly can.  Some problems are hard when you work with a set of products which have been in market for twenty years.  Others are simply opportunities for creative, smart business thinking.  Every day brings limitless opportunity to get involved in real-world decisions and customer situations, and the biggest challenge of the job is deciding which ones will be most impactful.  Some of our daily victories will never be celebrated in the public eye, while others are page one news in the Wall Street Journal.  No matter which type are on the agenda any given day, it's always going to be something interesting and challenging.

There is no way I would have hit this fifteen-year milestone without your daily inspiration, support, passion and creativity.  There are few jobs in the IT industry where the entire marketplace contributes directly to the success of a product or solution.  I'm frequently asked how much time I spend on the blog (or other social media) every day, and of late, my answer is, it doesn't matter.  It is some of the most valuable, interesting, and inspiring activity for me every single day.  For that, I thank all of you, past and present, who have been part of my career.  

Some day, I will write a book about the business side of Lotus Notes.  That book has been in my head for a long time.  I'd love to tell you more of the stories of the events, activities, and personalities that shaped this product's 20+ year history.  But I can't, not yet.  For while I have worked on this product a long, long time, I am but one of thousands of people who have been part of that fantastic story.  More importantly, we're nowhere near ready to write the climax, not even close to the last chapter.  It may be fifteen years today, but there is still much to do in the future.

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