• Robert Thelen

What exactly does Rob do?

I have gotten a number of questions about what exactly I do day in and day out at IBM. Well, two years ago, I started working as an offering manager (the rest of the world calls it product management). With Sarah starting her MPP at the Duke School of Public Policy, I found IBM through a friend (Thanks Steve!). My first impression of IBM, mostly from pop culture, was a stodgy company of suit wearing mainframers who had one foot in the grave and the other firmly in the past. Through the interview process, I was shocked to find a company trying to redefine itself. After a few quick rounds of interviews, I accepted the job.

First, I had the opportunity of going through the first IBM Associate Offering Management Design bootcamp in July 2016. Our goal was to bring a new generation of thought leadership into IBM. It was a 13 week "bootcamp" in Austin Texas. (They love their use of Military terms, a throwback to the 50s and 60s when the company had a number of retired generals leading it).

IBM, like many legacy companies, is undergoing a revolution from within. A civil war of sorts, between the legacy "mainframers" and the newer cloud/software cliche. One of the main weapons in this war is IBM Design Thinking. At the heart of IBM Design thinking is the belief that the end user needs to be understood. Their goals, processes, their pain points, and through understanding and empathy, we can design better products to make their lives better.

After the 13 week "bootcamp" in Austin Texas I was "deployed" to Durham NC (again, they love their military terms). I was hired by the API Connect and Gateways team where I started up a VERY steep learning curve. I learned that APIs are the building blocks of the internet (every time you do ANYTHING with a mobile app, it is likely calling an API) and that our gateway (datapower) is used by just about every bank in the world for data security. API Management helps companies and organizations manage their many APIs. It sounds pretty simple, but it is now a $1-billion industry and growing! By working with world-class dev teams, great architects, and great designers, within a few months, I got to lead and launch my first product: "IBM Cloud Native API Management". The hours were long, but bringing a product to market was a very rewarding and fun opportunity.

Since then, I have given numerous talks across the world regarding API Connect (Madrid, NYC, Charlotte, Las Vegas, SF, to name a few), worked on different products (brought a new API Gateway to market ) working on a new technology called Istio, and I get to work with world class individuals every day.

What do you actually do?

I work with our customers, our potential customers, and look to the market and ask "where are we going". I get to turn that answer into stories and features for our developers and designers to work on. I am responsible for pricing, go to market, and every other part of a product. I am the product's "CEO". Although we get a huge amount of room to do what we need to do, IBM is still a huge corporation with layers or rules and bureaucracy. It is NOT as bad as the US government, but the layers of approvals are starting to wear thin.

What's Next

We are in the middle of a major release of our product (very exciting stuff!) but after we are done, in early 2019, I will start looking for other opportunities. IBM has many cool areas, from Blockchain, to AI (Watson), to Quantum computing. I am also looking externally (perhaps you read my blog article about traveling to Denver for a startup conference ;). Either way, Big Blue has given me a lot of very marketable skills and friendships that will last forever...

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